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-√†-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.


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 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.


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.