Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Most Detailed iCloud Review Ever

As I have been using iCloud for two weeks, this post aims at addressing the most commonly asked questions with regard to this latest addition to Apple technology. Granted, most of Apple products don't require a detailed manual as they usually "just work". In iCloud case, I believe that, although it works beautifully, it requires a lot more explaining that what can be found at

First of all, the user has to keep in mind that "iCloud" refers to many different things:

1) An automated backup system for iOS devices: this is what enables users to "cut the cord". iOS devices are now autonomous and can be configured without a computer or iTunes. A simple wifi connection will let you restore an iOS device from a previous backup or configure and activate a brand new device. However, music and photos aren't synced and backed up to iCloud which still forces users to connect at a point or another their iDevices to a computer. Everything else besides music and photos is backed up to iCloud (apps, settings, folders etc.)

2) Push Technology that syncs all your contacts, calendars, notes, reminders & bookmarks among all your devices. It basically is what MobileMe was supposed to be, i.e. "Exchange for the rest of us". After two weeks of use, I must say that I find this feature reliable enough not to use MS Exchange anymore. As a matter of fact, I plan to cancel my hosted Exchange service within the next 10 days. Of course, push email is also part of this offering.

3) Push Technology that syncs your documents among your iOS devices. I am describing this in a separate point because I was a bit disappointed to realize that documents won't sync to your computers. They are only synced between iOS devices and (which is the website that lets you access your personal information saved on iCloud). Documents actually only refers to Pages, Numbers & Keynote files.

4) Photostream: push technology that syncs all recent photos between devices. There seems to be many bugs that need to be address here. For instance, some photos won't sync or it is impossible to delete photos from the Photostream shared among different computers and iOS devices. Most importantly, I wish Apple had implemented a way to create new iPhoto albums and automatically sync them across devices. It is not the case with Photostream. Although your recently taken pictures will show up on all your devices, if you want to organize them into albums, you will have to do it on every and each of your devices or connect them to your computer and sync them to iPhoto through iTunes.

5) Find My iPhone: although an old feature introduced with MobileMe, this is still a wonderful idea. In case you lose your iPhone, you can display a message, play a sound or simply remote wipe it.

6) iTunes in the cloud: this will let all your purchased music appear on all your devices. iTunes Match which will be available later this year enables you to match your non iTunes purchased music library with iTunes music for a $24.99 yearly subscription fee.

Ok, so now that we have an overview of what iCloud is about. Let's see how to make use of it and basically my idea, here, is to show how to set it up for a household with multiple users and multiple iDevices. Along the way, I will also point out the shortcomings of iCloud and other information not easily found online.

First of all: should you use multiple iCloud accounts or just one if you plan on using different devices among different users? My answer to this, after taking the time to weigh in the options, is that the easiest way to address this is to share a common "main iCloud account" for all users and create a secondary iCloud account for each user. Let me explain it:

1) Keep in mind that only one main iCloud account can be configured on iOS devices. That means that, although you can use multiple iCloud accounts, all subsequent accounts will only be available for Email, Contacts, Calendars, Notes, Reminders & Find My iPhone. On the Mac OS side of things: only one Photostream per user account is available. This means that if different users share a single computer with a single user account (probably the most common configuration in a household), they have to use the same main iCloud account on their iOS devices if they want Photostream to work.

2) Sharing the same iCloud account among different users has a drawback: you get to share the free 5GB that every iCloud account comes with. In my case, I use iCloud to backup 6 iOS devices and currently use a little over 8GB on my main iCloud account (which means that come June 2012, I will have to pay for the extended storage need. Paid MobileMe users are granted extra space until June 2012).

3) Can I backup multiple devices to one iCloud account? I believe I have addressed this question in the previous paragraph. The answer clearly is: YES. If you restore an iOS device, after setting up a wifi connection and entering your iCloud credentials, it will show you a list of the the devices that are backed up to iCloud and ask you which one you want to restore to the device you are holding. You will see the name you gave to the device, date of last backup and type of device: iPhone, iPad, iPhone Touch.

4) Why use multiple iCloud accounts with a primary account: there is obviously some information that is practical to share among users living in the same household but also some information that would be a pain to share. In my case, we all share the same contacts list (which saves us the trouble of constantly updating contact information). I don't care if I have contacts in my contacts database that I don't know. I do care about everyone having access to the same contacts list without having to ask each other for updated details. On the calendar side of things, we all have personal calendars on personal iCloud accounts but they are configured on all devices so that everyone knows when everyone else is available. Reminders though are only synced to one's individual iOS device but everyone's reminders are synced to the same computers so that we can update them from the comfort of a real keyboard. Same for Notes.

I understand that this whole setup might be confusing but it shows what you can or can't do with iCloud. In our case, sharing contacts between all of us makes things easier for everyone. Having constant access to always up to date calendar information  for everyone is very convenient too.

Need I remind everyone that the geofencing functionality of reminders (the ability to set up a reminder to buy cheddar cheese whenever you get close to your favorite grocery store) is only available if your reminders are set up in an iCloud account. This feature is highly valuable and practical once you get to try it! I don't understand how I have managed to live without is thus far!

Other points and tips with respect to iCloud:

Nowhere on Apple website is it stated that all iCloud information storage and transfer are encrypted. It obviously is but I don't understand why Apple didn't make it clear.

• This is iOS 5 related: it is now possible (in countries where it is available) to unlock your iPhone without iTunes. Ask your carrier to unlock your iPhone and when you receive confirmation that it has been configured on Apple servers, just insert a sim card from a different mobile carrier in your iPhone, it will connect to Apple activation servers through wifi and effectively unlock your iPhone (you won't need to do this again so you should be able to insert a foreign sim card in your iPhone without the need for a wifi connection once it has been done once).

• When I transferred my contacts from my Exchange account to iCloud, I noticed that contacts that had the same phone number for "Work" and "Work Fax" simply lost the "Work Fax" field. This is a bug and should have been fixed before official release.

Contacts for which the country field is "USA" won't display the State in their address on iOS devices (though it will on a computer). If you edit the country from an iOS device and choose "United States", the State will appear (hopefully this information wasn't deleted as in the case of Work fax numbers).

I wish searches for calendar information from an iOS device would extend to more than one year.

When restoring my newly bought iPhone 4S from an iCloud backup of my iPhone 4 (fresh backup that was 30 mins old), half of my apps did not restore along with their app information. I did the same for another iPhone 4S and it worked flawlessly. I hope things will be more reliable with time because frankly, when it comes to backups, reliability has to be the number 1 feature.

Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Notes & Reminders are accessible from but Notes can't be edited or created. I wish this were possible.

Siri's preferences seem to be based on your primary iCloud account which is a problem when sharing a primary iCloud account with multiple users: The "my info"setting in Siri's preferences keeps switching from one user to another which leads to errors when setting reminders associated with location such as "remind me to do this when I get to work". Siri's preferences should be based on the user's phone number, particularly since it is only available on iPhones.


John Dooley said...

iCloud data is encrypted in transit and when it's stored on the iCloud servers. See

fr8d said...

Thanks for your comment and the link.

The weird thing is that Notes seem to be the only thing that is not encrypted server side.

Anonymous said...

5GB max free? My iPad has 16 GB and the 'Pod 32 GB available memory. Apple needs to add more free memory to the cloud before it becomes really popular.

Dennis said...

To me, it sounds like i-cloud really i-sucks! I have used Mobile Me for years, and use only a IMac running 10.5.8 - why should I "upgrade" to a higher o/s that I don't want, because Apple is removing my mobile me account? Why shouldn't I just use another e-mail account - and next time not buy an Apple computer. I don't use a cell phone, laptop, tablet, etc - I can have auto backups on other programs - This just seems arrogant of Apple.

Anonymous said...

I'm not happy with icloud yet. Slower email processes. I often get error messages when trying to send emails with attachments. Can't send multiple attachments in one email!!! Sucks! MobileMe was much better!!!

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