Apple launched iCloud almost 4 years ago, and today it has hundreds of millions of users, but umm… what exactly is it?

What is iCloud?

Well, that’s a good question. and the answer is that it’s really 5(ish) services under one name.

1. Device Backups

iCloud automatically creates a daily backup file of your iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, etc). This backup file can be used to restore information and settings on your current device or (more likely) be used to quickly setup a new device. Included in the backup file are:

  • Your purchase history of apps, books, music, movies, and the like
  • Photos and videos
  • App data, meaning any data that any of your apps have saved to your device’s memory
  • Home screen and app organization
  • Device settings
  • iMessages, text messages, and visual voice mails

All of this info is wrapped up into one neat little (or big) backup file.

2. Cloud Sync

Perhaps the most useful feature of iCloud is that it syncs stuff between your Apple devices. But what kind of stuff does it sync? Well…

  • Any purchases you make from iTunes, App Store, and the iBooks Store
  • Photos and videos (this is a blog post unto itself)
  • Family sharing (another topic deserving its own post)
  • Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Notes, and Reminders
  • Browser bookmarks, reading list, and tabs (this is more a feature of Safari, but it’s included under the iCloud umbrella)

3. Cloud Storage

The differences between cloud syncing and cloud storage are subtle. Some might say it’s merely semantics. That’s sort of true. In both cases your data is being passed from one device through the internet to another device.

The distinction here is that with cloud syncing, the synced data is directly integrated into an app. For example, your synced Mail shows up when you use the Mail app.

Cloud storage, on the other hand, is more like a folder that’s connected to the internet. You can put any kind of file into this folder (even other folders), and access the folder from any internet connected device. Apple calls this feature iCloud Drive. It is much more useful on OS X (MacBooks, iMacs…) than on iOS (iPhones, iPads…), because iOS doesn’t let you access the actual file system. It’s a convenient way to backup any important documents that you really don’t want to lose.

4. Website with Cloud Office Features

If you go to, you can see an overview of what’s stored on your cloud, but you can also use iCloud’s online tools. You can email (iCloud Mail), create spreadsheets (Numbers), documents (Pages), or presentations (Keynote). This can be handy if you use both a Mac and PC. The files live completely online, so you can create and work on them from any computer.

5. Find My iPhone & Back to My Mac

These two features don’t really fit into the whole concept of iCloud, but Apple has put them there none the less.

Find My iPhone is an app that lets you locate a lost iOS device. You can also use it to remotely lock your device to make it harder for someone to break into. If you go to, you can use Find My iPhone to see a map that shows your device’s exact location.

Back to My Mac is a remote desktop application that lets you control one of your Macs from another one of your Macs. (Keywords: Your Macs, as in, not someone else’s)

Provisos, because of course


Ever seen that before? 9 times out of 10 a user’s photos and videos are taking up all of iCloud’s free space. You can either pay to get more space (boo!), or you can set up a different service for your photo and video backups. There are many options but we think that Google Photos unlimited free storage or Flickr’s free 1 TB of storage are the best options.

Need help setting up your iPhone to play nice with iCloud? Just give us a call at (424)259-1814, or add the lesson below to your cart and checkout to set up an appointment.

Mobile & Tablet Lessons > Applications (Apps)

Syncing Data with iCloud

Learn how to sync apps, photos, music and more between your computer and all of your Apple devices using iCloud. You'll also learn techniques for limiting iCloud usage, which is great for users who are bumping against the 5GB free limit.