When you sign up for an iCloud account, you automatically receive 5 gigabytes of free storage for backing up the contents of your iOS devices, iWork and other application data, and Mail messages.
The free storage amount will probably be sufficient for a single Apple device, but if you add multiple devices with lots of document files and mail messages, you may have to buy more storage. Or you can manage the allotted free iCloud storage and save $20 or more dollars per year.
What Is Stored On iCloud
iCloud backs up and syncs documents and data between your devices, including Mail messages, contacts, notes and other third-party application documents and data. To view what is stored on your iCloud account, open the Settings app on your iOS device and tap on iCloud. This is where you can enable and disable the backup of your device’s default apps’ data to your iCloud account.
For example, disabling Photo Stream (under Photos) will prevent your iPhone or iPad photos from being shared to your other iCloud devices when connected to Wi-Fi. Fortunately, however, photos shared via Photo Stream don’t count against your allotted iCloud storage.
Under iCloud settings, tap on Storage & Backup to view and manage files and other data stored your your account. The amount of storage used by each of your devices will be listed, and you can manage data for the device you’re currently holding.
iCloud data storage can also be viewed and managed on your Mac, by opening System Preferences > iCloud.
Note: Luckily all your music, movies, apps, books, TV shows and other content purchased from the iTunes Store does not count against your iCloud storage.
Files and data backed up to your iCloud account are synced between devices. iCloud is also useful for when you import content on your iCloud account to a new Mac or iOS device. I recently purchased the new iPad Air and was able to import all of the backed up iCloud data from my iPad mini onto my new iPad. The important thing to remember here though is that you don’t have to keep all device data backed up to iCloud.
When you need to gain back allotted space on your iOS device, tap on Manage Storage in the Settings > iCloud menu. Next, tap on the device you’re currently holding and then tap on Backup Options. All backed up content on your device is listed by size, from largest to smallest.
Most likely if you take lots of photos with your iPhone, your Camera Roll will be taking up the most space. If need be you can either choose to delete photos (or better yet, videos) from your Camera Roll in order to gain back iCloud storage space, or you can disable back up all together, especially if you’re using Photo Stream, since all your photo shots get automatically synced.
Note that video files are not transferred via Photo Stream, so if you disable the Camera Roll backup, your video files won’t get backed up (you’ll need to plug your phone into your Mac or PC to transfer instead). Another option for backing up Camera Roll content is to enable the camera upload option in the Dropbox app, which copies all your device’s photos and videos to your Dropbox account when the app is opened and connected to a Wi-Fi or cellular network.
The best way to regain iCloud space is to disable backup for apps whose content is backed up on another server, or that can you can copy to another free cloud service. For example, notice in the screenshot above, there are two video camera apps, Socialcam and 1SE, that were taking up several hundred megabytes of space. I disabled backup for this content because the files are stored on my individual accounts for those apps and services.
I also disabled JotNot Pro backup because I have the option of backing up that content to my Dropbox and Google Docs cloud storage, both of which are free. I also disabled backups of other apps like Evernote, Springpad, and Instacast, because content is stored in the cloud for each of those respective services.
In the screenshot above you will notice that I kept my Day One app enabled, though I have chosen to backup and sync that app’s content between my devices using Dropbox. In this case the iCloud backup is just another piece of added security for what I deem very important content. And though not shown, I also disabled the Kindle app because my Kindle books are stored on my Amazon Kindle account.
Documents and Data
You can also selectively delete files from apps like iMovie, Pages, Keynote, and Numbers, if you use them. You’ll find this option under the Settings > iCloud > Manage Storage > Documents & Data menu.
Remember that when you delete content in these apps on one of your devices, that content gets deleted also from your iCloud account and thus all your other devices. In the case of iWork apps, you might choose to archive files locally on your Mac that you no longer need to store and access from the cloud. iWork files can also be stored in another cloud account such as Dropbox, where they can be downloaded to your iOS device when needed. Have a look at a past article about how iWork for iCloud works for more details.
I recommend not deleting content from other apps that take up less space, or files that are not clearly labeled, such as with the Diigo Browser app shown below.
iOS Mail is another storage cobbler. The best way to manage this area is simply delete or archive messages more than a year old. To do this, create a smart mailbox that captures all your emails from the previous year, and either delete or archive from your iCloud account.
You can also create another smart mailbox for messages with attachments, and selectively delete messages that include large files.
Another storage option for your iOS device is to backup your iOS device to your iTunes library. Since Apple only allows for 5GB of free iCloud space, you might choose not to back up one or more of your devices to the cloud in order to save storage. After you make the initial backup to iTunes using a wired connection, all subsequent backups can be set to occur wirelessly (using the checkbox under iTunes Summary tab) when your device is connected to a power outlet. Read our article about backing up and restoring your iOS device from iTunes.
Is An iCloud Upgrade Worth It?
Managing iCloud storage is somewhat of a hassle, but I don’t think an iCloud upgrade is worth $20 or more a year, especially because it doesn’t offer the type of accessibility and support that Dropbox and Google Docs offer. Because of this, twice this year I’ve had to go through and delete content from my iCloud account in order to keep from paying for the upgrade.
Let us know us know about your experiences with managing your iCloud content and whether or not you have upgraded for additional storage.