With iCloud syncing, any change to your virtual DayTimer is automatically updated on all Apple devices, and in some cases on PCs. Add an appointment or contact on your computer, and it appears on your iPhone, or vice versa. This probably sounds familiar to Android users, as it’s been a free, built-in function of that OS from inception. If you have an Android phone or tablet you want to keep in sync, you’ll use Google’s service, not iCloud. And since Google and iCloud do not sync with each other, Android users will have to put everything on Google—even Apple devices—to sync across all the gadgets.
To sync only iOS 5 devices, go to Settings, then iCloud, then turn on whatever apps you’d like to sync: Calendars, Contacts, Mail, and Reminders. On a Mac, syncing with iCal or Address Books simply requires going to the preferences menu of each app, selecting iCloud under the accounts pane, and checking Enable This Account. Reminders also show up in iCal.
To set up syncing on a PC, download the free iCloud Control Panel for Windows (Vista or 7). It resembles the Dettings menu in iOS 5, with checkboxes to select syncing of e-mail, contacts, and calendars with Outlook. It can also enable Photo Stream and sync browser bookmarks between Safari on a Mac or mobile device and Internet Explorer or Safari for Windows.
iCloud can also sync e-mail, but people won’t need that feature if they already use a cloud-based service such as Exchange (for work), Google, Yahoo, or a type of e-mail called IMAP. Why switch to a new e-mail account to get a syncing feature you probably already have with the present account?
Ironically, getting e-mail, contacts, and calendars requires you to configure the -email, address book and calendar applications separately on a Mac. It’s actually easier with a PC, where one control panel handles it all.
It’s fantastically simple to sync documents between iDevices such as an iPhone and iPad. For example, type something in Notes on one device, and it appears on the other within a minute. To find it on a Mac, however, you’ll have to look in, of all places, Apple Mail. There is no syncing with PCs.
The process is even more awkward with productivity software. Apple makes its iWork office apps for both iOS and Mac. On iOS, each app—Keynote, Numbers, and Pages—sells for $10. On a Mac, each goes for $20. iWork apps sync across iDevices. So, for instance, you can start a document on your iPad and pick it up on your iPhone. But iWork on a Mac doesn’t sync with iCloud. The best you can do is upload and download with iCloud using its web interface by setting up an account at www.icloud.com. But it’s a drag-and-drop process. No syncing. You can also use the web interface to move docs in other formats, such as Word, to or from a Mac or a PC.
To seamlessly sync documents across any devices, skip iCloud and spring for mobile apps like QuickOffice Pro ($20 for iPhone and Android phones, $25 for iPad and Android tablets; www.quickoffice.com). After they are configured with an online service such as Dropbox or SugarSync, the apps allow Microsoft Office files to sync almost instantly between Macs, PCs, and any iOS and Android devices.
Bottom line: iCloud works for keeping documents in sync but there are better and easier to use tools out there.
By definition, nearly everything covered in iCloud is a kind of backup, since copies of media, appointments, bookmarks, and more live on Apple’s servers. But iCloud also backs up some data that isn’t synced with multiple devices. For instance, it stores ringtones, SMS messages, and the arrangement of app icons on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod. If you lose a device—or if it gets so mangled that you have to wipe it and install the OS from scratch—iCloud restores the way it looked and worked previously.
Non-Apple apps—such as the MadPad audio-mashup app, the Omnigraffle graphics suite, and the game PocketGod—can also back up data to iCloud.
Apple has long had a Find My iPhone feature to locate a lost or stolen iPhone (or iPod or iPad) using its GPS capability and to show the map on another iDevice or a secure website. That feature continues in iCloud, along with a new one called Find My Friends.
Both services require free app downloads, and Find My Friends is opt-in. Someone sends an invite over e-mail, and the person who accepts will be visible to just the sender. You can also make yourself visible for a limited time, such as during a group outing when people tend to get lost.
Finding an iPhone, iPad or iPod is a dead-simple task that you hopefully will never have to do. Friend finding may become popular in the future, but for now the process of inviting, accepting, and trying to decide the time frame for visibility is a bit awkward.
iCloud has two great aspects: It’s free (generally) and it comes in pieces. For no money, you can try out most parts of the service to find the ones that work best. And the most-polished parts—syncing apps and media—are probably the most important. iCloud finally banishes the awful sync cord that no one likes to use. (By the way, you will be able to update iOS 5 wirelessly, too.) Even if you have a mix of Apple and Android gadgets, iCloud at least makes managing the content on your Apple devices easier.