Apple provides you with 5GB of free iCloud storage when you register an Apple ID, which isn’t much considering how expansive the service has become. It can back up your devices, keep your photos and videos in the cloud, and even operate like a standard cloud storage service in the form of iCloud Drive.
If you’re already confused then you don’t need to be. Here’s what iCloud Drive is, what makes it different to Apple’s other services, and how to access it on your iPhone, Mac, Windows, and even Android device.
What is iCloud Drive?
iCloud is Apple’s name for its cloud storage services which incorporates a few different things:
- iCloud Photo Library lets you store and access your media in the cloud, rather than keeping it on your devices.
- iCloud Music Library is a single cloud-based library of songs used by Apple Music to keep your collection synced between devices.
- iCloud Backup is, unsurprisingly, a backup service for your devices which is kept in the cloud.
- iCloud Drive is the closest thing Apple has to a standard Dropbox or Google Drive shared folder, where files are synced between devices.
So iCloud Drive is only one part of the larger iCloud ecosystem, and it most closely resembles the bog-standard folder format used by nearly every other cloud storage provider. There are a few caveats to the service which make it unique, as is often the case with Apple’s products.
You can save documents to iCloud Drive within apps, especially Apple’s own apps like TextEdit and Pages. Files can be saved anywhere to your cloud storage, but also appear in an app-specific folder. This makes for a compartmentalised approach to cloud storage, which still provides a degree of control over folder structures and organization.
Unfortunately Apple’s approach also means that sharing is rather limited. Unlike Google Drive, you can’t set permissions for folders or individual files and share them with others. You can still collaborate on projects stored in iCloud, but the nitty-gritty of it is handled by the app (for example Pages).
You’ll need an Apple ID, and thus an Apple device, in order to have access to iCloud Drive. You only get 5GB of free storage per user, not per device; with the option to upgrade if you need more. If you intend to backup your iPhone and store a few files, you’ll almost certainly need to buy more iCloud storage at some point.
Are There Any Limits?
Storage space is the biggest limit you’ll face, as your 5GB won’t go far, but it will give you a taste of what iCloud can do for you. Once you run out of space, Apple will bombard you with notices to upgrade your cloud storage. You can disable device backup under Settings > iCloud > Backup on your iOS devices to stop this.
There are no limits on the types of files you can store and sync via iCloud Drive. Apple says that you can store anything on iCloud drive “as long as it’s less than 15GB in size and you don’t exceed your iCloud storage limit.” You can then access these files on any device, though you’ll need an app that can make use of them (like VLC for playing MP3 files, or a comic book reader for .CBR archives).
While syncing any type of file to your mobile devices is all good and well, keep in mind that the process can take a while. When you upload a file to iCloud it is sent to Apple’s servers first, then downloaded on any other devices afterwards. For local transfer purposes, keep in mind that AirDrop is still the quickest solution.
Accessing iCloud Drive
You’ll need to activate iCloud Drive before you can use it. On an iPhone or other iOS device, head to Settings > iCloud > iCloud Drive and check the option to turn the service on. If you’re using a Mac then you can check the iCloud Drive option under System Preferences > iCloud. Windows users can download iCloud for Windows.
Once enabled you can access iCloud Drive using the home screen shortcut on your iPhone or iPad, from the Finder sidebar on a Mac, or via the iCloud for Windows add-on. This will give you a simple folder view, where you can open files and upload new ones.
You can also access iCloud Drive by logging in at iCloud.com and selecting iCloud Drive from the list of items. This is great for Android or Linux users, or anyone using a shared computer. You can even upload files via the web interface from compatible browsers.
On macOS, some apps will suggest iCloud Drive as the default saving location for documents. A good example is Apple’s word processor, Pages. If you want to save or load to iCloud, make sure you specify it in the app you are using. On a Mac, you can quickly move files to iCloud Drive simply by selecting the right option from the document title dropdown box (pictured below).
When using an iOS app, you’ll have to look for the iCloud option when saving or loading. Apple has been pushing developers to adopt its cloud storage platform for years, so many apps include this functionality now.
Should You Use iCloud Drive?
Your decision to shun or embrace Apple’s cloud storage very much depends on your workflow, and what other devices you frequently use. It’s harder for Windows or Android users to fully immerse themselves in Apple’s ecosystem when the technologies do not integrate in the same way they do on macOS or iOS.
There’s also the small matter of space. While Google gives you 15GB of Google Drive space and free storage for photos and videos, Apple only provides 5GB. If you want to use iCloud Photo Library or have cloud-based backups then you’ll need to buy more storage, and anything left over will give you some room to move.
Unfortunately iCloud does have its issues, so many that we’ve got an iCloud troubleshooting guide for solving common issues. Some developers have complained about the problems, while others provide options to use Google Drive or Dropbox instead.
Ready to Rock
We’ve just produced a guide to restoring lost iCloud Drive files, so be sure to check that out if you’re having problems. Otherwise tell us what you think of iCloud Drive.
Do you use Apple’s cloud storage? Do you have any more questions about the technology? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you.