What is Apple’s iCloud?

Equipped with a re-examined wish list and hands-on experience, we take you through the broad strokes so that you know what to expect—and what not to—from Apple's fall release of iCloud. In this article, we walk you through the ten things you need to know about Apple's fast-approaching iCloud.

| Updated on: Oct 10 2011, 18:13 IST

iCloud, Apple's new synchronization service, sounds too good to be a true: Apple claims it will make your content available to all of your devices by 'seamlessly' integrating into your apps. The fact that it's free, taking the spot of the $100/year MobileMe, only sweetens the pot. And of course there's the 'one more thing:' For $25/year, iTunes Match will scan your iTunes library, locate your tunes in Apple's 18-million song library, and let you take your songs to go as pitch-perfect, DRM-free versions.

Despite a surprising number of lingering questions, there's plenty of fine print that isn't getting nearly as much attention as Steve's black turtleneck. What features will require Wi-Fi connectivity, as opposed to cellular 3G? What are the data caps and to what features do they apply? And how does Photo Stream work?

Equipped with a re-examined wish list and hands-on experience, we take you through the broad strokes so that you know what to expect—and what not to—from Apple's fall release of iCloud. In the following paragraphs, we walk you through the ten things you need to know about Apple's fast-approaching iCloud.

Once you've read through this article, you'll be able to bring this cloud down to earth, knowing what it entails, where its limitations lie, and how you can use it.

iCloud replaces MobileMe

MobileMe is going away and a new product, iCloud, is taking its spot. While you can expect to have contacts, calendars, and mail sync across computers and devices, don't count on every MobileMe feature carrying over (for example, there's no word on the fate of iDisk). The move also isn't optional. Come next fall, MobileMe will NoLongerBe.

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But iCloud is more than MobileMe

Like MobileMe, iCloud also syncs calendars, contacts, mail, and documents. In addition, iCloud syncs your apps (and app data), recent photos, iBooks, and iTunes-purchased music across your computers and devices. It will also back up iOS devices' settings and stored app data.

iCloud is free. iTunes Match isn't.

While you can sync iTunes-purchased songs and albums using iTunes in the iCloud, if you want to access music from other sources, there's a cover charge. For a yearly fee of $25, iTunes Match scans your iTunes library and locates all of your songs in Apple's 18-million song library. If your song exists in the master library, Apple grants access to a high-quality (256 Kbps) DRM-free version. If it doesn't—say it's a Garageband mix tape—iTunes Match automatically uploads it. Because most of your library ought to be mirrored in the cloud, the scan-and-match process will be much faster than the upload-based competition from Amazon Cloud Player and Google Music.

iTunes Match won't get you arrested.

iTunes Match doesn't ask questions. It doesn't care about the quality, DRM, or origins of your music. It simply scans your iTunes library and uses the information associated with each file to locate its (ideal) twin.

iCloud doesn't stream.

Apple's take on the cloud is download-centric. Information, music, and photos are stored in the cloud and then synced to devices. You'll have to have the complete files downloaded to your device, which means iCloud won't save you any storage space. This is in sharp contrast to Amazon Cloud Player and Google Music, both of which stream music directly from the cloud without requiring a download. Apple's approach does ensure that you'll have access to data without wireless connectivity, but some of its components rely on Wi-Fi—3G won't cut it. And with its emphasis on ownership, don't count on iCloud offering a paid music subscription service in the near future, despite the company's enormous repository of online tunage.

iCloud isn't unlimited.

iCloud comes with unlimited storage for iTunes-purchased music, apps, and iBooks. For photos, there isn't a cap but an expiration date: Photo Stream delivers a rolling clip of your thousand most recent pics with 30 days allotted for download. When it comes to iOS backup data (for example, your Bejeweled high scores), iWork documents, calendars, and mail, iCloud has a 5-gigabyte ceiling (though you'll be able to pay for more). That's significantly less than the 20 gigabytes to which MobileMe customers were accustomed, not to mention iCloud lacks an iDisk-esque flexible storage option that lets user upload any old file typed from anywhere on-disk. DropBox, anyone?

Photo Stream is about taking photos.

Photo Stream is built for sharing your mobile photos. It automatically makes your 1000 most recent photos available to all your devices. Consider it a temporary solution, rather than a permanent backup: iCloud allows 30 days for your photos to trickle down to the rest of your devices. Meanwhile your computer acts as the master library, automatically retaining photos that flow in from disparate devices via Photo Stream. This single-lane approach—you won't be using Photo Stream to backupyour iPhoto library—places emphasis on sharing and organizing the photos you capture on the go. And again, we're not talking about cloud-only storage—you'll always need a copy taking up space on a device.

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iCloud doesn't do video (yet).

Images and moving images are two different animals, because Mobile video was MIA in iCloud's WWDC introduction—surprising given that Apple sells music videos, television shows, movies, and movie rentals. Without an iDisk component, don't expect to manually stow your videos in iCloud.

Some of iCloud is already available.

Despite the October 12thlaunch date, some of iCloud is already hovering overhead. If you're on a desktop, you'll need the latest version of iTunes (10.3). Mobile users, meanwhile, will need iOS 4.3. With the latest software you can review purchased iTunes music, with the option to precipitate those songs from the cloud to your device.

Don't turn off your Wi-Fi.

With tiered cellular pricing commonplace, iPhone and iPad 3G customers should already be accustomed to connecting to Wi-Fi networks. Now some iCloud components don't give you a choice. As with wireless synchronization, a new feature in iOS 5, you'll need to connect to a Wi-Fi network to use the automatic backup functionality. Same goes for Photo Stream. Apple offers a bit more flexibility when it comes to purchases: iBooks, Apps, and iTunes in the Cloud can sync via 3G.

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First Published Date: 10 Oct, 13:10 IST