Apple has taken several stabs at online services. Do you remember .mac? How about MobileMe? iTools? eWorld, anyone?
And now, of course, iCloud.
To some degree, all of these defunct products played a role in getting us to where we are today—either with the features that have come along for the ride, or for the features that were discarded.
When iCloud was announced in June 2011 it was described as a way to store (some of) your data in the cloud and wirelessly push it to all your devices, keeping the data in sync on your Mac, PC, and iOS devices. As iCloud has matured it has taken on more capabilities and is front-of-mind for Apple.
Case in point: Buy a new Mac or iOS device and you’ll be prompted to enter your Apple ID and password for your iCloud account so your data can be seamlessly transferred to it. If perchance you don’t have an iCloud account, a handy link will allow you to create one.
The power of iCloud’s services and other capabilities are magnified if you’re using more than one device. But even if you have only one iOS device, there are three iCloud services that you should be using.
This one applies strictly to iOS devices; there’s no backup mechanism for Macs that is currently built into iCloud.
If you were to lose or break your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, or simply buy a new one, you’ll appreciate the value of having a backup of your data safely stored in iCloud.
Backup is spectacularly easy to enable:
- Open the Settings app.
- Scroll down and tap on iCloud.
- Tap Backup.
- Turn on iCloud Backup.
iOS takes it from here. Your iOS device will be backed up daily to your iCloud account as long as the device is:
- Plugged in,
- Locked, and
- Connected to a wi-fi network.
Now think about how easy it is for a backup to occur. Most people charge their iOS devices overnight, at home, while they are sleeping. Raise your hand if this sounds like you.
Why does the device need to be plugged in? To make sure the backup completes before draining the device of power. An incomplete backup would wreak havoc with your data, so an iOS device intelligently won’t do an automatic backup unless it senses it is connected to power.
That takes care of Step 1.
While you’re sleeping, your iOS device could use some sleep as well. Close the smart cover on your iPad and it will automatically shut off and lock the screen (and charge faster, too). Or, click the sleep/wake button on your iPhone or iPad to turn off the screen and lock the device. Why must the device be locked? To make sure the data isn’t changing while the backup is in progress. Inconsistent data also spells bad news for backups.
And that takes care of Step 2.
Lastly, you probably have your iOS device set to automatically connect to your wi-fi network at home whenever it is within range. Since most of the time you’ll probably be charging your device at home and odds are you have a wi-fi network at home, Step 3 is covered. If you happen to be on the road staying at a hotel, make sure you’re connected to the hotel’s wi-fi network before tucking in your iOS device. Why wi-fi? To keep the backups from chewing through your cellular data cap and to accommodate devices that may not have a cellular connection, such as iPod Touch and some iPads.
Remember – don’t power off the device; if you do, that will disconnect the device from any wi-fi network it is connected to. iPads and iPhones have been described as magical devices. But an iPad or iPhone that is powered down can’t work its magic. No power = no wi-fi = no backup.
Also, you can trigger a backup whenever you want by tapping Back Up Now. You don’t have to be connected to power (but you should make sure you’ve got ample juice in the battery tank before beginning) and you should not use your device while the backup is underway.
With all three of these steps so easy to meet, you’ll sleep better at night knowing that iOS and iCloud are taking care of backing up your data.
Apple has a support article that outlines what data is backed up to iCloud.
It’s also best to leave the automatic backup switch on all the time. If you don’t back up your iOS device to iCloud for 180 days or more, Apple reserves the right to delete your device’s iCloud backups. Set it and forget it.
One more tip: You can back up multiple iOS devices (say, both your iPad and your iPhone) to one iCloud account. The backups will be stored separately in iCloud. But if you have more than one device, the free 5 gigabytes that come with an iCloud account probably won’t be enough for both devices. Splurge on the 99¢ a month that it takes to increase your iCloud storage from 5 GB to 50 GB and you likely won’t have to spend time managing storage on your devices.
Find My iPhone
Or My iPad, or My Watch, or My iPod Touch, or even My Mac.
This service helps you find and protect your device if you misplace it or it is stolen. But the device must have the service turned on, and locating it requires it be online via the internet; that is, awake and in range of a wi-fi network.
Here’s how to set it up on an iOS device:
- Open the Settings app.
- Tap on iCloud.
- Tap Find My Device (e.g., iPad, iPhone)
- Turn on Find My Device.
- Turn on Send Last Location.
If you’re asked to sign in, enter your Apple ID. When you set up Find My iPhone, your paired Apple Watch is set up, too.
In addition, turning on Find My Device on an iOS device automatically turns on Activation Lock. This will require you to enter your Apple ID and password to turn off Find My Device, to erase the device, or to reactivate and use the device. It’s an extra layer of security that could help get your misplaced device back in your hands.
And on a Mac, do this:
- From the Apple menu, choose System Preferences….
- Click iCloud.
- Check the box to turn on Find My Mac.
If you see a Details button next to Find My Mac, click Details > Open Security & Privacy > Enable Location Services. If Enable Location Services is dimmed in Security & Privacy preferences, click the lock button and enter the name and password for an administrator account for the Mac to turn on Location Services.
To use another iOS device to find your AWOL device, you’ll need to make sure the Find My iPhone app is on your iOS device. If it isn’t, you can download it for free from the App Store. Then:
- Open the Find my iPhone app.
- Enter your Apple ID and password and tap Sign In. Remember, all your devices that are using Find My Device must be signed in to the same iCloud account.
- All your devices will show up both on a map and in a list.
A green dot next to the device’s name means it is online. A gray dot next to the device means it is offline. If it was online recently, you’ll see the last time it was online. If the device has been offline for more than 24 hours, it will be listed as offline.
Tap the device to see its approximate location on the map.
From here, you can tap the device on the map or in the list to bring up a set of options:
- Tap Play Sound to make your device play a sound. If the device is online, it vibrates and plays a sound, which is reminiscent of a sonar ping, immediately (for two minutes), even if the volume is off or the device’s sound is muted. If the device is offline, the sound will play the next time it’s back online. This is also known as the “Ah, my iPhone is between the couch seat cushions” button.
- Tap Lost Mode to lock your device with a passcode so that no one else can gain access to the information on it. You can also add a custom message to display on the screen, say, your phone number or email address, so that the good samaritan who finds your device can return it to you. You’ll also be able to track the device.
- If you think the odds are that you’ve lost your device permanently and won’t get it back, then tap Erase device. Once the device is online, it will be erased remotely. Both Find My iPhone and Activation Lock will be turned off, so you won’t be able to use Find My Device to locate it again. You should use this step only as a last resort.
But what if the only Apple device you have is an iPhone and you lose it? How can you use Find My iPhone to locate it?
That takes us to our third must-have iCloud service.
There’s not necessarily anything extra to turn on here. Once you activate iCloud on your Mac or any iOS Device, you can gain access to all of your data and a handful of web apps—such as Pages, Numbers, and Keynote—using a Mac or a PC (imagine that).
So, to go back to our cliff-hanger question above: What if the only Apple device you have is an iPhone and you lose it? How can you use Find My iPhone to locate it?
Simple: Use any modern web browser on either a Mac or a PC and go to icloud.com.
- Enter your Apple ID and password and press return to log in.
- Click Find iPhone. Sign in if you’re prompted to do so.
- Click a dot (which represents a device) or click the All Devices drop-down menu to select a device.
You can then use any of the three options (Play Sound, Lost Mode, Erase) that are available in the iOS app.
Back on the iCloud.com Launchpad screen (the one with all the app icons) you can gain access to any of your data that’s stored in iCloud.
For example, if you have an iPhone and you’ve turned on Contacts in iCloud settings, all your contacts will be accessible via the iCloud.com website. Any changes you make to the data at iCloud.com will be wirelessly pushed to your iPhone. Same for any data (e.g., calendars, notes, reminders) that is turned on in iCloud settings. If you have a lot of data entry to do, it’s probably easier to do it on a Mac or PC with its larger screen and full-size keyboard, and then let iCloud sync the data to your iPhone.
Even if you have only one Apple device, it pays to turn on iCloud. Having your data stored in iCloud serves as a sort of backup safety net, while also providing you access to your data in case you lose your device or don’t have it handy.
Have you set iCloud up on your devices?
There’s a lot to iCloud, and we’ve barely scratched the surface. But Backup, Find My Device and iCloud.com are so easy to set up and use that everyone should make use of them. If your devices aren’t set up, take a moment and do it now. You won’t regret it.