What is iCloud?

As a Mac consultant, I’m asked all the time, “What exactly is iCloud, what can I do with it?”

iCloud is Apple’s new, free sync and iOS backup service. It works on Macs, Windows PCs, and any iOS device (like iPads or iPhones). You get 5GB of space for free when you sign up, and you can purchase more space later if you find that you need it. Here’s a breakdown of what iCloud can do for you.


iCloud can be used to automatically sync contacts, calendars, notes, and Safari bookmarks between your devices. If you are on a Mac running OS X Lion, or using an iOS device running iOS 5 or later, then you’re all set to start doing this. Just turn on iCloud in your Settings or System preferences, check what you want synced, and iCloud takes care of the rest.

If you are on a Windows PC running Windows Vista Service Pack 2 or Windows 7, you just need to download and install the free iCloud control panel available on Apple’s website.

iCloud can also sync data and documents in iCloud-enabled apps. For example, Pages, Apple’s word processor app, can sync its documents between your devices this way. If you start writing on your iPad, you can pick right up where you left off on your computer.

iCloud does this syncing over the Internet, so there’s no need to connect your iOS devices to your computer. As long as your device can connect to the Internet, the syncing takes place automatically. Enter a new contact on your iPhone, and it will be in your computer’s address book within seconds.

Photo Stream

iCloud will also help keep your photos in sync. If you take a picture on your iPhone or iPad, it automatically becomes available on your computer and other devices right away. Or import pictures from your camera to your computer, and they’re available on your iPhone or iPad.

Photo Stream automatically syncs the last 30 days of images between your devices, making it easy to manage, edit, and share your pictures no matter where you take them.


iCloud comes with a free email address. The email address will be your iCloud user name @me.com. The email address is not activated automatically, as many people already have email accounts and don’t wish to start another. You will be asked when you create your account if you’d like to use your current email address as your login, or create an iCloud email account.

Find My iPhone

iCloud allows you to track the location of any of your devices that are currently connected to the Internet. Don’t let the name fool you, Find My iPhone works for iPads, Macs, and iPod touches.

Find my iPhone also allows you to remotely lock, send a message, or even erase your device, should it be lost or stolen.

iOS Backup

iCloud can be used to backup your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch. When enabled, the device will backup to iCloud automatically anytime it is connected to power and the Internet. This way backups happen regularly, without you needing to remember to connect your device to a computer.

Web Access

Just log in at http://www.icloud.com to have web access to your contacts, calendars, iCloud email, Find My iPhone, and synced documents. These are fully-featured web apps, and you can easily create or edit content here, as well as view it.

iTunes in the Cloud

iCloud can also automatically sync iTunes purchases between your devices. This includes music, apps, and iBooks. The free service will allow you to sync music purchased from the iTunes store only. You can also opt for Apple’s iTunes Match feature, which syncs any music in your iTunes library, whether you purchased it from iTunes or not, and costs $24.99 a year.

Jason Merrill, Mac & iOS Consultant