Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iCloud (2011)
Apple’s new iCloud service represents a dramatic step forward for the company in the area of online services, mixing features evolved from the company’s former paid MobileMe service with new breakthrough offerings that will change the way people use both iOS devices and computers. While it’s true that other online services have provided similar features for a long time, the differences are in Apple’s tight integration with its operating systems, and ease of use.
It has to be acknowledged up front that Apple has a spotty track record for online services—in recent years, its paid MobileMe service was continually plagued by reliability problems including outages and synchronization issues. iCloud is supposed to represent a fresh start for Apple in this arena, and in some ways the company has clearly learned its lesson by ditching proprietary sync technology for open standards wherever available, and abandoning some synchronization services where no reliable, standards-based technology could be applied.
Despite Apple’s usual “just works” spin on iCloud, there are a few issues buried beneath the service that may not be immediately obvious. In this article, we look at the top 30 things iCloud users should be aware of before starting to use the service.
Setting up iCloud
1. Your iCloud ID doesn’t have to be the same as your iTunes Store ID. For product placement purposes, Apple has lumped all of its iCloud services together under one big umbrella, leading a user to believe that he or she will be forced to pick one Apple ID to use for everything. This creates problems for a user who is using one Apple ID for an old MobileMe account, and another for an iTunes Store login.
The good news is that the Apple ID you use for the core iCloud services—Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Reminders, Bookmarks, Notes, Photo Stream, Documents & Data, Find My iPhone and Storage & Backup—currently has no relationship to the Apple ID that you use for the iTunes Store. The “iTunes in the Cloud” features, including the ability to re-download and automatically download content from the iTunes Store, are tied to the Apple ID that you configure under the Store settings on your iOS device, or the Apple ID that you log into iTunes with on your Mac or Windows PC. This means that you can continue to use your existing iTunes Store account even after migrating an older MobileMe account to iCloud.
The same also applies to Apple IDs for FaceTime, iMessage and Game Center—these can be the same as your iCloud or iTunes Store IDs, or completely different from those or each other.
2. You can set up more than one iCloud account on the same device. The single iCloud section found directly on the main page of the Settings app may lead you to believe that you can only set up a single iCloud account. However, iOS 5 and OS X Lion allow you to create additional iCloud accounts in the same manner as adding any other e-mail, calendar or contacts account: Simply go into the Mail, Contacts, Calendars settings on your device and add a new account as you normally would, selecting “iCloud” as the account type.
Note, however, that some iCloud services are only available on the primary iCloud account, specifically Photo Stream, Documents & Data, and Storage & Backup. Further, Bookmarks and Find My iPhone can only be enabled on a single iCloud account a time, although it doesn’t have to be the primary—turning on either of these features on a second iCloud account will disable the corresponding feature on the primary account.
3. You can’t merge Apple IDs… yet. Apple still hasn’t provided any way to merge Apple IDs. If you have a separate iTunes Store account under a different Apple ID from your MobileMe account, you’re stuck with both for now. The good news, however, is that as explained above, there is no reason you can’t continue to use both for their respective services.
4. iCloud is not MobileMe. While the two services are very similar, the only common services that they both actually provide are Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Bookmarks and Find my iPhone, and most of these have been redesigned to varying degrees for iCloud. Gone are iWeb Publishing, Gallery and iDisk, as well as syncing of Preferences, Keychains and Dock items on OS X. iCloud instead adds Documents and Storage.
5. Migrating from MobileMe. Users can migrate from MobileMe to iCloud to take advantage of the new iCloud features without losing access to any of their previous MobileMe services such as iDisk or Gallery. These services will continue to function for both non-migrated and migrated MobileMe accounts until MobileMe is shut down on June 30, 2012.
iTunes in the Cloud
6. You can only switch your iTunes in the Cloud account every 90 days. Once you actually use iTunes in the Cloud with a given account—by re-downloading a past purchase or enabling automatic downloads of new content—your device becomes “locked” to that iTunes Store account for a period of 90 days. During that time you will be unable to re-download content or enable automatic downloads with a different iTunes Store account. After 90 days, you can switch to a new account, at which point the 90-day timer begins anew.
The good news is that this doesn’t affect your ability to actually switch accounts to purchase new content from the iTunes Store, nor does it prevent you from syncing content from your iTunes library that was purchased with a different account. It also doesn’t apply to apps, presumably because Apple controls the licensing terms for its own App Store and doesn’t have to negotiate terms with other copyright holders.
Interestingly, however, this 90-day restriction is a step backward for iBooks users, who could previously re-download purchased content from the iBookstore from different accounts without requiring a 90-day waiting period, but are now subject to the same restrictions as for other media content.
7. Not everything is available from iTunes in the Cloud everywhere. iTunes in the Cloud currently only provides access to Music, Books and TV Shows, and even those only in specific countries. During the public beta period, Music, Books and TV Shows were limited to U.S. iTunes Store accounts only, although with the public release of iCloud Music and Books have become available in several other countries. TV Shows remain available in the U.S. only. Audiobooks and Movies are not included at all—yet.
Further, you can only re-download content from iTunes in the Cloud if it’s still being sold on the iTunes Store. If Apple has pulled something from its catalog, the copy already in your library will be the only copy available.
8. iTunes in the Cloud is effectively a free iTunes Plus upgrade. Apple hasn’t kept around older 128kbps DRM-laden versions of its music library, meaning that when you re-download a previous purchase from iTunes in the Cloud, you will automatically get the unprotected 256kbps AAC version. Essentially, when you re-download a track from iTunes in the Cloud, you get whatever the iTunes Store is selling now, rather than the track that you originally purchased. Unfortunately, iTunes doesn’t make this as simple as a paid iTunes Plus upgrade, as you can only re-download content that is not already in your library—you’ll have to delete the existing tracks first before re-downloading them, or download them to a secondary iTunes library instead.
9. You’re limited to a maximum of 10 devices. With the ability to re-download content from everywhere, Apple has limited the number of devices that can participate in iTunes in the Cloud for a given account. The new terms allow for a total of 10 devices, five of which can be computers running iTunes. This means you could have five iOS devices and five computers authorized, or one computer and nine iOS devices, or any combination of the two.
Fortunately, this limitation only applies to iTunes in the Cloud features—you can still sync content directly from an authorized iTunes library to an unlimited number of iPods or iOS devices; the limitation only applies to authorizing devices to re-download or automatically download content directly from the iTunes Store.
10. Photo Stream only works over Wi-Fi. For whatever reason, this is another one of those Apple features that can’t be used over a 3G data connection, possibly to prevent users on limited data plans from blaming Apple for their large data bills. Whatever the reason, however, your device will not send photos to or receive photos from your Photo Stream unless you are on a Wi-Fi network. Photos taken while away from a Wi-Fi connection will be automatically uploaded when you next connect to a Wi-Fi network. Oddly, Apple does allow users to choose whether or not they want to use the cellular network for documents and data, making it a little surprising that users aren’t also offered the same choice for Photo Stream.
11. Photo Stream is for photos only—videos are not included. Videos recorded on your iOS device or saved from other applications are completely ignored by Photo Stream—you will have to transfer these off your device the old-fashioned way.
12. You can’t delete individual photos from Photo Stream. Once you snap a picture and it gets uploaded to Photo Stream, it’s basically there for good. iCloud does not provide any way to delete individual photos from your Photo Stream, although you can reset and erase your entire Photo Stream by going to your account settings at iCloud.com.
It seems that for simplicity Photo Stream has essentially been built as a push service rather than a sync service—it pushes new photos to all of your devices that share the same iCloud account, but it doesn’t pay any attention to the photos that are already there. Even if you could delete a photo from a single device, Photo Stream would not propagate that change to other devices. In fact, even when you reset the entire Photo Stream from iCloud.com, nothing changes on your devices until you toggle Photo Stream off and back on again in order to delete it.
You can always turn off Photo Stream in advance if you know you’re going to be taking pictures that you don’t want uploaded, but this will remove the current Photo Stream from your device and it will need to be re-downloaded when toggling the feature back on. If you find that your Photo Stream is really cluttered with photos you don’t want, you can also use iPhoto or Aperture to download everything from your Photo Stream to a local album, reset and erase the entire Photo Stream from iCloud.com and then selectively re-upload the photos you want back in the Photo Stream. This is a needlessly cumbersome workaround, however, for a feature that should be included.
13. You can’t view your Photo Stream on the web or share links to photos or content. Photo Stream is not a replacement for Apple’s MobileMe Gallery service and does not provide any social sharing features at all. There is not currently any web-based access to your Photo Stream nor any way to invite users to view your Photo Stream or individual photos except by having them log in with your iCloud account.
14. You can share a Photo Stream between family members—sort of. The ability to configure multiple iCloud accounts on a single iOS devices can provide a method for sharing your Photo Stream between multiple family members. By doing this you’ll also be sharing your iCloud Documents and Backups between devices, but if you’re okay with that, setting up your primary iCloud account to use a shared Apple ID is a great way for several family members to use a single Photo Stream.
iCloud Backup and Restore
15. iCloud Backups and Restores are Wi-Fi Only. While the ability to backup and restore your device via iCloud may seem like a potential life-saver, keep in mind that it’s only useful if you regularly spend time around Wi-Fi networks. iCloud Backups won’t run at all when you’re not on a Wi-Fi network, nor will you be able to restore your device from iCloud without access to Wi-Fi. If you don’t have a Wi-Fi network at home, you’re going to need to keep backing up to iTunes the old-fashioned way, using a USB cable.
16. iCloud Backups run automatically only once every 24 hours, when plugged in. Unlike synchronization with iTunes, iCloud backups do not automatically run every time you plug your device in. An iCloud backup will only start if it has been at least 24 hours since the last iCloud backup, and only when the device is plugged in, locked, and on a Wi-Fi connection. You can, however, initiate an iCloud backup manually at any time—as long as you’re on Wi-Fi—by going into Storage & Backup under your iCloud settings and tapping the “Back Up Now” button.
17. iCloud Backups only include your data, settings and Camera Roll content. As with iTunes backups, iCloud backups only store information that you wouldn’t be able to sync back on via iTunes. Application data and settings, iOS device settings and your camera roll are included; your actual applications and media content are not. Following a restore, you’ll need to either need to wait for these to download from iTunes in the Cloud or sync them back on directly from iTunes. The good news, however, is that most users should have no problems fitting an iCloud Backup in their free 5GB of storage space.
18. You can choose what gets backed up to iCloud. Unlike iTunes Backups, where your disk space is theoretically much larger than your iOS devcie backups, iCloud Backups ideally need to be kept smaller to fit into the limited 5GB storage that Apple provides for free. While iCloud backs up everything by default, iOS 5 allows you to turn off the backup of data from your Camera Roll of specific applications to save iCloud storage space. You can find these options by selecting your device under “Manage Storage” in the iCloud Storage & Backup settings. Toggling off the backup for a specific application will prevent all of that app’s data from being backed up, including its configuration settings and preferences, so after a restore you’ll essentially be starting over with that app.
It’s worth mentioning that developers can choose to store their data in such a way that it’s not included in iCloud backups. With the release of iOS 5, Apple is cracking down on apps that include a lot of re-downloadable data such as cached streaming media content to be backed up by iCloud, and several streaming media apps such as Rdio have already been updated for iOS 5 to address this—following an update on one of our devices, the amount of data that Rdio wanted to backup to iCloud dropped from 6GB down to under 200MB.
19. Restoring your apps, books and media content are subject to iTunes in the Cloud restrictions and availability. As mentioned earlier, iCloud Backups do not include apps and media content that would normally be stored in iTunes. Following an iCloud restore, your device will instead attempt to re-download apps and content that were previously on your device directly from iTunes in the Cloud. Of course, iCloud can only get what is actually available on the iTunes Store, and this is subject to the same limitations as re-downloading content yourself—movies are not included at all, and you’ll only get TV shows if you’re in the U.S., at least for now. In the end, you’ll probably still need to connect to iTunes to get everything back that was on your device originally, although the iCloud restore goes a long way toward getting you up and running when you’re away from your computer, especially where your apps are concerned.
Documents & Data
20. iCloud Documents is not iDisk. When Apple debuted iCloud in June, the message for document storage was clear—this was an attempt to eliminate the file system and replace it with something entirely different. With iCloud storage, there is no “file system” as most computer users would understand it. Instead, individual applications simply save data to iCloud in whatever way their developers choose. If an app wants to choose to replicate a file system of some form, they’re free to do so, but this only applies to whatever data they choose to store and manage. This brings us to the next point:
21. iCloud storage is app-specific. Each app gets to create its own chunk of application storage that is tied only to that particular application, although developers can share an iCloud storage space across more than one of their own apps. However, a document saved in Pages will only be available when running Pages. There is no file system view of everything stored in iCloud—the closest you can come to that is seeing which applications are using iCloud storage, and how much each one is using; a feature primarily designed for managing available storage, not the content therein.
22. iCloud storage is personal. iCloud provides no ability to share iCloud Documents and Data with other iCloud users. Your storage stores your stuff, and if you want to share a document with somebody else, you’ll likely need to do so by sending it out to e-mail or using some other file transfer technology. Apps will be able to generate and send out temporary links for sharing files from iCloud storage, but doing this will be up to the individual app developer, and these links are designed to provide one-time sharing of a document, not collaborative features.
23. You can choose to sync Documents and Data over a cellular data connection. Unlike Photo Stream and Backups, syncing of iCloud Documents and Data is not necessarily limited only to Wi-Fi connections. Under the “Documents & Data” section in your iCloud settings, you can toggle an option to “Use Cellular.” When enabled, this allows applications such as Apple’s own Pages, Numbers and Keynote as well as other third-party apps that use iCloud to sync their data regardless of whether your’e on a Wi-Fi connection or not. You may, however, want to toggle this off if you’re on a limited data plan and expect to be storing a lot of application data in iCloud.
24. Multiple family members can share a single iCloud Document & Data store by sharing a single iCloud account, but… You’ll be sharing everything in that Documents and Data store, not just the data from one or two apps. This includes things like saved game progress from games that use iCloud to store this information, or synced itineraries from apps like FlightTrack. It’s an all-or-nothing deal.
Mail, Contacts, Calendars and Reminders and Notes
25. You need a me.com address. iCloud still uses the @me.com domain for e-mail address, not @icloud.com as some had speculated it might. Although you can sign up for iCloud with any Apple ID, if you want to use iCloud Mail and Notes you will need to create a me.com address. Since Apple IDs cannot be merged, you will not be able to use a previous MobileMe address for this—you either need to create a new one, or migrate and use your existing MobileMe account for iCloud.
26. You’re now limited to three aliases. MobileMe users could create up to five me.com aliases for their account. iCloud has reduced this limit to three. Users who have migrated from MobileMe will be able to keep their existing aliases, even if over this limit, but will not be able to create any new ones unless they’re under the limit—meaning if you already have five aliases, you will need to delete three of them before you can create one more.
27. Send From and POP Accounts are gone. Not all of the features of MobileMe have transitioned to iCloud Mail. Two notable omissions are the ability to choose to send mail from a non-me.com address using the web interface, and the ability to download mail from external POP accounts. Users who relied on these features may want to hold off on migrating their MobileMe accounts to iCloud, or consider a different e-mail provider. To be fair, the Send From feature was limited to the web interface and therefore inconsistent and difficult to support for the average user—the iOS Mail and OS X Mail apps did not support this capability directly, requiring workarounds that only more advanced users would be able to configure.
28. iCloud Mail does not support custom domains. MobileMe didn’t do this either, but with the transition to iCloud some had hoped that Apple would change this policy. However, Apple’s choice to remove Send From support in iCloud Mail suggests a move further away from doing this. Clearly Apple wants you to use a me.com address or not use the service at all.
29. You can share calendars and reminder lists with other iCloud accounts. iCloud Calendars and Reminders can be shared with other iCloud users via iCal on OS X or via iCloud.com. When sharing, you can grant either read/write or read-only access to the other users and on iOS any shared calendars will be identified in the Calendars listing. When sharing a calendar or reminders list, users are sent an invitation e-mail with a link to accept or decline the invitation. From iCloud.com, each user can also choose whether or not they want e-mail notifications sent when there are changes made to shared calendars or reminders lists.
30. Contact sharing between iCloud accounts is no longer available. With MobileMe, users could share their contact lists with other MobileMe users, who could in turn subscribe to them with the OS X Address Book app. iCloud has eliminated this feature and no sharing or subscribing options are available in the Lion Address Book app. You can work around this, however, by configuring an additional iCloud account on devices where you want to share contacts—the contacts from each iCloud account appear in a separate category in the iOS Contacts or OS X Address Book apps. However there is no way to share Contacts for read-only access; by configuring them in their iCloud account you are effectively giving full access to the Contacts list.
iCloud continues to be in a state of flux, and with the coming release of iTunes Match at the end of this month, Apple’s cloud-based services will obviously be evolving even further in the near future. We will continue to report on all of the major changes in our news section, and follow up with additional tutorials as iCloud improves and stabilizes.
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