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If you have updated your iPhone or iPad to iOS 8, and your Mac to OS X Yosemite, then you’re ready for Apple’s iCloud Drive. But what is it, and why should use it?

iCloud Drive is one of several ways to store, sync, and update data between your Apple (and even Windows) devices. Apple has now updated its cloud storage system to make it more visible and accessible to users and third-party developers.

It’s time to see how iCloud Drive works.

How to Set Up iCloud Drive

If you’re a new user of Apple devices, and you have an Apple ID account, you should know that some of your Apple content, including apps downloaded from iTunes and the Mac App Store, your iCloud email, and iTunes songs are automatically stored and available in your iTunes and iCloud accounts, which means that data can be re-downloaded, with your password, if ever lost or deleted.

On other hand, you probably have other data, such as documents, photos, and third-party content that is not automatically backed up. This is where iCloud Drive comes in. It can store all your data, sync it between devices, and download it to a new iOS device.

You were asked to update to iCloud Drive when you installed iOS 8 and/or OS X Yosemite. If you didn’t enable it upon installation, it can be accessed on your iOS device via Settings > iCloud then enabling iCloud Drive. You will see a list of default apps and data enabled for backup and syncing.

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On your Mac, iCloud Drive is located in System Preferences > iCloud. Enable iCloud Drive, and then click on Options to manage how other applications interacts with your cloud storage. Notice that some data, such as Mail, Contacts, and Safari bookmarks are already stored and synced in your iCloud account.

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Under Options in iCloud Drive for the Mac and Storage for iOS, you can decide which app data you want backed up and synced to the drive — such as photos, iWork documents, and third-party supporting apps. Some of the listed apps, such as the keychain app 1Password Let 1Password for Mac Manage Your Passwords & Secure Data Let 1Password for Mac Manage Your Passwords & Secure Data Despite the new iCloud Keychain feature in OS X Mavericks, I still prefer the power of managing my passwords in AgileBits's classic and popular 1Password, now in its 4th version. Read More  and journaling app Day One Keep a Digital Diary with Day One for Mac OS X and iOS Keep a Digital Diary with Day One for Mac OS X and iOS Everyone has a story to tell. It's not always a story in need of an audience, sometimes a story just needs to be told. You may want to continue the journal you started when you... Read More , may offer the option to backup to another cloud service like Dropbox Top 10 Creative Uses For Dropbox Or Other Cloud Storage Top 10 Creative Uses For Dropbox Or Other Cloud Storage The agility, flexibility, and low-cost scale ups turn cloud storage options into more than an online vault to back up your documents and files. But cloud storage is more than these important but mundane uses.... Read More . Some apps (like Evernote) may have their own storage solution, which you won’t need to worry about.

Note, you can also backup your iOS data to your Mac hard drive through iTunes Everything You Need to Know About Backing Up & Restoring Your iPhone from iTunes Everything You Need to Know About Backing Up & Restoring Your iPhone from iTunes Most iPhone users take for granted that the contents of their iPhone is backed up wirelessly to their iCloud account, but it is still useful to know how to restore your iPhone from iTunes. Read More  for added insurance, though this does require first syncing your iOS device to your Mac using a USB connection.

If you don’t have a Mac you can download iCloud for Windows, which will allow you to to sync documents and photos between iOS, Mac, and Windows devices. With an Apple ID and password, iCloud Drive can be accessed in any web browser, on iCloud.com.

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iCloud Drive In Action

Once it’s enabled iCloud Drive kicks in and starts working automatically, syncing data between your devices in the background. Unlike the first version of iCloud, iCloud Drive can be easily be accessed in the Finder like other folders. You can store any type of file in iCloud Drive provided it is less than 15 gigabytes in size. When it’s enabled, it will show up in the side column of a Finder window.

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This setup makes it easier to add and remove files from your drive, though most often you will save supported files to the drive from within its corresponding app. For example, documents saved in the Keynote or Pages iCloud folder on your Mac will show up in the corresponding app on your iOS device, and vice versa. Changes you make to a document on either device will automatically show up. However, in my experience so far, the sync and update process takes more than thirty seconds. This is bound to improve over time, but is worth remembering for now.

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Note: You should make sure on your Mac that you’re saving a document to the appropriate iCloud folder. For example, saving a document to the general iCloud folder will not make it accessible in the Pages app on your iOS device. The document needs to be saved to “Pages — iCloud”. On the iOS version of iWorks documents, documents automatically get saved to iCloud Drive, if the service is enabled.

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If you save a document in TextEdit on your Mac, there’s is no corresponding TextEdit app for iOS – meaning you can only access that TextEdit document on another one of your Mac computers. There are also third-party apps, like the text editor, iA Writer iA Writer for Mac & iOS: The Best Word Processor You've Never Used iA Writer for Mac & iOS: The Best Word Processor You've Never Used Be it a school paper or a blog post, all of us at some point find ourselves in the position of having to dump a bunch of characters into a text file. While cell phone... Read More , that support iCloud Drive, and you will need to make sure to save documents to its corresponding folder.

Managing Your iCloud Drive

Apple provides users just 5 gigabytes of free iCloud Drive space, but as you add photos and documents to your iOS devices that allotted free space can fill up quite fast. There are ways to manage your iCloud storage Manage Your iCloud Storage Rather Than Paying for Yearly Upgrades Manage Your iCloud Storage Rather Than Paying for Yearly Upgrades Having trouble keeping your iCloud account trim? Don't pay for an upgrade, manage your free storage the smart way. Here's how. Read More rather than paying for more space. You can for example remove photos from your Photo Library, disable apps like the Kindle and Evernote, both of which back up your content to their respective services but there are relatively few gains to be made on the whole.

Content in your iCloud Drive can be managed on any of your devices, under Manage Storage (on both the iOS and OS X), which indicates how much space each app is taking up.

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Additional Cloud Drive space can be purchased, starting at $0.99/month for 20 gigabytes, up to $19.99/month for a terabyte of space.

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Worth It

iCloud Drive is not as advanced and widely accessible and supported as Dropbox, but it’s nearly essential for maintaining and accessing your iOS data and it’s very useful if you work and share documents between your iOS and Mac devices. The service should improve further over the months to come, and it’s exciting to see Apple putting more control into the hands of its users even if it is still a little restrictive.

How is iCloud Drive working out for you?

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