What is it?
iCloud is a cloud-based service by Apple. It works to either backup or sync your data from your iPhone/iPad/Mac/Windows PC to your other devices. Apple gives you 5GB of storage free to backup/sync your devices. If you run out of space, you can either delete some data or you can buy more storage from Apple. Prices are here. If you share an Apple ID with several members of your family, you are all sharing only 5GB of free storage. If everyone has their own Apple ID, they each get their own 5GB free.
What exactly gets backed up/synced?
Ah, this is where is gets tricky. Here is a list of what iCloud backs up:
On your iOS device:
- Purchased history for music, movies, TV shows, apps, and books. Your iCloud backup includes information about the content you have purchased, but not the purchased content itself. So, the actual content does not take up your precious free 5GB of iCloud space.
- Photos and videos in your Camera Roll – this is different from Photo Stream (aka iCloud Photo Sharing)
- Device settings
- App data
- Home screen and app organization
- iMessage, text (SMS) and MMS messages
- Visual Voicemail
On your Mac:
- iCloud is not designed to be a full backup for your Mac. Photos from a camera will not be backed up. Documents not specifically saved to iCloud will not be backed up. Apple Mail will only backup mail from your icloud.com email address. Backup your Mac with Time Machine or Carbonite.
What doesn’t get backed up
- On your Mac, documents created with Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Pages, Numbers and Keynote only get saved to iCloud if you specifically save or drag them there.
- Music, movies, TV shows and books not purchased through iTunes
- Photos originally synced from your computer
When do iCloud backups happen from your iPhone/iPad?
- iCloud will backup your device over Wi-Fi every day if these conditions are met – a device is turned on, locked, and connected to a power source.
Photo Stream and email:
- Photo Stream is not a backup for your photos. It is a rolling stream of 1000 photos from your iPhone/iPad. If you turn on Photo Stream on your Mac or Windows computer, then copies of your photos are saved onto those devices. Then, you must backup your Mac or Windows PC but you’re already doing that, right?
- If you use a POP3 email account (Verizon or Comcast are most common), then to sync your email between your devices you have to forward the email to an icloud.com email address. Then, the iCloud.com email will sync and you won’t see duplicate emails on all your devices. If you use Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo, AOL or any IMAP email address, the email is stored on the provider’s server and is automatically synced between your devices.
If you want to be extra safe like me, you turn on iCloud backup for your iPhone/iPad AND you back up your devices by plugging them into a computer and using iTunes. iTunes provides a more thorough backup then iCloud.