iCloud one of the biggest feature of iOS 5 is Apple’s attempt to finally get its internet strategy right. Previous attempts like “dot Mac”, iWork.com, MobileMe didn’t go on to become huge hits. Now with its huge cash stash and the North Carolina data center, Apple plans to offer all iOS 5 users a number of cloud based services for free.
iCloud is essentially a number of internet based services combined under one name. Apple restricts the number of people signing up for iCloud by providing the registration form only on devices running iOS 5 or Lion. The service obviously ties into your existing iTunes account and has a record of all your previous purchases.
Here are the major iCloud features:
iTunes in the Cloud
All your previously purchased media including music, movies, videos, apps would be available for re-download on any of your devices. Also, new purchases would automatically show up on all your devices.
An easy way to describe iTunes Match would be: for $24.99 a year, you can convert all your ripped (even illegal) music into high quality legal music which you can stream (kind of) or store it on any of your devices. This feature is expected to go live by the end of this month.
Mail, Contacts and Calendar
MobileMe, previously a paid service, has been merged under the iCloud label to include goodies like contact and calendar syncing all for free. Some services like iDisk and Keychain syncing, earlier a part of MobileMe, have however been killed. Apple has started the MobileMe to iCloud transition process, detail of which can be seen in this post.
(An annoyance with Google Sync has been that it compresses contact pictures to very low resolutions because of which the image doesn’t fill the entire screen when a contact calls. Hopefully, with Apple’s intense attention to detail this shouldn’t be an issue.)
Find My Device
Alongside iCloud, Find My iPhone has been extended to include Macs as well. This eliminates the use of third party laptop tracking software. Your device location would be accessible via the iCloud web interface, which shed the beta tag just yesterday, or through dedicated Find My iPhone apps on your iOS devices.
Find My Friends
The app which was introduced at Apple’s “Let’s Talk iPhone” media event, lets you temporarily share your location with your friends. In principle it works exactly like Find My iPhone, except for the fact that it’s meant for humans. More details of Find My Friends can be found here.
A number of third party apps let you transfer photos from your Photo Library to your PC over a Wi-Fi connection. Apple takes it a step further by syncing images across all your devices in real time. As Photostream is an OS level feature, it gives a much better experience than using tools like Dropbox or SugarSync.
Bookmarks and Reading List
No longer do you have to depend on tethered syncing to synchronise your Safari bookmarks. With iCloud updates to your bookmarks would be pushed to all your devices in real time.
Also bundled in the new iOS 5 update is Reading List, a drawer for all articles you want to read later, just like Instapaper. It’s integrated into the latest release of Safari on all platforms including Windows.
Documents in the Cloud
Using the same iCloud APIs provided to developers, Apple built cloud syncing into its iWork suite of apps. So now when you leave your iPad while making a presentation on Keynote, you can pick up your iPhone later and start off from the same point where you left. Apple also lets you view/download any of your documents through the iCloud web interface.
Note that you’ll have to be running the latest version of all iWork apps to use iCloud syncing.
The endless wait for iTunes to finish backing up data on your device is gone. As a part of PC-free, iCloud now takes automatic wireless backups of data on your device daily when your iPhone is plugged in and on Wi-Fi. Data backed up includes:
- Device settings
- App data
- Home screen and app organization
- Messages (iMessage, SMS, and MMS)
How iCloud Syncing Works on iOS 5
Apple has provided app developers with APIs that can sync selective data to the cloud, so that the next time you restore your device all your data isn’t lost. Erica Sadun of TUAW looked into the iOS 5 file system and found out how exactly these apps sync data to iCloud:
In its simplest form, iCloud is merely a special folder. It lives on the iOS device in /private/var/mobile/Library/Mobile Documents/. That folder hosts all application material that applications share to the cloud.
Applications have partial permission to read from and write to this folder. That permission is developer-specific. As with the password keychain, developers can share cloud data between applications.
This should explain why Apple wanted to buy Dropbox, they are veterans in syncing folders onto multiple devices. This also means that if you’re jailbroken and you have access to the iOS 5 filesystem you can manually copy a few files via SSH or iPhone Explorer to your computer. This is if you want to to have a local backup.
iOS: Setting up iCloud on your iOS devices should be fairly simple. You turn on iCloud (sign up may be required at first), customise your settings and you’re ready to go.
Lion: If you’re on Lion, you would first have to update your OS to version 10.7.2 which includes all iCloud features. From System Preferences, go to iCloud and sign in after which you can change your settings.
Windows: For Windows, in addition to iTunes 10.5, you would be required to download iCloud Control Panel for Windows though this link. After installing go to Control Panel > Network and Internet > iCloud and sign into your account and adjust settings according to your need.
In case you’re having any issues with signing up or facing any problem, shout out in the comments and we’ll try to get it sorted.