How to use iCloud on your devices

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Apple rolled out iCloud nearly a decade ago, largely as a back-end cloud storage locker for data. In the past few years, Apple has made it more central to your user experience, but many still don’t know how to use iCloud effectively.

It’s really not difficult; once you get the hang of iCloud, you may end up ditching your other cloud storage accounts like Google Drive or Dropbox. We’ll show you how to use iCloud storage effectively, and how to use iCloud on Mac computers and other Apple devices.

What is an iCloud account?

iCloud is Apple’s default cloud storage solution, available on all Apple devices and the web. To utilize iCloud, you have to have an iCloud account, which anyone can sign up for. It’s mainly used to sync data across your various iOS, iPadOS, and macOS devices. 

Calendar, contacts, email, reminders, notes, photos, videos, iMessage conversations – these are all apps with data which sync across your devices using iCloud. You can also utilize iCloud Drive to keep documents and folders in sync across devices. On your Mac, the desktop and documents folders are synced by default.

Apple has also made iCloud responsible for storing your most recent iPhone backup. This will occupy almost all of the free iCloud storage Apple gives each user.

How does iCloud work?

Like any cloud storage solution, iCloud is simply memory on a server you can access via a connection to the internet. So long as you’re able to get a signal on your device – be it cellular or WiFi – you can access iCloud.

When you use iCloud, your device is essentially linking to your cloud-based storage account. Modern technology has made it really difficult to tell the difference between local file access and cloud access. That said, when you edit a document stored on iCloud, it’s done on your local machine, not the cloud. All changes are saved to iCloud, though.

How to use iCloud

The point of iCloud is that you don’t actually use it; instead, you use your Mac, iPhone, or iPad normally, and iCloud syncs the data. 

Should you need to access iCloud via the web, here’s how:

  1. Open your web browser and go to iCloud.com
  2. Enter your iCloud storage login details (email, then password)
  3. Confirm the code on your device if you’re logging in for the first time

On the web, you’ll find many of the apps utilizing iCloud. You can use these apps via the website, too, but it’s a very limited experience. Apple’s mission is for you to use your devices, not the web.

But you can do things like manage reminders, or your calendar. You also have full access to your Photos library – but you can’t edit images. This is a common theme with iCloud on the web: you can find items, and create documents, but much of the capabilities you have on a Mac, iPad, or iPhone is missing.

How to use iCloud on iPhone

Here’s how to activate iCloud on your iPhone:

  1. Open the Settings app
  2. Click on the top banner
  3. Sign in using your Apple ID credentials

That’s all you have to do. Apple provides a free iCloud account to anyone with an Apple ID, along with 5GB storage.

iCloud settings

iCloud is great, but it can fail you. Instead of relying on iCloud to manage your data, we prefer AnyTrans.

When Apple decided to utilize iCloud for iPhone backups, it was the end of an era where we could back our iPhone data up to a Mac. AnyTrans picked up that mantle, and allows you to link your iPhone to a Mac via a Lightning cable and back your iPhone up directly to the Mac. Instead of hoping your iCloud account ahs the latest backup and waiting for it to download – which can take a really long time – AnyTrans lets you control when you back your phone up, and when to restore your device from a backup.

We also like AnyTrans because it does a sensational job of backing data up while also making it accessible on your Mac. Large movie files? Just back your phone up with AnyTrans and stream away!

anytrans mac

How to use iCloud on a Mac

As with iOS, using iCloud on the Mac should be a seamless experience where you work normally, and iCloud syncs your data across devices. And like the iPhone, you can activate iCloud on a Mac. Here’s how:

  1. In the Mac menu bar, click the Apple logo in the top left corner
  2. Select “System Preferences”
  3. Select “Apple ID”
  4. Sign into using your Apple ID credentials

After signing in, it’s a good idea to verify your Mac is syncing the data you want it to. On the left side of the window, select iCloud. Here, you can toggle what data on your Mac is synced via iCloud.

macos apple id

How to use iCloud Photo

Here’s how to use iCloud to sync your images to the Photos app across all of your devices:

  1. In the Mac menu bar, click the Apple logo in the top left corner
  2. Select “System Preferences”
  3. Select “Apple ID”
  4. Select iCloud
  5. Make sure “Photos” has a blue checkmark next to it

That’s all you need to do. From there, iCloud takes over and syncs your images across all of your devices.

macos icloud photo

When syncing data, it’s entirely possible you end up with duplicate images. That’s where Gemini comes in.

Gemini is an app focused on finding and removing duplicate files on your Mac. It scans all of your documents and images, and tells you when it’s found duplicates. It also makes deleting those duplicate files and images easy via a single click of your trackpad or mouse. Not only does Gemini reduce the noise in your Photos app, but it helps save precious storage on your Mac.

gemini app

Restoring and Backing Up with iCloud

Knowing how to use iCloud backup is important. Not only is it Apple’s go-to for all iOS devices, it’ll help when you purchase a new iPhone as Apple now offers to let you restore from your most recent backup immediately.

But what about documents and files? For restoring those items, you’ll need to visit the web version of iCloud. Here’s how to restore files using iCloud.com:

  1. Open your web browser and go to iCloud.com
  2. Enter your iCloud storage login details (email, then password)
  3. Confirm the code on your device if you’re logging in for the first time
  4. Select “Account Settings”
  5. At the bottom of the screen, select “Restore Files”

Note: Files, contacts, calendars, and Safari bookmarks all have a ‘restore’ tab. If you need to restore more than one of these things, you will have to do so individually.

  1. You’ll see a list of your most recently deleted files. (Deleted files are held for 30 days before being permanently deleted.)
  2. Select the file or files you want to restore
  3. Select “Done”

That’s all you need to do. iCloud will restore the files in the last spot they were stored before you deleted them. 

There are better options for restoring files on your Mac. Disk Drill is a world-class recovery and backup app that scans your whole hard drive for fragmented files and puts them back together again. Much more powerful than a built-in feature on the iCloud website, Disk Drill is able to find your files no matter the loss cause — data corruption, accidental removal, or an obscure disk utility error. The app works on Mac and all other major devices, such as the iPhone, iPad, Android, USB, and SD cards, so you can save your files wherever they are.

Getting your data back with Disk Drill couldn’t be easier: 

  1. Open the app
  2. Click Recover

disk drill mac

Similarly, Get Backup Pro is a first-grade backup manager that keeps all your files and personal data safe and secure wherever you are, giving you complete peace of mind. The tool allows for bootable as well as encrypted backups and sync folders. It also keeps your data reachable in case of a system failure or information loss. And with scheduled automatic backups, you don’t even have to do a thing past the first setup!

get backup pro mac

iCloud Pricing

As noted earlier, there is a free tier for iCloud, but it’s easy to cross that threshold with iPhone backups and a few photos. Here’s Apple’s complete pricing structure:

  • Free: Apple’s free tier affords you 5GB storage
  • $0.99 per month: 50GB total storage
  • $2.99 per month: 200GB
  • $9.99 per month: 2TB

We should also note the 200GB or 2TB iCloud storage plans can be shared if you’re on a Family Plan.

Updating iCloud storage

If you hit your iCloud storage limit, Apple will surface a popup notification on your device. This will take you directly to a screen offering up several different options for upgrade. If you want to be proactive, here’s how to upgrade your iCloud storage on a Mac:

  1. In the Mac menu bar, select the Apple logo in the top left corner
  2. Select “System Preferences”
  3. Select “Apple ID”
  4. Select “iCloud”
  5. On the bottom right of the window, select “Manage”
  6. In the popup, select “Buy More Storage” or “Change Storage Plan” on the top right of the window
  7. Select the iCloud storage plan you want
  8. Select “Next”
  9. Follow the on-screen directions to sign in and authorize monthly payments for your new iCloud plan

icloud storage

Here’s how to change your iCloud plan on iPhone or iPad:

  1. Open the Settings app
  2. Select the banner at the top with your contact info
  3. Select “iCloud”
  4. Select “Manage Storage”
  5. Select “Change Storage Plan”
  6. Select the iCloud storage plan you want
  7. Select “Next”
  8. Follow the on-screen directions to sign in and authorize monthly payments for your new iCloud plan

Most of the time, you won’t have to think about iCloud. It’ll be running in the background, keeping your files synced. But that’s also the problem: without some direct involvement and management, can you trust iCloud is doing its job?

Many don’t, which is what makes apps like Get Backup Pro and Disk Drill attractive. They allow you to back your Mac up with ease. The same can be said about AnyTrans, which handles your iPhone backups in a more direct manner than iCloud, and allows you access to the data right on your Mac.

And for those times you end up with duplicates of a photo or file, Gemini is renowned as the best way to manage your system and ensure you only keep one copy of a true duplicate.

Best of all, each of these four apps are available for free as part of a seven day trial of Setapp, the world’s best suite of productivity apps for your Mac. Alongside Gemini, Get Backup Pro, AnyTrans, and Disk Drill, you will have unlimited access to over 175 additional apps for your Mac. When your free trial is over, continuing your unlimited access to the full suite of apps available on Setapp is only $9.99 per month, or $19.99 per month for a family plan with access on up to four Macs. We think you’ll love Setapp, so give it a try today!


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