iCloud has been out for a while now, but many folks are still confused as to what it does. There’s not a lot of mystery, when you dig beneath the surface to have a look.
iCloud is Apple’s data-online service. Much like DropBox or Box.net, but with a twist – as iCloud is specifically build around Apple’s OS X and iOS systems.
First, the basics:
– The iCloud platform is free for up to 5GB of space. It then costs US$20 for up to 10GB, and there are plans for more money that go up to 100GB of storage.
– Your iTunes-purchased books, Movies, TV Shows and Music, as well as your Photo Stream don’t count against your storage space numbers, so you only pay for extra space if you go beyond 5GB of non-iTunes data.
– You can store your mail, all photos, as well as personal Music, Movies, TV Shows and documents in iCloud – these count toward your storage space use.
– iTunes Match (see below) also doesn’t count against your storage space numbers, but does have an additional cost.
There are several components to iCloud, but here’s what you’ll use most:
– iTunes Match: This component of iCloud is designed to allow you to keep your music, video and books in the iCloud platform. It costs about US$25/year above your iCloud storage costs, but currently only works for music files. Apple has stated that it will eventually also support TV Shows and Movies. You allow iTunes to scan your music collection and upload any songs not purchased from iTunes to the iCloud platform. From there, you can download those songs (plus any you bought from iTunes directly) to any Mac, PC or iDevice.
NOTE: Songs, TV Shows and Movies you bought through iTunes are available for download on any device that supports iTunes with or without an iTunes Match subscription – this service only handles non-Apple-purchased media. To find previously purchased media, go to iTunes, click on iTunes Store and look for the Purchased link.
– iCloud document storage allows you to put any data into your iCloud storage, but remember that if you go above 5GB it starts to cost money. There are similar sections for mail, calendars and contacts.
– Find my iPhone actually works for any iDevice, and will show you the location of any registered iDevice on a map. Handy if you lose your iDevice or if it gets stolen. The service only works if the iDevice is turned on, and if Push Email is enabled.
– iCloud Backup lets you backup your data and settings from your iDevice, allowing for easy restoration if you accidentally mess up your devices.
– Find my Friends allows you to track other people (with their permission, of course). Handy for parents who want to keep tabs on their kids and friends who want to know where they are in relation to each other.
– App integration allows apps to leverage iCloud for storage and syncing. Few apps take advantage of this yet, but the rumor is that more are on the way.
And that’s about it. iCloud simply enables more features in iTunes and iOS, as well as giving you some cloud-based data storage. Using more than the free 5GB is not a great idea, though, as many other services offer more space for less money, but getting features like Find My iPhone and iCloud backup are definitely worth signing up for the free version.
One last note, most of these services were also in MobileMe – Apple’s previous cloud-based service. However, Mobile Me will be no more as of this summer, so shifting over to iCloud is not only a good move, but will soon be a requirement if you want these tools.