iCloud iconIf you’ve got an iPhone, iPad, iPod, Apple TV or Mac, you’ve probably seen the term “iCloud” several times.  In fact, you were likely prompted to set up iCloud when you first set up your device.  In case you never had it explained to you, iCloud is the free online service that Apple offers to all of its users.  Once set up on all of your iOS devices, it enables you to sync data between them effortlessly, without any actual user involvement at all.  With this turned on, you can leave a website open on your Mac and then pick up where you left off on your iPad while taking the bus.  Or, it allows you to take pics with your iPhone while at your kid’s soccer game, and almost immediately have them viewable on your Apple TV at home with your wife.  It is a fantastic service that all Apple users should sign up for so they can take advantage of all of its benefits.  If you haven’t yet signed up for it, this article will tell you all you need to know about how to set up iCloud.

If you’re reading this, you most likely already have an iOS device, Apple TV, or Mac.  In that case, the first step is done!  The next thing to do is to sign up for an Apple ID.  This is the account that you’d use to buy anything from iTunes or the App Store, so you probably have that already as well.  If you’re just setting up your first Apple device, follow the prompts to get a free Apple ID.

To set up iCloud on your iPhone, iPod, or iPad, your device must be running iOS 5 or later.  All current generation devices qualify, so this likely isn’t something to consider.  (If your device is on iOS 4 or earlier, you will have to upgrade by plugging into iTunes, or else you are out of luck for iCloud.)  Open the Settings app, and you will see somewhere in the middle of the list an button for iCloud, with its representative icon of a black cloud outline on a metallic silver background.  When you tap this, you enter the iCloud settings screen, tap on the Account button, where you are prompted to enter your Apple ID and the password associated with the account.  Hit the blue Done button, and that’s almost all there is to it!

When you go back to the iCloud settings screen, you will see a list of services for which you can toggle iCloud on or off.  They should all be turned on by default.  For example, if you want your Mail to stay synced between your iPhone and iPad, have that option turned on.  Same for Reminders, Notes, Calendars, etc.  If you turn on Photo Stream, any new photos that you take (the most recent 1000) will automatically sync to the iCloud Photo Stream to make viewable by all the other devices that you allow.  Another good setting to enable is the Find my iPhone (or other device), which allows you to locate your device on a map if you happen to lose it.  Documents and Data will allow apps to have access to iCloud syncing, which is being used by more and more apps everyday (think about reading a book on your iPad, and then picking up in the same spot on your iPhone).  Similarly, you can sync Safari to keep track of the tabs that you have open on all your devices at any times.  You can even tap on the Storage & Backup option to enable your device to backup to iCloud, which is incredibly useful if you don’t have a computer to sync and backup to.  The only downside is that you only get 5 GB of storage space (which does not include Photo Stream.  1000 photos are free, and newer ones will push older ones out).  However, a lot of devices have a much higher capacity (eg. 16, 32, 64 GB).  So, if you want to backup to iCloud, Apple allows you to buy more storage space directly from the settings page, and they will easily charge you on your Apple ID account.  If you backup to one of your home computers, then you likely don’t need to worry about buying extra storage space.  Once you have all these settings set up as you’d like, that’s all there is to do to enable iCloud!

To set up iCloud on a Mac (OS X 10.7.5 or later only!), the process is also simple, though obviously slightly different.  You need to open the System Preferences panel, and then iCloud is found on the Internet and Wireless line, with the same silver and black cloud icon as on iOS devices.  Once there, you can sign in with your Apple ID (the same one that you logged in with on your other device), and then turn on and off whichever services you want synced.  You don’t have an option to backup your Mac to iCloud, but that’s fine, because your Mac has way more than the 5 GB of data allowed!

Finally, you can set up your Apple TV to take advantage of iCloud syncing.  You won’t have access to a lot of the features, such as calendars, reminders, mail, and notes.  However, the big feature is access to the Photo Stream.  There’s nothing like viewing all of your great pictures effortlessly on your big TV with the whole family!  To do this, all you have to do is go into the Settings screen on the Apple TV and log in with your credentials.

Hopefully, this brief tutorial has convinced you of the benefits of iCloud, and allowed you to get it up and running.  It all works behind the scenes, with minimal user interaction.  It just works.  Having your data on the device that you have, and not the one you left at home, saves you time and effort.  Being able to track down your device if you misplace it provides you with peace of mind and helps you to actually find it again.  And making your photos viewable across all of your devices nearly instantly is amazing convenient.  If you have an Apple product that supports iCloud, you really need to enable this fantastic service.

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