How to Set up iCloud & Use iCloud Backup

Keep your iPhone and iPad data safe in the cloud

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Thanks to iCloud, Apple's web-based data storage and syncing service, sharing data like contacts, calendars, emails, and photos across multiple computers and devices is easy. With iCloud enabled on your devices, each time you connect to the internet and make changes to iCloud-enabled apps, those changes will automatically upload to your account. iCloud will then share the updates to your compatible devices.

With iCloud, keeping data in sync is as simple as setting up each of your devices to use your iCloud account.

To use iCloud, you need an Apple ID. These instructions apply to iTunes 10.5 and higher, Mac OS X 10.7.5 or later, Windows Vista or 7 or higher, and devices running iOS 5 and later. To use the web-based iCloud apps, you'll need at least Safari 5, Firefox 21, Internet Explorer 9, or Chrome 27.

How to Set up iCloud on Mac OS X

To set up iCloud on a Mac, there's very little you need to do because the iCloud software is part of the operating system. As a result, you don't need to install anything.

Here's what to do:

  1. To access your iCloud settings, click on the Apple menu in the top left corner and choose System Preferences.

    Mac desktop with the System Preferences option highlighted
  2. Click iCloud.

    System Preferences on a Mac with the iCloud heading highlighted
  3. If you aren't already signed in to your iCloud account, it will prompt you to do so now.

  4. Check the box next to iCloud Drive to turn it on.

    iCloud settings on a Mac with the box next to iCloud Drive highlighted
  5. Click Options to customize iCloud Drive.

    iCloud settings on a Mac with the Options button next to iCloud Drive highlighted
  6. Check the box next to each iCloud feature you want to enable.

    iCloud Drive options screen with the Done button highlighted
  7. Click Done to save your changes.

How to Set up iCloud on Windows

Unlike the Mac, Windows doesn't come with iCloud, so you need to download the iCloud software.

Here's how to set it up.

  1. Open the Microsoft Store on your PC.

    A PC desktop with the Microsoft Store icon open
  2. Search for iCloud in the search bar.

    Microsoft Store with the iCloud search result highlighted
  3. Click Get to download the software.

    iCloud page in the Microsoft Store with the Get button highlighted
  4. Click Launch to open iCloud.

    iCloud page in Microsoft Store with the Launch button highlighted
  5. If Windows asks if you want to allow iCloud to make changes, click Yes.

  6. Sign in with your Apple ID/iTunes account.

    iCloud on Windows with the Apple ID sign-in screen open
  7. If you have two-factor authentication set up for your Apple devices, validate the device you just signed in on.

    Two-step authorization screen for iCloud for Windows
  8. Check the box next to each iCloud feature you want to enable.

    iCloud settings on PC with a checkmark highlighted
  9. Click Apply to save your changes, and then click Close to close the settings window.

Set up & Use iCloud on iOS Devices

All iOS devices running iOS 5 or higher have iCloud. You don't need to install any apps to sync data across your computers and devices.

You do need to configure the features you want to use, however. Here's how to set up iCloud on mobile devices.

  1. Open the Settings app.

  2. Tap your name at the top of the screen.

  3. Select iCloud.

    The iCloud item in iPhone settings
  4. If you're not signed in, tap the Account field and sign in with your Apple ID/iTunes account.

  5. Move the slider to On/green for each feature that you want to enable.

  6. At the bottom of the screen, tap the iCloud Backup menu.

  7. If you want to back up the data on your iOS device to iCloud (this is great for restoring from backup wirelessly via iCloud), move the iCloud Backup slider to On/green.

    iCloud settings on an iPhone
  8. Using iCloud to sync data between your computers and devices means you have a backup of your data available at all times. You can not only back up data there but also restore backed-up data over the Internet. All iCloud users get 5 GB of storage for free. You can upgrade for more space for an annual fee.

Programs That Back up to ICloud

The following programs include iCloud backup features. For most of them, you just need to turn the backup feature on to have their contents uploaded to iCloud.

Other apps are also iCloud compatible. Check the options pages on your platform for a complete list.

  • MacOS/iOS apps: Safari (for bookmarks); Mail; Address Book; Calendar; Notes; Messages; Home; Health; Wallet; Reminders; Pages, Keynote, and Numbers 1.5 or higher; and Photos
  • Windows apps: Safari (for bookmarks); Photos; Mail

Checking Your iCloud Storage

To find out how much of your 5 GB iCloud backup space you're using and how much you have left:

  • On Mac and Windows: Open the iCloud Preferences. The bar across the bottom shows how much you're using and how much is available.
  • On iOS: Tap the Settings app and then tap iCloud. Tap Storage & Backup. Look for the Storage menu.
iCloud settings on a Mac with the iCloud storage graph highlighted

Managing iCloud Backups

If your iCloud storage is filling up and you don't want to pay for the upgrade, you can clear some space on it. Here's how.

  1. Return to the iCloud screen on any platform and click or tap Manage.

    iCloud settings on a Mac with the Manage button highlighted
  2. The next screen shows a list of all of the apps that use space in your iCloud account. Click one to see how much room it's taking, and click Delete Documents and Data to remove it.

    Deleting an app's data doesn't stop it from uploading more. Remove the permission from the Settings menu to prevent it from taking up space in the future.

    iCloud settings on a Mac with the
  3. Click Done when you're done managing iCloud storage.

Upgrading iCloud Storage

To add more storage to your iCloud account, access your iCloud software and select an upgrade.

On Mac and Windows, click Buy More Storage in the iCloud management window. Select the upgrade you want and then click Next. Enter your Apple ID password and click Buy to upgrade.

If you're already paying for extra iCloud space, the button will say Change Storage Plan.

iCloud settings on a Mac with the Change Storage Plan button highlighted

On iOS, return to the iCloud settings screen (Settings > your name > iCloud), and then tap Manage Storage. Select Change Storage Plan/Buy More Storage. Pick one of the options and tap Buy.

Upgrades to your iCloud storage charge monthly via your iTunes account.

Updating iCloud storage on an iPhone

Using iCloud

Once you have iCloud enabled on your devices, and have configured the backup (if you want to use it), here's what you need to know about using each iCloud-compatible app.

  • Mail: If you have an iCloud.com email address, enable this option to make sure that your inbox is available on all of your iCloud devices. You can also use your iCloud.com email via webmail.
  • Contacts: The information stored in your contacts or address book apps will stay in sync across all devices.
  • Calendars: All of your compatible calendars will stay in sync.
  • Reminders: syncs all of your to-do reminders in the iOS and Mac versions of the Reminders app.
  • Safari: makes sure that the Safari web browsers on your desktop, laptop, and iOS devices all have the same set of bookmarks.
  • Notes: The contents of your iOS Notes app will sync to all your iOS devices when this is turned on. It can also sync to the Apple Mail program on Macs.
  • Apple Pay: manage Apple's Wallet app within iCloud on any connected device to sync your current credit or debit card and remove all payment options to disable Apple Pay on that device.
  • Keychain: automatically share usernames and passwords for websites to all of your iCloud devices. It can also save credit card information to make online purchases simpler.
  • Photos: automatically copies your photos to the Photos app on iOS devices, and into iPhoto or Aperture on the Mac for photo storage and sharing.
  • Documents & Data: Sync files from Pages, Keynote, and Numbers to iCloud and your iOS devices and Mac.
  • Find My iPhone/iPad/iPod/Mac: Use GPS and the internet to help you locate lost or stolen devices.
  • Automatic Downloads: automatically download apps to all of your devices as soon as the initial purchase finishes downloading.
  • Web Apps: If you're away from your computer or devices and still want to access your iCloud data, go to iCloud.com and log in. There, you'll be able to use Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Notes, Reminders, Find My iPhone, Pages, Keynote, and Numbers.