iCloud: What you need to know

Here's everything you need to know about Apple's new iCloud wireless data sync service

iCloud seems to be intentionally focused on Wi-Fi syncing. Backups won't happen unless you're on Wi-Fi and plugged in, for example. But some features will sync over cellular connections, and yes, they will use your data plan. Users on limited data plans will need to consider their iCloud strategy carefully.

Most of my music is on a non-iOS iPod. How does the iPod fit into the scheme of songs being pushed to all devices?

iCloud requires an Internet connection to do its job, which explains why it's limited to iOS devices -- which can connect to Wi-Fi networks and, in most cases, 3G data networks as well. We can't see how an iPod nano or classic could ever fit into the iCloud ecosystem.

What will this cost?

Almost all of the iCloud services are free. The only thing you have to pay for is iTunes Match, which will cost $25 per year.

When will iCloud be up and running?

Right now, the iTunes in the Cloud feature is available for users in the U.S. only. (Apple's calling it a beta, so you can expect some wonkiness.) The rest of the services are expected to roll out with iOS 5 in the fall.

Will it work with all iOS devices and Macs?

In order to use iCloud, you'll need iOS 5, which will run on the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, third- and fourth-generation iPod touch, original iPad, and iPad 2. On the Mac, you'll need to be running Lion and iTunes 10.3 or later. For PCs, you'll need Windows Vista or Windows 7.

You will be able to convert your MobileMe account into an iCloud account when the new service launches. Apple's MobileMe transition document says "When iCloud becomes available this fall, more details and instructions will be provided on how to make the move." Existing MobileMe services will continue to work until June 30, 2012.

Do I get a refund?

If you've recently purchased a boxed update and haven't used the code yet, or have an unused code in your account, you may be eligible for a refund. Apple has posted a support doc detailing how the process works. You can also request a pro-rated refund for the remaining portion of your subscription. For everyone else, Apple has extended your MobileMe subscription until June 30, 2012. After that date, MobileMe dies.

What about the email address? Does it stay @me.com or change to something else?

According to an email Apple sent out on Monday, when you sign up for iCloud, you'll be able to keep your MobileMe email address. In addition, everyone eligible for iCloud is now eligible for a free email address ending in @me.com.

What will happen to MobileMe features such as Galleries, iDisk, Backup, Back To My Mac, and Find My iPhone?

Unknown at this point. When Apple talks about the future of MobileMe and iCloud, none of these features -- plus things like syncing Dock items, keychains, preferences, and notes -- are mentioned. As mentioned above, iCloud will offer up to 5GB of storage (which doesn't include data handled by most of the features we've described), but this is less than the 20GB currently offered by MobileMe. As for Find My iPhone, earlier this year Apple made it free for owners of new iOS devices. Apple has recently updated Find My iPhone, so Apple clearly thinks it's still worthwhile. We certainly expect it to stick around.

And what about iWeb?

Apple has devoted very little attention to iWeb in the past few years. Our best guess is that iWeb will disappear from the next version of iLife and that Apple-supported Web hosting as we now know it will be a thing of the past.

What are the implications for Time Capsule?

Cloud-based storage is attractive for a lot of reasons, not least of which is that your data is safe from "local" events such as your computer equipment being stolen, a house fire, or natural disasters. However, it's not fast -- uploading and restoring many gigabytes of data can take a long time. And if your ISP has imposed bandwidth caps, it can also be expensive. Storing your most important documents on iCloud makes sense, but it's not a good solution for backing up all of your data. For that you need some kind of local storage solution and that's where Time Capsule and other local backup strategies make sense.

Why is Apple doing this?

When Steve Jobs spoke about iCloud Monday, he said that Apple was going to demote the computer to be "just another device." So, rather than your Mac being the digital hub for your media and personal information, that job would be taken over by online services -- specifically, iCloud. Given that now that many of us have not only multiple computers but also one or more mobile computing devices such as the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, this makes a lot of sense. Coordinating all your information between these devices has become a chore -- particularly when you attempt to do it all from a single computer. The promise of iCloud is that syncing media and data will "just work." Just enter your Apple ID on your various devices and iCloud will make sure that all those devices have the most up-to-date content on them.

Of course, money could also be an issue. Having millions of people sign on for iTunes Match at $25-per-year is an attractive notion for Apple (even if Apple ends up sharing some of that cash with the record labels). And there's always the possibility that Apple would add other pay-for services to iCloud -- subscription music streaming, for example.

Of course, there's also the bigger picture: By creating a system where all your computing devices communicate seamlessly and let you access your media on demand, Apple is making it even more appealing to stay in the Apple ecosystem and to buy even more Apple devices.

This story, "iCloud: What you need to know" was originally published by Macworld.

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