By now you’ve probably heard “cloud”, “cloud computing” or “in the cloud” and thought to yourself “What the heck is a cloud?” Simply put, the term cloud is used to describe information that is stored not on your own personal computer but on a remote computer or server connected via the Internet. It is the next step in computers – having your files, photos, music and more backed up and available over the Internet, wherever you are whenever you need them. Without having to physically plug in your device and sync it to the computer. Apple has recently launched its version of cloud computing, called iCloud, and while it all may seem confusing at first this article should answer many of your questions. How to decide if iCloud is right for you, and what features you would benefit from, is your decision – so it should at least be an informed decision.
Let’s cover this in two parts: Part 1, this article, will cover iCloud with all Apple products. Part 2 will cover using Windows with iCloud.
One thing to keep in mind about iCloud, or any cloud-based service: it is as much a collection of features on multiple devices as it is a product. That is, while “iCloud” might sound like just another program to get, it’s more like a system that unites what you already have. In order to do this properly, Apple has built it with some clear requirements for both software and hardware. For your computer, your computer needs to have the operating system OS X 10.7, codenamed Lion, or later. Every new Mac you purchase now will have Lion or Mountain Lion installed, so you’re all set. If you aren’t sure if your computer can upgrade, check out the technical requirements for Lion first.
For your portable devices such as iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch there are some hardware as well as software restrictions. iCloud needs a minimum of iOS 5, the operating system for Apple devices.
- iPad: All iPads are compatible with iOS 5 and with iCloud.
- iPhone: iOS 5 will only work on iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and iPhone 4S, and iPhone 5. The original iPhone and the iPhone 3G are not capable of running the new operating system.
- iPod Touch: You will need the third or fourth generation, so anything after September 2009 and you’re fine.
- Note: Some music features of iCloud require a CDMA model iPhone 4, and will also work with iOS version 4.3.3.
iCloud’s purpose is to automatically and securely unite all of your content – music, photos, files, apps, etc. Now, if you are at a friend’s house and they recommend a great song which you download on your iPhone, it will automatically download to your iMac at your office, your iPad at home, and your iPod Touch in your bedroom. The promise of cloud computing was a world without wires, where things you do are seamlessly integrated, backed up and secure, and available wherever you need them. Most of Apple’s applications have been updated to work smoothly with iCloud, and Apple has provided the details to outside developers so they can make their programs work with it as well. It’s only a matter of time before everything you do will work with iCloud. There are a few big features of iCloud, so we’ll separate them into categories.
Items you buy through iTunes such as songs, albums, apps, TV shows, and books are automatically available across your devices. If you are in a coffee shop and use Shazam to identify that cool song you hear then decide to buy it in iTunes, it will be available to you on all your devices for download, without repurchasing. Items you’ve purchased in the iTunes store can be seen in your purchase history on any device, even if you didn’t buy it from that device, and you can download it again for no additional charge.
iTunes has been updated to incorporate iCloud, but there is also a feature called iTunes Match that really changes things. Your iTunes music library is most likely a mix of music you bought from iTunes, imported from a CD, or shall we just say “other.” With iTunes Match, you can have iTunes compare your library to the more than 20 million songs in iTunes and any songs that match are included in your iCloud account. If you have songs that aren’t matched, you can upload them to iCloud. As an added bonus, the songs are available at 256 Kbps, a high quality setting – even if your songs were of lower quality. iTunes Match is built right into the most recent version of iTunes, but the service costs $24.99 per year and is limited to 25,000 songs. Songs purchased through iTunes do not count toward that limit. In essence, by using iCloud and iTunes Match, you can have access to all of your music wherever you are.
You know when you’re at your child’s recital or a sporting event and you get that great picture on your phone that you can’t wait to get home and find that cable you swear was just right there on the kitchen counter and eventually plug your phone into the computer so you can import the picture? Well Photo Stream, part of iCloud, takes care of that. Now the photo you take automatically appears on your computer or other devices, by connecting to Wi-Fi and pushing the photos from your iPhone to the other devices. If you have an Apple TV, you can even share your photos from iCloud on the big screen of your HDTV. PhotoStream stores your 1,000 most recent photos from all devices for 30 days in iCloud. Do not think of iCloud as permanent storage – if you want to keep any of these photos, make sure they are also saved on your computer or on your device.
For business owners, professionals, students, etc. what could be better than having your documents with you all the time? Imagine if you have to make a presentation out of town, you create a presentation at the office, finalize it with the boss and head for the airport. While you’re in flight, the client calls the office wanting changes. Your co-worker makes the changes and iCloud does the rest. When you land and turn your phone back on, the updated document appears on your iPad. You make the presentation, land the client, get promoted, get a huge bonus, buy a new house, run for President…okay, maybe not all that. But think of the time (and as we know, time equals money) that will be saved not having to recreate those changes over and over. As of now, Apple’s iWork apps like Pages, Keynote, and Numbers all work seamlessly and you can even use Microsoft Office documents by logging into your iCloud.com account.
iCloud also synchronizes your contacts, calendars, email (iCloud includes a .me or .icloud email account if you don’t already have one), bookmarks, notes and reminders. So if you bump into an old friend from college and get his phone number & address and make a lunch date for next week, it’s all seamlessly synced across your devices. Another feature is Find My Friends – you and your friends can use this new app on your iPhone and use the GPS to identify where you are on the map. Perfect for meeting family or friends for a picnic or dinner. Also good for keeping track of teenagers who swear they’re just going to the mall. Along those lines, the Find My iPhone app will now work with your Mac as well, so if you MacBook Pro is stolen you can locate it simply by logging into iCloud.com.
Believe it or not, this is only a recap of the major features – there are far more beneath the surface. Setting up iCloud can be a bit tricky at first, and you should definitely make sure all your hardware is ready, software is compatible, etc. before switching to iCloud. iCloud promises to make a lot of things much easier in the future. Perhaps the future is here already.