iCloud: the essential guide

4th Feb 2012 | 10:00

iCloud: the essential guide

Backups, storage, Photo Stream, documents and more

Essential iCloud guide: Introduction

Poor old MobileMe. It tried hard, but never quite delivered. Expensive, sometimes slow and saddled with a clumsy name, it has long had the air of an unloved child.

Its development cycle was long and drawn out. And by the time Steve Jobs announced the end of its short and undistinguished life, just two years after its rebirth from the ashes of .Mac, few were inclined to shed any tears.

Yet it wasn't all bad. The email service was stable and largely dependable. It synced our contacts, so we didn't need to tap them all in on an iPhone keyboard, and the calendar tool always made sure we turned up on time, wherever we happened to be.

Apple knew this as well as anyone, which is why it chose to preserve those parts, jettisoning the web publishing, photo gallery and iDisk, as it set about building iCloud.

Housed in a vast data centre in North Carolina, iCloud is Apple's next-generation online service. It syncs your iPhone, iPad, Mac and iPod touch. It can track a lost device, copy your iPhone snaps over the web so they're safely backed up on your Mac, and synchronise your iWork files so that whatever device you're using, downtime is never wasted time.

Over the next few pages, we'll show you how to set up your Mac and iOS devices to use iCloud, how to sync your apps and data, and how easy it is to back up your documents to the web. You'll soon see that MobileMe's demise really was the iCloud with a silver lining.

Apple id

Whether you're moving an existing MobileMe account to iCloud or setting it up for the first time, Apple has applied its trademark logic to the process to make it as simple as possible.

The most important step you need to take is to make sure all of your devices are up to date and running the most recent versions of each headline app. Here we'll walk you through the process, step by step.

Update your Mac

To take advantage of all of iCloud's features you need to be running OS X Lion. This is now well bedded in and although some older machines appear to run a little slower than they did under Snow Leopard, it's generally proved to be fault free and enjoys good compatibility with existing third-party hardware and software.

iCloud requires Lion version 10.7.2 or later, which is the version currently being shipped through the App Store (£21). If you upgraded to Lion when it shipped back in July and haven't touched it since then, run Software Update now to downloaded the latest revision before going any further.

Lion only works on Macs running on an Intel Core 2 Duo, Core i3, i5 or i7, or Xeon processor. That precludes the earliest Intel Macs and anything running a PowerPC processor.

It requires a minimum of 2GB of RAM, 7GB of hard drive space and Mac OS X 10.6.6 or later. This was the first version of the OS released via the Mac App Store, through which the 4GB installer must be downloaded.

If you're on a capped broadband deal or you don't have broadband, then all is not lost. Head for a bricks-and-mortar Apple Store if you have one within reasonable driving distance and download it there using the free Wi-Fi.

Alternatively, order the £55 OS X Lion USB Thumb Drive from http://store.apple.com/uk/product/ MD256Z/A. It's over twice the price of the downloaded edition, but it does come on one of the best-looking thumb drives we've ever seen.

Update iPhoto/Aperture

iPhoto

One of the most exciting features of iCloud is Photo Stream, which automatically copies the 1,000 photos you've most recently taken over the last 30 days between your iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, as well as backing them up to any Mac running iPhoto or Aperture.

Again, you'll need to ensure that you're running the very latest edition of either of these applications. In the case of iPhoto, that's iPhoto 11 version 9.2 or later, while Aperture users should be running version 3.2 or later.

Both of these are available through the Mac App Store (iPhoto 11 costs £10.49; Aperture 3 costs £55).

Update iTunes

iCloud has taken over from MobileMe as the main synchronisation conduit for all of your data on Apple's integrated ecosystem. That includes not only your contact, email accounts, calendars and so on, but also your purchases through the iTunes Store, iBook Store and Mac App Store.

That means that any purchase you make on any of your devices, or through iTunes on your Mac, will automatically be synchronised on each of your other devices. This works on your iPhone, iPad and iPod touch as soon as you upgrade to iOS 5 and activate iCloud.

But to get the Mac side of things working you need to upgrade to iTunes 5 or later, again through Software Update.

Update iOS devices

iOS update

iCloud is compatible with the iPhone 3GS, 4 and 4S, iPad and iPad 2, and the third- and fourth-generation iPod touch. Each must be running iOS 5 to gain access to options for enabling the integrated iCloud features that sit at the heart of the OS.

The original iPhone and iPod touch only support as far as iPhone OS 3.1.3, and the iPhone 3G and second-generation iPod touch, iOS 4.2.1. If you're updating several identical devices at one time, download the iOS 5 setup files manually so that you don't tie up your internet connection as iTunes retrieves them for each device individually. See here for the direct download links and instructions on how to apply each patch.

Be aware that if you follow this route, the bundles differ according to which device you want to update. So while the OS underpinning your iPad 2, iPhone 4 and iPod touch might all be called iOS 5, they differ sufficiently for you to require a different setup file for each one.

The simplest route to updating your device, therefore, is to connect it to your Mac using USB and launch iTunes. iTunes will check Apple's servers for the iOS 5 update and patch your device. Click Download and Update to proceed, having already performed a manual synchronisation to ensure there's an up-to-date backup of your data in place should anything go wrong.

Once you've updated to iOS 5, all future software updates can be performed directly through the phone without plugging it in to your Mac. Tap Settings > General > Software Update to check for new releases.

You'll also need to update your Apple TV to take advantage of Photo Stream and access your previous iTunes purchases. Do this by using your remote to select Settings > General > Software Update. When Apple TV has located the installer, click Download and Install (or Download Now on a first-generation Apple TV). When the download completes on Apple TV 2, the update will have been applied. On Apple TV 1, click Update Now. Note that only Apple TV 2 is compatible with iCloud Photo Stream.

With all of your devices and applications up to date, it's time to take the plunge and set up your iCloud account properly. For existing MobileMe members, this is a simple matter of transferring your existing account. Everyone else, however, is starting from scratch. Turn the page to get started.

Setting up iCloud

iCloud for new users

iCloud sign-in

Signing in to iCloud requires an Apple ID. If you've ever bought anything from one of Apple's online stores – music, apps, books, videos and so on – you already have an Apple ID.

If you can't remember what it is, point your browser at https://iforgot.apple.com, click Forgot Apple ID and enter your name, address and email address (or, if you can remember your Apple ID but you've forgotten your password, simply enter your ID in the box and click Next).

If you don't already have an Apple ID you can sign up for one for free without making any purchases at https://appleid.apple.com. Your selected Apple ID will take the form of an email address, but note that you can't use an existing MobileMe address here.

If you have one, it counts as an existing Apple ID, so you can use that to set up your Mac and iOS devices. So with your Apple ID registered, point your browser at http://icloud.com and sign in.

MobileMe users

As you already have an account set up, you need to convert it to iCloud. Open a browser window and visit www.me.com/move. You'll need to enter your MobileMe password to authorise the transfer.

There's no such thing as an iCloud family account, so master account holders of MobileMe Family Packs will have to transfer each user individually.

Data synchronisation

file sync

Like MobileMe before it, iCloud synchronises all of your day-to-day data, including appointments and contacts, between each of your devices. Again, setting this up is a two-step process conducted first on your Mac and then on your iOS device.

Open System Preferences > iCloud on your Mac and log in using the Apple ID and password tied to your iCloud account. Now check the boxes beside the data you want to synchronise, including Contacts, Calendars, Bookmarks and Mail & Notes.

As with MobileMe, this latter option doesn't synchronise your email messages – just your account settings. However, it does synchronise jottings created using the Notes application on your iPad or iPhone, filing them neatly inside the OS X Mail application.

Now turn to your iOS device and add your iCloud account: tap Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars > Add Account… and enter your Apple ID credentials, choosing iCloud as the account type. With this in place, step back to the overall Settings screen and tap iCloud, followed by the sliders beside the data types you want to synchronise. That way they match the ones you activated on your Mac.

Bear in mind that the more you synchronise, the more you'll eat into your storage allocation, with even Mail and any attachments in your inbox, outbox, drafts and folders counting against your limit. Photo Stream is the only synchronisation feature that Apple excludes from its calculations when working out how much you've used. And for good reason: it would be impossible for you to accurately judge in advance the exact size of each picture you take and how much space it will occupy on Apple's servers.

You should therefore avoid synchronising more data types than you need if you want to avoid having to upgrade to a paid account at some point in the future.

iTunes Store syncing

iTunes' status has been demoted slightly since the arrival of iOS 5 in that you don't need to use it to set up a new iPhone, or necessarily plug in your phone using USB to sync it. However, it remains a hub for your incoming data and an essential backup location for downloaded apps, books and music, so that should you lose your iOS device you won't also lose all your purchases.

Launch iTunes and click iTunes > Preferences > Store, then click the check boxes beside Music, Apps and Books to automatically download all purchases made on your iOS devices simultaneously to your iTunes library. This saves you syncing your device manually the next time you want to create a backup.

Setting up iTunes is only one half of the process, as you need to enable the same options on your iOS devices. Here, click Settings > Store and tap the sliders beside Music, Apps and Books to activate synchronisation.

On the iPhone and on 3G-enabled iPads you'll find a further option here to download your purchases over the cellphone network. Tap the slider beside Use Mobile Data to do this, but only if you're sure you're happy for your mobile 3G data allowance to be used in this way. If you are intending to take your device overseas, be sure to disable this particular feature. The excess fees you'll be charged for data roaming will make even a free app painfully expensive.

How to free up space on your iCloud account

1. Consider an upgrade

upgrade icloud

Every iCloud account comes with 5GB of free storage, which you can optionally upgrade by 20GB or 50GB for £28 and £70 a year respectively. You might consider doing this when things start to get tight. But before you do, how about clearing out some unused files?

2. Manage current storage

Current storage

You can manage your iCloud storage from either your Mac or an iOS device. If you're at your Mac, simply open System Preferences > iCloud and click the Manage… button. On iOS, tap Settings > iCloud > Storage & Backup > Manage Storage.

3. Clear unused files (OS X)

Clear unused files

On OS X, click through the various apps that are authorised to save data to your iCloud space to see which apps are hogging more than their due. Select the files you don't need any more and press Command+Delete to remove them, or click Delete All to clear out all files of that type.

4. Clear unused files (iOS)

Clear unused files ios

On your iOS device, tap the name of each application in turn, followed by Edit, and then the red circles beside the names of the files you want to remove. This calls up a series of red Delete buttons. Simply tap these to confirm the removal.

5. Buy more storage

upgrade icloud

If you still need more storage, step back to Manage Storage on iOS, or click Buy More Storage… in OS X and select the amount of extra space you want to buy. Bear in mind that the specified quantities are in addition to your free 5GB account.

6. Downgrade options

downgrade options

Avoid paying for additional storage that you may no longer need when your account comes up for renewal by setting it to a more appropriate level. Click Downgrade Options… and select your new account quota. Note the billing details at the top of the pane.

Essential iCloud guide: Photo Stream

Photo stream

Photo Stream is like Time Machine for your iPhone snaps. Take a photo on any device running iOS 5 or later and it'll be synchronised to all of your other devices, and your Mac, without any input from yourself.

It's quite magical the first time you see it in operation, but how does it work, and how can you put it to use?

Set up Photo Stream

Photo stream

Enable Photo Stream on your iOS device by tapping Settings > iCloud > Photo Stream and tapping the action slider so that it reads 'ON'. You can now step out of settings and get on with using your device as usual.

On your Mac, Photo Stream helpfully synchronises with iPhoto 11 or Aperture 3.2. You can enable it through System Preferences by clicking in the Photo Stream check box on the iCloud pane. You now need to decide which application should act as the archive for your remotely shot images. (Apple doesn't allow you to send them simultaneously to iPhoto and Aperture.)

Open either application's Preferences and click the toolbar's Photo Stream icon, then tick the box to Enable Photo Stream, followed by either or both of the options to automatically import and automatically upload new photos. We would recommend at the very least enabling automatic import so that you maintain a complete archive of your iOS photos on your Mac.

Unlike the photos in the Photo Streams on your iOS devices, these will never be removed from your account, even after the 30-day limit.

Do you really need to enable automatic uploads? That depends on what your plans are. Are you going to be importing several hundred holiday shots when you return from your travels? It's better to decide now whether you want them to also be sent to your iOS device. If not, uncheck that option.

Photo Stream only works over Wi-Fi, so it won't hammer your 3G bandwidth and risk taking you close to your mobile contract's monthly cap. One less thing to worry about when you're on holiday!

Every time you take a photo on any iOS 5 device linked to your iCloud account, it's uploaded to Apple's servers when you quit the Camera app. From there it's sent back down to your other iOS devices and your Mac.

The next time you fire up iPhoto or Aperture (depending on which you have linked to your iCloud account) you'll find a Photo Stream entry in the sidebar containing a copy of each of your iOS photos. Your pictures will also appear on the second-generation Apple TV running software update 4.4 or later.

Photo Stream on iOS

Photo stream on ios

Things work slightly differently on an iOS device to the way they do in Aperture or iPhoto. Images shot on any device are saved locally, as usual, to the Camera Roll in the Photos app.

Step back one level from here on the iPhone or iPod touch, or use the buttons at the top of the screen on the iPad, and you'll see a new library called Photo Stream. This is where you'll find your synchronised images, whether they were snapped on an alternative iOS device or synchronised through iPhoto or Aperture.

Any photo taken on an iOS device will remain on that device until you actively choose to delete it. However, items that appear only in the Photo Stream album will be removed from the device after 30 days. They will also be removed from the Photo Stream album on an iOS device one at a time if you add more than 1,000 during that 30-day period, with the oldest one in each instance being killed off to make way for each new addition.

It's therefore vitally important that you take an active interest in saving (and backing up!) your synchronised pictures. Fire up iPhoto or Aperture at least once a month to make sure you have a copy of your images on your Mac. And if you want to keep synchronised photos on any iOS devices other than the ones originally used to take them, copy them to your Camera Roll by following the instructions in the walk-through below.

Images downloaded to your Mac are saved at their native resolution, so for anything taken using the rear camera on an iPhone 4S that means the full 8 megapixels. This matches some compact cameras on sale just a couple of years ago.

However, images sent to Photo Stream on an iOS device are first reduced in size to optimise them for display on that particular device's screen. The exact resolution will depend on the dimensions of the original, but Apple currently uses 2048x1535 pixels (3 megapixels) as its benchmark.

Photo Stream is compatible with JPEG, TIF, PNG and RAW images imported from your iPhoto or Aperture library. These formats are in turn converted as part of the transfer process.

How to archive synchronised photos on an iOS device

1. Select Photo Stream

Photo stream 1

To save synchronised images from being expired and disappearing from the Photo Stream on your iOS device, you should copy any you want to keep to your Camera Roll. Open the Photos app and step back to the albums page, then select Photo Stream.

2. Tick images

Photo stream 2

Tap the shortcut button on the toolbar (it looks like a box with an arrow curling out of it) and select the images you want to copy by tapping on each one in turn. As you do, they'll be given a small red tick to show which have been selected.

3. Tap to keep

Photo stream 3

Tap the save button at the foot of the screen to store them in your Camera Roll. The images will be left in place on your Photo Stream and removed when their time is up, but the versions you saved will be kept on your device until you remove them manually.

How to delete your Photo Stream

1. Log in to iCloud

Photo stream 4

Although your Photo Stream contents don't count against your iCloud storage limit, there may be times when you want to delete the contents of the stream entirely. Log in to your iCloud account at icloud.com and click the iCloud icon in the top-left corner.

02. Delete remote photos

Photo stream 5

Click your name at the top of the screen to open your account preferences. Click the Advanced button and then, click Reset Photo Stream. This clears out the images on Apple's servers but leaves them where they are on your Mac and iOS devices.

3. Delete local photos

Photo stream 6

To remove the images from your iOS device, open Settings > iCloud > Photo Stream and tap the activity button so that it reads 'OFF'. You'll be asked for confirmation, after which all of the synchronised photos will be removed, leaving in place only original and saved snaps.

Essential iCloud guide: Backups and storage

Backups and storage

As we've already discussed, iCloud takes care of backing up all of your iOS purchases on your Mac, and simultaneously installs any apps you buy on your Mac to each of your iOS devices. However, you can now go one step further and save your device backups directly to the cloud.

Previously, every time you synchronised your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch with iTunes on your Mac it would create a local backup. That way, should the worst happen, you could easily recover your documents, contacts, appointments and apps. That's still an option, but in iOS 5 and iTunes 5 Apple has improved on this feature in two ways.

First, you can now enable wireless backups to iTunes so that whenever your device is plugged into a power source and connected to the same Wi-Fi network as your iTunes library, it will automatically synchronise the two. You can opt instead to save that backup to iCloud, so that should your Mac be damaged or lost your backup won't be lost with it.

To enable this, connect your iOS device to your Mac, select its entry in the iTunes sidebar, and click the Back up to iCloud radio button on the Summary page. Now your device will be backed up once a day whenever it's plugged in.

The final piece of the iCloud puzzle (at least until iTunes Match arrives in the UK) is Documents in the Cloud, which maintains a backed-up copy of all of your remotely edited Pages, Numbers and Keynote documents.

Synchronisation with iCloud requires the latest versions of the iOS iWork apps. These updates are free for all existing users, but if you don't already have them, the apps are sold individually at £6.99 apiece through the App Store. They're all Universal apps, so work on the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch.

You need to opt in to use iCloud with each application individually. If you're firing up any one of them for the first time you'll be given the option to do this on the startup screens. But if you've already been using them in the past, you can activate them through the iOS Settings application where they appear among the third-party apps at the bottom of the menu.

Working with documents

uploading

Open the iWork app of your choice and create a new document by tapping the '+' in the upper left corner of the screen. We'd recommend ignoring the option to use iDisk as this will disappear over time, so it makes sense to get out of the habit as soon as you can.

Tap Create Document and choose a document type in the usual way, then start working. When you've finished, and you return to the document menu, you'll notice that its thumbnail has a small arrow on a turned-over corner. This is a warning that the document hasn't yet been backed up to iCloud.

Your documents will automatically sync to the same apps on any other iOS device the next time you start them up, and are also saved to your online iCloud account. Point your browser at www.icloud.com/iwork, and you'll see that there are individual tabs for Keynote, Pages and Numbers, with the relevant documents organised inside each one. Here, things don't work quite as smoothly as you might hope…

Apple has made great claims about iCloud's ability to synchronise your documents across all devices. It says you can shut down your Mac on your way out the door and finish working on your document, spreadsheet or presentation on your iPad on the way home.

Technically that's true, but only if when using OS X you manually copy your data to and from iCloud. To access the document created on your iOS device, click it in the web interface and select the format in which you'd like to download it. Choose from the native iWork formats, their Microsoft Office equivalents and PDF.

To send documents from your Mac to your iOS device, select the relevant application by clicking its name on the tabs at the top of the web interface; then drag the file into the document management area that fills the rest of the screen. A progress gauge monitors its passage onto iCloud.

We can expect to see more apps exploit Documents in the Cloud, as Apple has opened up the underlying hooks that will enable third-party coders to integrate the service into their own apps. But we would also hope to see iCloud integrated directly into the OS X iWork apps so that we no longer need to open a browser window to access our iOS documents.

How to manage iCloud files in your browser

1. Rename files

Backup 1

Click once on the document's filename and type a new name, pressing return as you would in the Finder to confirm the change. Filenames can be up to 255 characters in length and contain anything you like – so long as they don't start with a colon, dot or slash.

2. Copy a document

backup 2

Click once on the document's thumbnail icon, followed by the cog icon, and then select Duplicate Document from the drop-down menu. The next time you check your iOS devices you will see that the file has been duplicated and is ready to work on.

3. Keyboard navigation

backup 3

Now press Ctrl+Esc to activate the keyboard, then use the cursor keys to move around your files in the browser view. Pressing Shift+Esc has the same effect as clicking the iCloud icon – you will be taken back to the applications menu.

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First published in MacFormat Issue 243

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