Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Apple's iCloud Explained

Apple announced, at their Worldwide Developers' Conference (WWDC), its new iCloud service. Cloud services are offerings we have seen offered by technology companies over the last few years. It basically means that storage space is provided on the Internet (the cloud) for consumers to access their data regardless of which device they are working on. Some companies try to give you everything, like Google. Some providers give you some things, like Amazon and their music cloud services. Apple is offering some storage, synchronization, services and integration in one free solution.

iCloud is more than a hard drive on a server connected to the Internet. It is that plus the software to sync and share your iOS content to your iOS devices and to your desktop. iCloud stores your content so it’s always accessible from your iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Mac, or PC. It gives you instant access to your music, apps, latest photos, and more. And it keeps your email, contacts, and calendars up to date across all your devices. No syncing required.

When you sign up for iCloud, you automatically get 5GB of free storage for all services except your purchased music, apps, books, and Photo Stream which don’t count against your free storage. So the 5GB is used mainly for your mail, documents, Camera Roll, account information, settings, and other app data. 5GB is tiny compared to what Gmail provides for just mail and suspect that Apple will increase this over time; however, it should be fine for a typical user.

When you update your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to iOS 5, your Apple apps become seamlessly integrated with iCloud. Just like that. So all your content and information is available and up to date, no matter which device you’re using.

With iCloud, the music you purchase in iTunes appears automatically on all your devices. You can also download your past iTunes purchases. Where you want, when you want.

When you buy and download music from iTunes, no matter which device you are on, it will be stored in iCloud and your music automatically appears on your iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Mac, and PC. So basically, Apple is able to tie all of your purchases to your account (finally) and show those purchases or free downloads on any device that can access its ecosystem.

iCloud automatically downloads any new music purchase to all your devices over Wi-Fi — or over 3G if you choose. Which means you can buy a song from iTunes on your iPad at home, and find it waiting for you on your iPhone during your morning commute. All without having to sync. Finally you can see your entire iTunes music purchase history without digging through a pile of digital receipts. If any of your music isn’t on one of your devices, just tap to download it.

As someone who downloads a lot of apps, I have often expressed my displeasure with Apple's lack of purchase history. Finally, I will see my purchased apps in one convenient place in the App Store. Making it easy to download them again — at no additional charge — to my iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. And when new apps are purchase I can have iCloud automatically push them to all your devices. Of course these devices have to have my same Apple ID assigned with a maximum of 10 devices.

Open the iBooks app on your iOS device or the iBookstore on your Mac or PC, and get a personalized reading list of your past book purchases. Just like with apps, you can download these books again to any of your devices. Buy a new book, and it appears everywhere. And when you start reading on one device, iCloud conveniently saves your place. Just leave a bookmark, highlight text, or make a note and they’re automatically pushed to all your other devices, too. Apple is providing Kindle-type syncing of your books across all devices.

Documents you’ve written, presentations you’ve prepared, spreadsheets you’ve made — your iWork apps can store them in iCloud. Which means you can view and edit the same document, in its latest state, on all your devices. And since iCloud automatically updates any changes you make, you don’t even have to remember to save your work. Apple apps are seamlessly integrated with iCloud, and Apple has given developers the tools to make their apps work with iCloud, too. So you’ll be able to paint a masterpiece, play a game, create reminders, edit stock lists, and more — and have it all stay with you on all your devices.

Apple's iCloud provides a way to back up your info.
You have all sorts of important stuff on your iOS device. iCloud automatically backs it up daily over Wi-Fi. But rather than backing up your information from scratch, iCloud uploads only what you’ve changed. It’s quick and efficient, and it makes Backup convenient and nearly effortless.

Restoration that’s not a huge project. When you set up a new iOS device or need to restore the information on one you already have, iCloud Backup does the heavy lifting. Just connect your device to Wi-Fi and enter your Apple ID and password. Your personal data — along with your purchased music, apps, and books from iTunes — will appear on your device. As if they’d always been there.

iCloud stores your email, calendars, and contacts and automatically pushes them to all your devices. The MobileMe service, that used to cost just under $100 a year, is now free and part of the iCloud services So you can switch from one device to another and still go about business as usual.

When you set up iCloud, you get a free me.com email account. iCloud automatically pushes new email messages to all your devices, so your inbox is up to date everywhere you check it. And iCloud keeps all your folders in sync, no matter which device you’re using.

Update your schedule in one place and see your changes everywhere. When you have multiple devices, iCloud updates them with your most recent appointments — saving you time for all the other things you have going on. You can also share calendars with other iCloud users. A datebook your whole family can add to. Or a team schedule that every player can access. As soon as someone adds or edits an event, iCloud updates it wirelessly on everyone’s devices. Boy have we been asking for this since the Palm OS days. Google's Gmail services has allowed similar functions, but mostly with 3rd party paid apps and services

With iCloud, your entire address book is on whichever device you’re using, anytime you need it. Say you add someone to Contacts on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. iCloud automatically sends the new contact to Address Book on your Mac or to Outlook on your PC. So you don’t have to connect your device to your computer to keep track of all those names and faces.

With iCloud, when you take a photo on one device, it automatically appears on all your other devices. No syncing. No sending. Your photos are just there. Everywhere you want them.

Whether you take a photo with your iOS device or import a photo from your digital camera to your Mac or PC, iCloud stores it automatically to your iCloud account after you take them or import them.

Take a photo on an iOS device or import a photo from your digital camera to your computer, and iCloud automatically sends a copy of the photo over any available Wi-Fi network (or Ethernet) to the Photos app on your iOS devices, iPhoto on your Mac, the Pictures Library on your PC, and the Photo Stream album on your Apple TV. So you can show off your shots to friends and family from whichever device you’re using at the time.

One thousand of your latest photos. With you all the time.
iCloud helps you manage your photos efficiently so you don’t run out of storage space on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. When photos are sent to your iOS device, they appear in a Photo Stream album that holds a rolling collection of your last 1000 photos. iCloud stores new photos for 30 days, so you have plenty of time to connect your device to Wi-Fi and get your most recent shots. Once they appear in your Photo Stream, you can save your favorite shots to your Camera Roll or any other album on your device. So with a 1000 photo cap and auto deletion of the oldest picture, you will have to do some management of this Photo stream.

Make your photos a big deal with Apple TV. With Photo Stream and Apple TV, you can view your recent photos on your HDTV for some truly entertaining reality television. A special Photo Stream album lets you access photos stored in iCloud. So you can, say, take pictures during your daughter’s softball game, then watch a photo play-by-play with the family gathered around the big-screen TV.

By Carl W. Brooks
Editor, iamthereforeipad.com

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