iCloud: everything you need to know

24 August 2017

If you've ever lost your phone, or experienced an unexpected smartphone meltdown, you may relate to the horror of realising all your contacts, notes, text messages, and multimedia files have disappeared for eternity. This is why backing up your phone's data is so essential. 

You may be familiar with backing up via iTunes, but did you know you can also backup to, and store data in, Apple's iCloud service? You've probably heard of it even if you don't use it; and if you're not using it yet, you definitely should consider it.

What is iCloud?

iCloud is the cloud storage and cloud computing service offered to all owners of eligible Apple devices. Basically, it allows users to store data - such as photos, music, and their iOS applications - on remote computer servers, that can be accessed by any Apple device running iOS 5 or later.

Servers that store personal data remotely are known as ‘the cloud’, and Apple's iCloud can be accessed wirelessly through either Wifi or your device’s 3G/4G internet, from anywhere at anytime.

The service gives Apple users an easy way of backing up their devices and keeping their data safe, without having to manually connect their device to iTunes and do it themselves. It's also designed to make managing your Apple devices easier, and to transfer or access files between iPhones, iPods, iPads or through your Mac.

By using your Apple ID to activate iCloud on all your Apple devices, you can easily share content between them (and to selected family or friends, via Photo Sharing and Family Sharing). iCloud includes push email, calendaring and contact services - which means email and calendar updates made from one device will immediately be available on your other devices.

If you don't have your device handy, you can access your iCloud mail, contacts, calendar, notes, reminders, and Find my iPhone via the web, from any computer. Simply go to http://www.icloud.com and sign in using your Apple ID.

If it all sounds too complicated, don’t worry – iCloud is easy to switch on if you’re activating a new iPhone, or you’re installing a new version of iOS. And it's free to use.

What does iCloud store ?

  • Contacts
  • Calendars
  • Bookmarks
  • Mail
  • Notes
  • Shared photo streams
  • Documents you save on iCloud

What does iCloud backup from your iPhone?

  • Purchased content, including applications, music, movies, TV shows and books – purchased content isn’t stored in the Cloud, but it will automatically download from the iTunes or App Store when you restore from a backup.
  • Photos and videos
  • iMessage and SMS/MMS messages
  • Ringtones
  • Your device settings
  • Application data
  • Home screen and app organisation
  • Visual Voicemail
  • Health data
  • HomeKit data
  • Call history

How to set it up on a new device

Most people think setting up their new iDevice involves plugging it in to a Mac or PC – and the same goes for backing up or upgrading the software.

However, if you have Wifi access, you can do all the above without needing to connect your new phone to a laptop or notebook. Your device will automatically back itself up when you’re charging it and connected to Wifi, so no more scheduling regular manual backups to save your device’s data.

Setting up iCloud itself is simple, especially on a new device. If you’ve updated iOS or are switching on your new device for the first time, you’ll be greeted by on-screen prompts in the form of iPhone’s setup assistant, which will help you activate your device and set up the iCloud service. The prompts will cover everything outlined below.

How to switch it on otherwise

If you already have an iPhone that’s running iOS 5 or later, you may have already switched the feature on without knowing it. To setup iCloud on an older/already updated iPhone, select Settings, then scroll down and tap iCloud. Select Use iCloud and sign in with your Apple ID.

Don’t have an Apple ID yet? Your device will prompt you to create a free one. Select Create a Free Apple ID and follow the prompts. You can use any existing email address you like as your ID, or you can opt to create an @icloud.com email address.

Once your ID is ready to go, you'll need to agree to Apple’s iCloud Terms of Service. You’ll then want to make sure you select Use iCloud Backup, meaning that your media files, contacts, calendar, apps, etc. will automatically be backed up to iCloud whenever your phone is plugged in and connected to Wifi.

You can also nominate to use Find My iPhone. It’s a service that makes it easier for you to track down your phone using its GPS connection if it’s ever lost or stolen, and will also enable you to send your contact information to the phone via SMS or wipe your device remotely. All of this can be done online from any Mac or PC if you have the feature switched on.

Apple may ask you if you want to send diagnostic information to its team. It’s anonymous, but if you’d rather keep your privacy, feel free to select Don’t Send.

Once you’ve gone through all the prompts, you’re done!

How to manually backup your phone to iCloud

Your phone will automatically backup to the cloud if it’s connected to Wifi, locked and charging. But you can also initiate a manual backup for your device at any time over a Wifi connection.

Launch Settings, and tap iCloud. Select the Storage and Backup option at the bottom of the screen. Tap Back Up Now, and the backup process will begin.

Choosing what to back up

You can control what gets backed up automatically (for example, you may prefer not to back up your Photos).To select which apps and data to back up, launch Settings, then iCloud

Scroll down and you'll see a list of the apps currently being backed up through iCloud. If there’s any apps or services you don’t want backed up, simply toggle the on/off switch to off.

How to restore from an iCloud backup

If you want to restore from an old iCloud backup on your new device during setup, you can choose Restore from iCloud Backup when using the setup assistant.

Later on, if you want to restore from a backup, you’ll need to erase and reset your device. Go to Settings, then select General, and tap Reset. Choose Erase All Content and Settings.

You’ll be asked if you wish to set up your phone as new, or restore from a previous backup – select Restore from iCloud Backup. Then enter your Apple ID and password as prompted.

Choose which backup you want (usually the latest one listed, if there’s more than one choice) and wait for it to download. Once it’s finished, your device will reset itself.

After your phone restarts, your settings will be restored and your iPhone will download all the content saved on your iCloud backup. It may take a few minutes and suck some of your battery life, so we recommend connecting your phone to a charger during this time.

Deleting a backup

You can delete older backups if you’d like to save storage space. Launch Settings, tap iCloud, tap Storage, select Manage Storage, and you’ll see a list of your current backups stored on iCloud. Select the backup you want to delete, and tap Delete Backup.

Photo Library and Photo Sharing

iCloud Photo Library is Apple’s photo storage and sharing service. It enables any photos you take with your iPhone to appear automatically on any other iOS device you own, and to be easily shared with selected iOS-using family and friends.  

All photos and videos you take are are stored in the Photo Library in high resolution and in their original format, freeing up the space on your physical device. Media is organised into collections such as Moments, Years and Memories, and users can create their own customised albums.

If you'd like to give loved ones access to your favourite pics and videos, you can switch on iCloud Photo Sharing. Simply open the Settings app or your device, scroll down and select Photos or Photos and Camera, and switch iCloud Photo Sharing to on or off

To create a shared album, open the Photos app, tap the Shared option, and select the + symbol in the top left of your screen. Follow the prompts by naming your shareable album, then type in each contact you'd like to add to the album, and select Create.

To add photos, open the new Shared Album and tap the + symbol. Select each photo you'd like to share, then hit Done. Once you're happy with your new album, select Post

If you'd like to remove any photos after sharing, open Shared in the Photos app and navigate to the album or photos you'd like to delete. Tap Select, then each individual photo you want to scrap. Once all your ready-to-delete pics are selected, tap the trash can icon in the lower right corner, then follow the pop-up prompt.

To delete an entire shared album, go to Photos, then Shared, then tap Edit. Find the album you plan to delete, and tap the red icon in its top left corner. Follow the prompts to delete your album, then select Done when you're finished. 

iCloud Drive

If you'd like to share important documents and files across your iOS devices (i.e. between iPhones, iPads, and Macs), you can set up iCloud drive. Before you switch it on, you'll want to make sure all your devices are updated with the latest version of iOS or OS.

On your iPhone, tap Settings, then go to iCloud. Select iCloud Drive, then toggle the switch to on. To open your iCloud drive files, you can use the iCloud Drive app; if you don't already have it on your phone or iPad, you can download it for free from the App Store. 

After setup is complete, all of your files and documents that were already stored on iCloud will automatically move to iCloud Drive. You can now access and edit all your selected docs, presentations, spreadsheets, PDFs and more across all your nominated devices, and any edits you make on one device will transfer over to all of them.

How to upgrade your storage

iCloud users automatically receive 5GB of storage free of charge for Backups, Documents, your Photo Library, app data and Mail. However, you can upgrade your storage size to a larger amount - up to 2TB - at any time, for a monthly fee.

Go to Settings, then select iCloud, then Storage. Tap Buy More Storage, then select the amount of storage you’ll need and tap the Buy icon.

You can also downgrade if you’re on a paid storage plan. Go through the same options to get to Storage, then select Manage Storage. Tap Change Storage Plan, then select your new storage open: you'll be downgraded to whichever plan you select when your next monthly payment is due. 

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