The Ultimate iCloud Checklist

***Updated 3/29 2017 - The latest iOS software 10.3 release includes a change to the iCloud settings. We will be updating the article and republishing soon.

 

Is your iCloud storage full, but you don’t know why? Do you receive messages that your iPhone or iPad hasn’t been backed up in weeks? Do your friends or relatives come to you with questions about "the iCloud"?

Our checklist can help you customize iCloud and avoid future frustration!

I’ve been teaching technology workshops on the iPhone and iPad for the past few years, and iCloud is a regular topic of confusion. That should come as no surprise. I am a self-proclaimed tech nerd and it took months of experimenting, troubleshooting and reading support documents to fully wrap my mind around iCloud. 

The problem is iCloud is actually several different overlapping web-based services. While some people might find all of these features useful, others might only benefit from one or two. 

The following checklist is my cheat sheet for customizing iCloud settings. Use it to go through iCloud, feature by feature, and adjust the settings to meet your needs. If you help relatives or friends with a device, be sure to customize their iCloud settings too. It will save you time and frustration in the future!

 

Before you start: Defining “the Cloud”

Web-based storage AKA “the Cloud”

To understand iCloud, first you must understand web-based storage, also know as “the cloud.” While the details of web based services can be confusing, the basic concept is pretty straightforward:

Instead of saving information (emails, documents, photos, etc.) on your computer’s hard drive, you can save information to a computer that’s owned by a technology company. These computers are not in the sky; rather, they are located in large facilities known as data centers.

"The cloud" consists of thousands of large buildings full of computers connected to the Internet.

"The cloud" consists of thousands of large buildings full of computers connected to the Internet.

There are two primary advantages to saving your information in the cloud:

  1. If you lose or break your device, you can still access your information. Simply enter the user name / password of the cloud based service to access your information on a new device.
  2. If you are using multiple devices (i.e. - a phone & computer,) you can use the cloud to sync information across devices. 

What is iCloud?

There are several different types of web-based services. Not only are there web-based services available via different companies, but they also have different purposes. Some web-based services might be used to save photos, while others focus on email.

Flickr is a web-based service for photo storage, Gmail is a web-based service for email and Dropbox is a web-based service for saving documents

Flickr is a web-based service for photo storage, Gmail is a web-based service for email and Dropbox is a web-based service for saving documents

One of the primary reasons iCloud can be hard to grasp is that it’s actually several different web-based services. In short, iCloud is Apple’s umbrella for any digital service that stores information on the cloud, including:

  • iCloud Drive = Document storage
  • iCloud Photo Library = Photo storage
  • iCloud Mail = Email
  • iCould Apps = Syncing for Calendars, Contacts, Notes, etc.
  • iCloud Keychain = Password Management
  • iCloud Backup = Recovery for iPhone & iPad
  • Find My iPhone = Remote location tracking for Apple devices

We will take a closer look at each individual component of iCloud and discuss your options for saving information.

 

☐ Step 1: Understanding iCloud Storage Options

How much information can I save to iCloud for free? What does it cost if I exceed the limit?

Digital file (documents, photos, videos, etc.) storage is measured in terms of megabytes and gigabytes: 1,024 megabytes = 1 gigabyte. In general, videos and photos are larger than plain text files. While the size of any particular document, photo or video will vary based on a number of factors, the graphic below provides relative estimates regarding the size of a gigabyte.

What is a gigabyte? The following are estimates based on average sized text documents, photos and videos.

Apple provides iPhone and iPad users with 5 GB of free cloud storage. If you exceed the 5 GB limit, no new information will save to iCloud services unless you either: A. buy more storage or B. delete files to free up space.

Apple charges for additional storage on a monthly basis:

  • 50 GB = $.99 / month
  • 200 GB = $2.99 / month
  • 1024 GB = $9.99 / month
 

☐ Step 2: Viewing iCloud Settings

To view your iCloud settings, open the Settings app and choose the option for iCloud from the menu. Your Apple ID, storage availability and the various iCloud services will display.

iPhone iCloud Settings.png
 

☐ Step 3: Customizing iCloud Services - iCloud Drive

The first option that displays in the list of iCloud settings is iCloud Drive. This service allows you to save documents - text files, slides, spreadsheets, PDFs, etc. to the cloud. By saving the documents to the cloud, you can access them from any computer, iPhone or iPad that are set up with your Apple ID.

iCloud Drive files show up in an app on your iPhone or iPad, and automatically sync with a folder on your computer

iCloud Drive files show up in an app on your iPhone or iPad, and automatically sync with a folder on your computer

Unless you regularly work on documents across various Apple devices and don’t mind paying for extra storage, iCloud Drive is most likely unnecessary. There are several alternative web-based services, such as Dropbox and Google Drive, that can be used for syncing your documents across devices.

 

☐ Step 4: Customizing iCloud Services - Photos

Photo storage is the primary cause of iCloud confusion. In an attempt to simplify your choices, I’ll not only provide a brief description of each iCloud Photo option but also add specific recommendations based on your use case.

In the Photos section of iCloud, you have the option to activate or disable iCloud Photo Library, My Photo Stream and iCloud Photo Sharing.

In the Photos section of iCloud, you have the option to activate or disable iCloud Photo Library, My Photo Stream and iCloud Photo Sharing.

iCloud Photo Library

If you turn on this option, every photo and video that you take will be saved to iCloud and display in the Photos app on any Apple device that is set up with your Apple ID.

My Photo Stream

This option will sync the most recent 30 days of photos and videos between your Apple devices, without using up iCloud storage space.

iCloud Photo Sharing

The option allows you to create albums that can be shared with other Apple users. Photos that are in shared albums do not count against iCloud storage.

Recommendations

If you only own one Apple device…

If you own an iPhone or an iPad and do not own any other Apple products, turn off iCloud Photo Sharing and My Photo Stream. These services are great for syncing your photos across multiple devices, but if you only have one Apple product, there is no need for syncing. If you lose or break your device, you will still be able to recover your photos, as long as the backup feature is turned on (see below for more information on backup).

There is no harm in turning on the iCloud Photo Sharing option. It’s a great way to share lots of photos with other Apple users and it does not count against your free storage.

If you own multiple Apple devices, but do not want to pay for additional storage…

The iCloud Photo library option is great for syncing, but it will use up all your free iCloud storage in a hurry. If you don’t want to pay for additional storage, turn off iCloud Photo Library and turn on My Photo Stream. My Photo Stream will allow you to sync your most recent photos across devices without taking up any of your free storage.

If you own multiple Apple devices and plan on purchasing additional storage…

If you don’t mind paying for storage, iCloud Photo library is great. Not only will it sync photos across all your Apple devices, but it will also save any editing including cropping, color adjustments, filters, etc.

Turn on iCloud Photo Library to automatically sync photos across your Apple devices.

Turn on iCloud Photo Library to automatically sync photos across your Apple devices.

 

☐ Step 5: Customizing iCloud Services -  Mail

If you use an iCloud.com email address to communicate with other people, then emails in your inbox will count against your iCloud storage. Delete messages that you no longer need to free up space. Emails that contain attachments, photos or videos are significantly larger than plain text emails.

If you are using iCloud mail, then email messages will take up storage. To free up space, you must not only delete email from your Inbox but also delete it from Trash.

If you are using iCloud mail, then email messages will take up storage. To free up space, you must not only delete email from your Inbox but also delete it from Trash.

If you use a different email provider such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc., then you can turn off the option for iCloud mail.

 

☐ Step 6: Customizing iCloud Services - Contacts, Calendars, Reminders, Safari, Home, Notes, News, Wallet

If you only own one Apple device, it is unnecessary to activate the iCloud option for the above apps. If you own more than one device, activating the iCloud setting for a particular app on both devices will allow you to sync information between your devices. Pick and choose the apps that you want to sync.

Syncing apps such as reminders can be extremely useful. Make a change on one device and it automatically appears on other devices connected to your Apple ID.

Syncing apps such as reminders can be extremely useful. Make a change on one device and it automatically appears on other devices connected to your Apple ID.

 

☐ Step 7: Customizing iCloud Services - Keychain

The iCloud Keychain feature allows you to save passwords to iCloud. If you turn this feature on, your passwords will be accessible on any Apple device that is set up with your Apple ID. You can access a list of passwords via the Settings and auto-fill passwords using the Safari app.

You can use iCloud Keychain to save passwords in the Settings app of your iPhone or iPad.

You can use iCloud Keychain to save passwords in the Settings app of your iPhone or iPad.

If you are looking for a way to manage your passwords across Apple devices, iCloud keychain is a useful feature. It requires very little storage, but it can be confusing for some new users.

 

☐ Step 8: Customizing iCloud Services - Backup

This feature is incredibly useful, and I recommend it for most iPhone and iPad users.  

If turned on, when your device is plugged in, locked and connected to Wi-Fi, it will automatically save a backup of photos, apps, settings and messages to iCloud . If you lose, break or decide to upgrade your iPhone or iPad, you can seamlessly restore your information from your most recent backup.

Device backups will vary in size based on the amount of information that is stored on your iPhone or iPad. If you are backing up multiple devices to the same Apple account, you might exceed the 5 GB of free storage. 

If you receive a message that your iPhone or iPad has not been backed up in weeks,  you most likely do not have enough iCloud storage to save a backup. Free up storage by deleting other files that are saved in iCloud.

If you receive a message that your iPhone or iPad has not been backed up in weeks,  you most likely do not have enough iCloud storage to save a backup. Free up storage by deleting other files that are saved in iCloud.

 

☐ Step 9: Customizing iCloud Services - Find My iPad

Find my iPad allows you to locate, lock or erase your iPad by logging into your Apple account from another computer. The “Find My iPad” feature does not require any significant iCloud storage.

You can sign-in to your Apple account via iCloud.com from any computer. If you have "Find My iPhone / iPad" turned on, you will be able to locate your device.

You can sign-in to your Apple account via iCloud.com from any computer. If you have "Find My iPhone / iPad" turned on, you will be able to locate your device.


We hope you found this article helpful! Generation Connect specializes in mobile device training for senior care organizations and teaching older adults how to use the iPhone and iPad. Do you know someone that could benefit from using technology but needs guidance? Check out our iPad for Seniors book or join the mailing list.