What the heck is iCloud?

I’ve been asked this by many a bewildered Apple user.

“Is there an iCloud app?”
“Where do I go to see iCloud?”

There’s a great video from The Onion that emphasizes the problem.

The Onion: HP On The Cloud Thing That Everyone Is Talking About

I can understand the confusion. When you hear about a new app or new feature on your iPhone you go download it or hit that newly discovered button.
iCloud, however, is not a button you press when you need it. It’s a service that your devices are using all the time.

iCloud is a benefit Apple built into all the iDevices and Macs to make us work less. With certain important information on your devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Mac, and even PC) Apple automatically syncs data between your devices.

Example: You meet someone new and put his contact info in your phone. You then go to your Mac that evening to email him. His contact information is already there.

That’s iCloud. There was no button to push. It prevents you from working so hard by keeping your devices’ info consistent all the time.

So everything will sync on my iDevices?

No. Not everything. Some of the most important things though. Here’s a list of what iCloud will sync. Everything with a * has a stipulation that I’ll clarify.

Contacts
Calendars
Reminders
Safari bookmarks (PC users, read: Favorites)
*Notes
*Photos
*Documents
*Music, Apps, & iBooks
App Store app data-I’ll explain this below

iCloud also backs up your entire phone. I’ll explain this in another post.

*Notes- in order for your notes to sync over iCloud (since they can sync through other means like your Gmail or Yahoo! account), you must have an iCloud email address (@mac.com, @me.com, or @icloud.com) and cannot use another work or personal email address to sign into iCloud. More on this in a future post about managing Apple IDs.

*Photos- pictures are a little trickier to explain. Be looking for another post on Photo Stream and syncing photos between your iDevices and computers.

*Documents- the apps called Pages, Numbers, and Keynote make up the trifecta equating to Word, Excel, & PowerPoint on a PC. They are great equivalents unless you use very advanced macros or Visual Basic in Excel. If you haven’t heard of these, you won’t need them. If you have even one of these apps on any device, iCloud can help in 2 ways.
First, you can always go to icloud.com and download the document you’ve made as it is, in PDF format, or in its respective Microsoft Office format (Pages as Word, Numbers as Excel, & Keynote as PowerPoint). Handy. You always have access to those on any computer.
Second, if you have these apps on more than one device-Mac included-iCloud will sync their content just like the contact example from the beginning.

*Music, Apps, & iBooks- here’s what I don’t mean: none of your 90’s CDs that you imported to iTunes that one weekend are going to sync. You still need a cable for anything that didn’t come from the iTunes Store or was downloaded from there before you set up iCloud. Any new content that you download in the iTunes Store, App Store, or iBookstore will be automatically downloaded to your other devices once they have an internet connection.

Here’s what I mean by App Store app data: while playing on my iPhone I get an upgrade on my guns in Zombie Gunship (2nd best iOS game ever). I then pick up my iPad to play (since it’s clearly better to blast zombies to little undead bits on a retina 9.7″ screen), and the upgrade is already there on the iPad! Time to blast those walkers.

Maybe you have a Bible app like the über superior Olive Tree Bible Reader. It may use iCloud to sync your notes and highlights across all the devices you have that app on.
iCloud simply applies the same syncing principles to other apps you’ve downloaded from the App Store if the developer so chooses.

Risking the possibility of beating a dead horse, here’s my last explanation of how iCloud works: it’s like all of your devices are plugged into each other and are constantly syncing. iCloud is just a really long cable.

Hope this helps those of you who knew iCloud was great, but weren’t sure why or how.

Comment below to ask questions or request follow up posts.

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