As technology continues on its maddening pace of advancement, new services are emerging to make our life “easier”. 2012 promises to be the year of “The Cloud”. There are already numerous, well-developed technologies in place, now; intended to make your digital life seamless. And while services like Dropbox, box.net, Amazon cloud storage, and Google services are rather secure, stable, and available on multiple operating systems (android, windows, iOS, etc), none are truly changing the paradigm for how our data travels with us. These services behave much like the traditional hard drive; great for familiarity’s sake but with all the hassle of managing a hard drive.
Apple, similarly, has a new cloud service. But, as has come to be Apple’s MO, the service is implemented in a unique way. Though not complete, Apple’s iCloud is trying to free your data to flow fluidly from device to device with as little management on your end as possible. Obviously, Apple is in business to make money. Therefore, to take full advantage of iCloud, you need to be fairly invested in the Apple universe. But you don’t need multiple devices to enjoy the benefits of iCloud.
Disclaimer: your device must be running iOS 5 or later to utilize iCloud. iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPad 1, iPad 2, and 3rd and 4th generation iPod Touch are capable of running iOS 5. To update your software, plug your device into iTunes on your computer, click on your device in the side panel and look for this:
Once you’ve upgraded you’ll be prompted to sign in and create an iCloud account. Now you’re able to partake in all the iCloud goodness we will talk about below.
With iCloud, Apple has addressed one of the biggest concerns with, essentially, carrying a mobile computer in your pocket: Backup. What happens when you lose or destroy a device? In the past you bought a new device and prayed a recent backup was on your computer. Now, iCloud backs up your device every time you plug in your device to charge. Lose your phone and you only need to login on the new device and your entire phone (purchased music, apps, photos, texts, contacts, settings) is restored to its last state. In combination with other iCloud services like iTunes Match and PhotoStream, you can even rescue your most recent photos and music acquired from non-iTunes sources (more on that later) without syncing with your computer.
To enable iCloud Backup, go to the setting app and scroll down to iCloud. If you’re not signed in you can do that here. Once inside the iCloud settings screen, scroll to the bottom and enable iCloud backup. You are now set up to backup your device to iCloud.
CALENDAR, MAIL, AND CONTACTS
Few people feel overly excited about the mundane tasks of managing your contact, calendar, and mail. But as more and more homes adopt multiple Apple devices, using iCloud to sync them can be life changing!
Our household is
notoriously full of Apple devices like many others. iCloud makes syncing information between your iPhones, iPads, iPod Touch, and Macs seamless. As long as you are signed into iCloud on all your devices, any change you make on one device automatically appears on the others. Add a contact on your phone and it shows up in your contact book on the Mac. Set a meeting in iCal on your Mac and it appears in the calendar app on your iPhone and iPad. And because these features are web-based, you can access your contacts and mail on ANY computer through iCloud.com.
PRO TIP: If you have multiple users with different iCloud accounts, you can share calendars with each other. Keep a personal calendar then create a calendar that can be updated by anyone you share it with. Just login at iCloud.com, choose calendar, select the calendar you want to share from the list and enter the iCloud address of the person you want to share it with.
ITUNES, APPS, AND IBOOKS
If you’re like me, you have tons of apps, music, movies, and books that you’ve purchased over the years through iTunes, iBooks or the App Store. So many that they don’t all fit on your device anymore. And invariably, the one time you need that specific app or song, it’s no longer on you’re device. Fear not! In the iTunes app on your device, a new category is available for Purchased items. Download any song that you’ve previously purchased. Similarly, in the AppStore on your device, tap on updates, scroll all the way to the top and tap on Purchases. From there you can find any app that is no longer on your device. It’s that easy; full access to anything you’ve ever purchased on an Apple device.
Bonus Feature: Buying new music while buzzing around town? Purchase anything (music, video, app, books) on an Apple device and it automatically downloads to all of your other devices, including your computer. In fact, just now, I saw a pair of Mormons biking around town. This of course reminded me of The Book of Mormon musical written by Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Found it on iTunes while in Autozone, purchased it, and it was waiting on my iPad and Mac when I got home not more than 10 minutes later.
It’s no stretch of the truth to suggest the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S have the best cameras in mobile phone industry. Millions of people are using their iPhone as a primary camera. More pictures are uploaded to Flickr’s servers from iPhones than any other camera. Not just mobile phones, all cameras.
So as part of iCloud, Apple has built in a seamless way to view your photos on any of your devices. Take a picture on your iPhone and it’s automatically saved to your computer where you’ll have it forever unless you choose to delete it. It’s also immediately available to view on your iPad or AppleTV if they are connected to the Internet.
There are several tweaks needed to the current implementation, but it’s a step in the right direction in terms of storing all your photos in one place.
FIND MY IPHONE AND FRIENDS
Stories of stolen iPhones, iPads, and Macs are becoming frighteningly frequent. And while no one wants to go through the stress of a stolen device, iCloud has done its part to track down stolen devices and their corresponding thieves. That’s right, iCloud allows you to track your devices, send messages to the would be perps, lock your phone or completely wipe it, all from another Apple device or the web. Heck, you can even get online and have your phone play a sound so you can find it in the couch! From the iCloud tab in Settings on your device, just turn toggle for Find My iPhone (iPad, Touch, or Mac) to the on position.
The same technology is used in a new app from Apple called Find My Friends. Traveling with a group? Download the app and sign in with your iCloud information. From there you can create events to which friends from your contacts list can be invited. For the length of your event, your location data is shared with anyone you invite (and has an iPhone as well). Parents can even set this up on a permanent basis on a child’s device to insure there child is safely where they are supposed to be.
Apple is quietly revolutionizing the way we store data on our devices. While none of these services are fleshed out to their maximum potential, the seeds of greatness are there. In its current state, Apple has developed a system where documents created on an iPhone or iPad are immediately available on the other. Create a document on your iPad in one of Apple’s productivity apps (Pages, Keynote, or Numbers) and it’s ready for you to tweak on your iPhone or download to your computer. Work on a document on your computer, drag the file to your browser with iCloud.com’s iWork tab pulled up, and it’s instantly available on your iPad or iPhone.
This is immensely helpful even in a state that is not fully developed. But I believe Apple is on the verge of shifting basic computing away from the file system with iCloud. If that confuses you, let me lay out a couple of scenarios for you.
Currently, to find any item on your computer, you need to go into your main hard drive, find the correct folder, select the file, and choose what program to open it with. Similarly, if you open a word processing program like Pages for Mac or Microsoft Word and want to open an existing file, you have to dive into a file system to locate the document.
In the future Apple would like you to be able to open a program and be presented with a list or grid of documents that the particular program you’re using can access. No wading through a file system and endless subfolders. It works this way currently in iWork for iPad and iPhone. Any document in the cloud that is associated with that program is immediately listed for you to access. Within a year, I would imagine the same functionality coming to Mac apps as well. Any document you create would be made available in the cloud for you to access on any Apple device.
iCloud is an ambitious endeavor that is still in it’s infancy. Data that the user doesn’t have to manage, yet still available whenever and wherever you are. A hard drive in the sky that you don’t have to mess with. No upload and downloading; it seamlessly ‘just works.’ It provides some amazing functionality now and even more impressive possibilities for the future. Look up into iCloud now and keep your eyes on the horizon.