What Is iCloud?

iCloud is a collection of services offered by Apple since October 2011. In a recent Tech Tip we got a brief overview of cloud computing. Now let’s look specifically at Apple’s iCloud. There are a lot of answers that one can give to the question, What is iCloud?

iCloud is a free data synchronization service that connects your Mac (or PC), iPhone and iPad. While the core iCloud services are free, there are optional features which cost money. Apple describes iCloud this way. iCloud stores your music, photos, documents, and more and wirelessly pushes them to all your devices. Automatic, effortless, and seamless — it just works.

iCloud is the successor to Apple’s MobileMe service. iCloud is really the fourth iteration of Apple’s online services. Wikipedia’s article about iCloud reviews this history. MobileMe had a shaky reputation in terms of reliability. When it first launched there were many incidents of slow performance and lost data. Personally, I’ve seen MobileMe data get corrupted that caused syncing to stop working. Apple redesigned and built iCloud from the ground up. It hopes to impress us with its rock-solid reliability. So far, I’ve been pretty pleased, but I feel it’s a touch early to pronounce my final judgement.

According to Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, iCloud is more than a product. It’s a strategy for Apple for the coming decade. Cook implies that iCloud will grow over the coming decade to offer more and more services.

[Update June 2014: iCloud has proven to be reliable overall. By far, the most commonly used services are the calendar and contact synchronization features so one’s iPhone, iPad and Mac all share the same contact and calendar data. Additionally, many clients like the convenience of backing up their iPhone or iPad to the iCloud servers. I like to backup my devices to both my Mac and to iCloud as I discuss in How to Backup Your iPhone or iPad. The Find My iPhone feature, is also potentially quite handy thought it should be called Find My Device since it also supports iPads and Macs.

Two common misconceptions about iCloud are that it can be used to back up a Mac and that it somehow interacts with or harvests data from other accounts like Comcast email accounts or Google accounts. Neither of these things are true. Macs cannot be backed up using iCloud. If you wan to backup your Mac to a cloud-based service I recommend BackBlaze for residential customers and CrashPlan for business customers]

iCloud offers an array of additional services which I won’t list here. Many others have already covered these services thoroughly. Here are links to two such articles I think do a particularly good job of describing iCloud’s current services. David Pogue’s blog post about iCloud and Gotta Be Mobile’s blog post about iCloud.

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