If you’ve been using cloud-based syncing services like Google Sync or Dropbox under Windows, you’re going to feel right at home under Mac OS X. It bundles a range of cloud services right into the operating system under the guise of its iCloud services.
iCloud offers each Mac, iPhone and iPad user 5GB of storage space, with multiple devices able to be linked to each user ID you set up. Once operational, six different types of data – Mail & Notes, Contacts, Calendars, Bookmarks, photos and Documents & Data – are seamlessly synced between all linked devices, using that 5GB online storage space as the central repository for all information.
Previous Apple-sponsored cloud services like .Mac and MobileMe had a hit-or-miss record in delivering smooth syncing and were mostly designed to facilitate better access to email, or creation of web photo galleries. However, iCloud has been designed for openness and ease of use across both mobile and desktop devices.
To turn on iCloud, click the System Preferences icon in your Dock, then click iCloud and enter your account details. You can enable or disable iCloud services – if you’re already using Gmail for your contacts and calendars, for example, you may want to leave these unchecked – and can manage your iCloud storage to see which applications are using it, and for what.
Of particular note is Photo Stream, which works as a virtual ‘folder’ of sorts into which all new images are stored. You can set your iPhone or iPad to automatically upload pictures to the Photo Stream (Settings > iCloud > Photo Stream), which it will do whenever it’s being charged within Wi-Fi range.
Load up iPhoto on your desktop and click into your Photo Stream (located in the left-hand sidebar), and iPhoto will automatically copy your pictures into a folder named by the month in which the pictures were taken. This preserves the photos long-term, since Photo Stream otherwise only stores up to 1000 photos and only keeps them for 30 days.
Just as Photo Stream is a syncing and transfer mechanism for photos, Documents & Data allows individual applications to seamlessly sync files between devices. It’s been optimised for apps such as Apple’s iCloud iWork client (www.icloud.com/iwork) but will steadily be expanded to support a range of third-party apps.
If you’ve used Dropbox under Windows, the concepts will be readily familiar – although the whole design of Documents & Data is intended to be more seamless, rather than just being a folder where you drop files.
iCloud also supports two features that have been implemented in different ways in the past: Back to My Mac, which lets you log into your Mac over the internet, and Find My Mac, which locates iCloud-connected devices that have been configured to allow themselves to be found (in iOS, toggle this option using Settings > iCloud).
iCloud can also be used to store backups of your iPhone – set this option in the iTunes profile for your device – and can back up your camera roll, account details, documents and settings.
If you’re a heavy iCloud user, you can buy more storage for your cloud repository – $21 a year for 10GB of storage, $42 a year for 20GB of storage and $105 a year for 50GB.
Expect more to come from iCloud, which has become the glue between Apple’s devices and operating systems. Its integration will grow even more with the release of OS X 10.8 ‘Mountain Lion’, which will complete the circle of iCloud by replicating many aspects of the iOS application cohort on the Mac OS X desktop – and syncing relevant data to all destination devices.