2012.07 History: June Feature: iCloud

Presented by John Graham; notes by Richard S. Russell

Apple’s MobileMe (formerly .mac) will be dead as of June 30. You have 2 weeks to upgrade to iCloud, or you run the risk of losing e-mail or back-up files that rely on that service.

John advised that, since iCloud accounts are free, you should go out and get one if you don’t already have one.

And why would you want to do that? Well, if you only have a single piece of hardware, the main reason is so you can have off-site backup of your data. Time Machine is a terrific back-up method, but the external hard drive you’re backing up onto is probably sitting right next to the computer it’s backing up, so a fire or flood or lightning strike that took out just that corner of the room would still be devastating. Off-site backup is safer.

But the place where iCloud really shines is if you have multiple devices. By “devices”, John explained, he meant a variety of Apple hardware products: Macintoshes, iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touches (but not other kinds of iPod, since those aren’t wireless capable). For example, suppose you have both a desktop iMac and a laptop MacBook. Have you ever been frustrated that your Address Book, iCal, and iTunes each had to be updated twice, once on each machine? With iCloud, that’ll no longer be necessary. The relevant data will be stored “in the cloud” (that is, somewhere out there on the internet, you don’t know exactly where, but it’s available to you 24 hours a day wherever there’s internet connectivity) and automatically downloaded to both your iMac and your MacBook. Updating either device automatically updates the other. And also any other device that uses your account.

John showed how he could delete or move an e-mail within his browser and have the change show up within seconds on his iPad. This won’t work with the POP e-mail protocol, which removes the message from the ISP’s server when it downloads it to your device. If, however, your ISP (independent service provider) uses IMAP, it will download the message to your current device and still have it available to be downloaded to any other devices you may use.

Dave Weston mentioned his frustration that iDisk did not move to iCloud along with everything else. That’s a feature that lets you store any old file you want on Apple’s hosting servers, open them from different computers, and share them with other people. John agreed that this was a sticking point for him as well. He said that Dropbox (free) is probably the best replacement for iDisk.

Some of MobileMe’s other features, such as the photo gallery and website hosting, are going away as well (which is why the Mad Mac website is being moved to Blogger, a subsidiary of Google), but there will probably eventually be a replacement for each of them. That’s of little immediate consolation, however.

Once iCloud is enabled on your device, the upper-left corner of Address Book will show an iCloud icon, which lets you go right to iCloud upon clicking. Calendar (iOS) is synched with iCal (Mac OS), and Contacts is synched with Address Book. Incidentally, the names “Address Book” and “iCal” will soon be replaced by their iPad counterparts, “Contacts” and “Calendar”, as part of Apple’s long-term strategy to merge Mac OS (desktops and laptops) with iOS (handheld devices).

Calendars can also show up on other people’s devices if they’ve authorized the calendar to be shared. This makes it convenient to plan family or group events. John showed how he could tell Siri to make an appointment for him — meaning he wouldn’t have to take his hands off the wheel or his eyes off the road if he were driving. (Siri, the iPhone’s artificial-intelligence assistant, is only available for the iPad 3, and John was using a beta version, so don’t panic if you don’t find it in the App Store.)

John said he’s constantly using his “Find My iPhone” feature to track down his iPad and iPhone. He can, if he wishes, lock or erase his iPhone from his computer. He can even play a ring tone if the phone is turned off. He could, if he wanted, completely wipe the contents of his iPhone (presumably something he’d only do if it had been stolen). Fortunately, if he’d already backed up the iPhone to his computer or to iCloud, he’d be able to restore its contents via either 3G (possibly expensive) or wi-fi (cheap).

There’s a tool called iTunes Match that lets you check your music libraries from various devices (including stuff you ripped from CDs years ago) and find out whether their counterpart tunes exist in your other libraries, then synch them up.

John opened up TextEdit and showed how, in the upper-left corner, you can choose whether to save the document locally (on the computer) or on iCloud. You get 5 GB of storage for free; iTunes purchases do not count against this limit. This feature will only be available under Mountain Lion next month.

OK, so you’re convinced that you want iCloud. How to get it?

Go to www.icloud.com in your browser. Apparently you need Mac OS 10.7.2 or later to take full advantage of it, but you can transfer over your old .mac e-mail accounts with earlier versions of the OS. To sign in, just type in your run-together name (such as “johndgraham”), and it will tack on “@me.com”. Once in, you can access e-mail or Contacts or Calendar or Find My iPhone (or, eventually, the productivity applications within iWork) at the click of an icon — or by tapping it on your touch-screen device.

You can upgrade to the next Mac OS (Mountain Lion) for only $20 later this summer. And it’ll allow you to upgrade from either Snow Leopard (10.6) or Lion (10.7). You may want to wait until then to take advantage of all the iCloud features.

In conclusion, John noted that iCloud is still in its infancy. There will be more bells and whistles attached as the years go by. Apple CEO Tim Cook has publicly stated that this will be the center of Apple’s strategy for the next decade. Sooner or later, you’re gonna have to get on the train; might as well be sooner, eh?

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