Making the Most of iCloud

While Apple hasn’t had the best history with cloud computing services, their new iCloud platform promises to bring something completely new to the space. Instead of offering their traditional mix of Google Apps and Dropbox, Apple has reinvented the way they see the Cloud.

That being said, the platform hasn’t seen the rapid adoption of some of Apple’s other products, but we’ve still been able to round up a variety of great “hidden” features, newly-compatible apps, and other little tweaks to help you get the most out of your iCloud experience.

Hidden Features

While Apple has been touting their Mail, Calendar, Contacts, and iTunes sync iCloud still has a few more tricks up its sleeve.

Back to my Mac can be easily configured in the iCloud Preferences.

Back to my Mac can be easily configured in the iCloud Preferences.

  1. Back to my Mac: While this service has been available for some time now, with the release of iCloud it is now completely free. Back to my Mac allows you to access the files on a computer of yours remotely as well as even accessing and controlling its screen from afar. Think of this as sort of a Mac OS X Server for home use. Back to my Mac should be considered a must have for anyone with more than one Mac, and why not – its free.
  2. Bring back the iDisk: With the introduction of iCloud Apple axed its iDisk offering from its cloud package, but with a little Finder know-how you can gain most of that functionality back. Once you’ve signed in with an Apple ID on your Mac, inside your Library you’ll find a folder called “Mobile Documents”, simply right click it to create an alias and and drag it to wherever you like.

    With the introduction of Mac OS X Lion the Library folder is now hidden by default. To easily access it, open Finder, hold down the Shift+Command+G keys and type in “~/Library/” (without the quotation marks, of course).

    Now, whenever you want to keep a file in the iCloud, just drag it into the alias and let the syncing magic begin. It’s worth noting that this space will count towards your free 5GB of storage, so use it wisely unless you want to shell out a bit of extra cash.

  3. iChat: These days everyone is using FaceTime and Skype, but for some reason most people seem to forget about the venerable iChat. It has the cross platform compatibility of Skype (vis-à-vis Google Talk and AIM) and the Mac-esque look and feel of FaceTime, in my view, iChat is still king. I’ve never liked using an AIM account, though, as it just seems out of place, not to mention you have to sign up for AIM email and a whole lot of other “stuff” just to get started. iCloud makes using iChat easier, just use your new (and free) .me email address. There’s nothing else to it.
  4. Using the App Store to manage my Apple ID.

    Using the App Store to manage my Apple ID.

  5. Share Apps, Not Email: With the introduction of the Mac App Store, it’s become tempting for families to use the same Apple ID with multiple Mac’s in order to share them across computers. With iCloud, though, your Apple ID now includes includes email, contacts and calendars. That means whoever you share your Apple ID with also has all that extra information. A quick solution is simply to use two Apple ID’s, one personal and another for purchases. When setting up a new Mac or iDevice you’ll need to make your purchase-specific ID the default account in order to make it the go-to for app purchases. In addition you can just turn off email, contacts, and calendars in System Preferences for the shared account to keep things simple. While Apple doesn’t necessarily condemn this practice, it should be considered a bit of a grey area.

Apps Built for iCloud

Although there aren’t many iCloud ready apps for the Mac just yet, we’ve found a few gems in the rough.

iA Writer is minimalism at it's finest.

iA Writer

iA Writer for the Mac is perhaps the crown jewel of iCloud ready software. In my view it is everything a Mac App should be: simple, beautiful, and, useful. It’s a great app built just for writing. Don’t expect this to replace your word processor, rather, think of it as a way to focus your thoughts on what you are making, not how you are making it. iA Writer uses iCloud to seamlessly sync your documents from your Mac to iPad and back again, and it just works. Notably missing is an iPhone app, but we’ve heard that’s on its way. Also of note is iA Writer’s integration of John Gruber’s Markdown, which provides an even simpler writing experience.

Price: $8.99 on sale, $19.99 regularly.
Requires: Mac OS X Lion
Developer: Information Architects

It's really simple.

It's really simple.

Memo

Imagine a world where the Stickies app on your Mac were able to sync with iCloud. That’s basically Memo in a nutshell. It’s a really simple app that achieves its purpose of providing a Memo Pad in the cloud. Using their iPad and iPhone apps you are able to retrieve these memos from basically anywhere. Other features include password protection and the ability to add basic formatting to your memos -that’s it. If you need a simple memo app that works well with iCloud, Memo is your best bet.

Price: Free, Premium upgrade for $1.99
Requires: Mac OS X Lion
Developer: Bloop.

Todo is elegant and feature-rich, but at a price.

Todo is elegant and feature-rich, but at a price.

Todo

Todo for the Mac is a premium app with a premium price tag. At 15 bucks it does nearly everything you could ever ask for in a GTD app, including syncing with iCloud. Now you’ll need the companion apps on either the iPhone or iPad which will run you an extra $5 a piece to get the benefit of iCloud. With the price aside Todo is a capable and beautiful app that any hardcore GTD fan should consider using.

Price: $15
Requires: Mac OS X Lion
Developer: Appigo

WatchCam just works.

WatchCam just works.

WatchCam

If you need a cheap yet advanced surveillance system for your Mac, this app might be your best bet. With features like motion-detection and automatic iCloud video upload, WatchCam makes you feel like you have an advanced surveillance system, all running on your Mac. The videos that are recorded to iCloud will automatically show up on any iOS device or Mac running the software, making this a really powerful tool. While WatchCam won’t win any awards for beauty, its functionally almost-perfect, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for a quick and cheap surveillance setup.

Price: $5
Requires: Mac OS X Lion
Developer: InfoXenter

Wrap Up

This is just the beginning for iCloud, being a free service, it will likely attract far more developers over time than MobileMe and .Mac ever could, meaning the possibilities for you, the user, will be even greater. In these first months since its release, we’re already starting to see some really cool apps that are taking full advantage of the platform. Apple is betting their future on the cloud, so make no mistake, this is just the beginning for them.


  • http://pgdahl.dk Peter

    I am a big fan of Todo, it’s one of the best kept secrets in terms of productivity apps on OS X and iOS. I don’t use the iCloud sync though.

    What I wanted to comment on was the remarks about “premium price” for this application. I don’t think that’s entirely fair – in comparison to the competitors (of which many are overhyped and underperforming) it is a steal (both on OS X and iOS). This is todo (and GTD if that’s how your boat floats) with effortless sync across platforms on a budget.

    No, I am not affiliated with Appigo in any way :D

    By the way, I use iA Writer every day too.

    • David

      I’d like to echo Peter’s comments. I was very surprised to see a $15 price described as “premium”. Maybe the app store has created a downward slide in app prices and people’s perception of value for money, etc. have changed?

      • http://alexarena.com Alex Arena

        I hear you. While the app is amazing, $15 is premium in a world of free and $0.99 apps. I think most people are going to have a hard time justifying paying $15 (plus $5 for the mobile versions) to get an app that shares much of its functionality with free solutions like Wunderlist. Like I said though, its functionality goes far beyond that of Wunderlist, but for a price.

        That’s just my two cents;)

      • Taylor Cohron

        I have to agree, Things, by CulturedCode, is one of the better known apps, and it uses it’s own syncing. Things for Mac is $49.99 on the Mac App storm, and the iPad app is $19.99 and the iPhone app is $9.99. That’s $80 for 3 apps, where here is $25. This app sounds like a bargain. I don’t really use a GTD other than one specific to academics, (iStudiez), but Todo sounds like a true steal here.

  • http://scrawl.callendunahoo.com/ Paul Dunahoo

    Two other apps built for iCloud include SimpleText and my own app, Scrawl (coming soon this week).

    • http://alexarena.com Alex Arena

      I would have included SimpleText, but I thought there would have been too many text-related apps. Can I get a link to your app? I’ll check it out.

      • Paul Dunahoo

        Sure: http://goo.gl/mq4gD (this is the link to the Mac App Store page)

        The update that adds iCloud is in review right now, but it has been in review for three days, so I would think that it would get passed soon.

      • Paul Dunahoo

        It has been approved!

  • Steen

    Nice article, but please remember that “it’s” is short for “it is”. In all other places use “its”.

    • http://alexarena.com Alex Arena

      That is one of my biggest pet-peeves. I’m going back and editing it now.

    • Andy Staab

      Thank you for noticing! Punctuation and grammar matter…

      • http://alexarena.com Alex Arena

        Turns out have to submit my changes to an editor, this might take awhile.

  • Tim

    Would a WatchCam video count towards your iCloud storage? If so, wouldn’t that get eaten up pretty quick, even without sound?

    • http://alexarena.com Alex Arena

      WatchCam stores its video in the Documents folder, which, by default counts towards your storage. The videos aren’t HD or anything so the aren’t that bad, but if you use the app 24/4, you might want to upgrade your storage plan.

  • Richard

    Being still on 10.6 and keeping my MobileMe functionality I’d like to ask whether you can share the uploaded file using the described trick in the article?
    One of my most used features from iDisk is sharing and this keeps me from jumping on iCloud for the moment

    • http://alexarena.com Alex Arena

      Not to my knowledge, unless you could create an alias for your iDisk.

  • James Kubecki

    I don’t understand this statement, regarding using separate iTunes accounts for purchases vs. iCloud:

    “While Apple doesn’t necessarily condemn this practice, it should be considered a bit of a grey area.”

    How is it a grey area when Apple actually documents this approach in their KB? http://support.apple.com/kb/ht4895

    • http://alexarena.com Alex Arena

      Noted.

  • Andy Staab

    Excellent article and thoughtful content. Thank you. I will check out Memo and ToDo.

  • oliver

    comment to your tip in the yellow box:

    it is much more easier to hold down the alt-key on your keyboard while clicking on “go to” in the menubar. see what happens :-)

    • http://alexarena.com Alex Arena

      Wow. That is really cool. Thanks!

    • chelo

      Thank you sir!

  • Jav

    Great article, on using iCloud as an iDisk replacement, how do you access files remotely?

    • http://alexarena.com Alex Arena

      I believe you can go to iCloud.com and view your iCloud documents there.

  • Marcus

    Bring back the iDisk:
    “Once you’ve signed in with an Apple ID on your Mac”… Sign in where, iCloud ?

    “inside your Library you’ll find a folder called “Mobile Documents”, simply right click it to create an alias and and drag it to wherever you like”… I did that, NP.

    “Now, whenever you want to keep a file in the iCloud, just drag it into the alias and let the syncing magic begin.” I did that, nothing happened, file was not saved to iCloud,

    What I’m I missing here, do you need a iPhone and / or iWork for this to work ?

    Yes, I have “Documents and Data” clicked in System Preferences”

    • http://alexarena.com Alex Arena

      Nope, if you have two Macs this will work fine. Just make an alias on both machines and the folder will sync. Just don’t touch the original folder -just play around with the alias.

  • http://www.massagista.org Massagista

    i Agree in iDisk is sharing and this keeps me from jumping on iCloud for the moment

  • phunkidude

    Does Back To Mac work between Lion and Snow Leopard? I upgraded my mac at home to Lion and now I can no longer connect between my Work and Home macs.

  • http://www.remedii-naturiste.com/ ganoderma

    Excellent article and thoughtful content. Thank you. I will check out Memo and ToDo.

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  • http://www.definiteweb.com web consultant

    If one word that has created most buzz in the recent years, it had to be “cloud computing”. The “cloud storage” stems from the concept. If one company took advantage and branded it well, it is Apple and its iCloud. It offers different things to different people, and more than a standard cloud solution. For example, I have used it to backup and restore my IOS devices. Simply great! Nice article though.

  • Czar

    Nice article, however it provides no meaningful description of how to access files via Back-to-My-Mac from my iPad. In fairness Apple provides nothing either. Is it as simple as clicking iCloud in the control panel of my mac, then checking Back to My Mac. If so, I’ve done this. Do I need to click on Sharing from the main control panel and click some of the services? File sharing is already selected, do I need to click Remote Login? Anything else? Some of us have learning disabilities and accessing files on my Mac can be highly difficult absent a step by step procedure.

    Has anyone accessed their mac via their iPad remotelly or even locally? I’d love to understand how this is done. To this point it sounds as if there a number of armchair enthusiasts who love what can be done, but can’t describe how it is done. Perhaps no one has been able to do so? I’m not meaning to be irritating or a pain. I only want to understand how this is done! Anyone willing to help a person out? Thank you.

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