Apple’s online-based iCloud service continues to evolve into much more than a cloud-based file storage option. In conjunction with the release of iOS 8 for Apple’s mobile devices and OS X Yosemite for the Macs, Apple plans some significant changes to its popular iCloud service, which will impact what it can do, and how much users may have to pay in order to fully utilize it.
iCloud Will Offer Family Sharing for Certain Content
Currently, all content purchases made from the iTunes Store, App Store, iBookstore, and Newsstand are automatically downloaded to the computer or device they’re initially purchased on, but at the same time, are instantly stored within a user’s iCloud account. Thus, the purchased content can then be accessed by any other computer or mobile device that’s linked to the same iCloud account without having to re-purchase that content. Apple provides as much storage space as is necessary for free.
One new iCloud feature that has been announced by Apple is called Family Sharing. Using this feature, up to six people within a family will now be able to share purchased content from the iTunes Store, iBookstore, or the App Store, even if their iCloud accounts are not otherwise linked. Once this feature is initially set up, all participating family members will be able to share their music, movies, TV shows, books, and apps without having to share their Apple ID (iCloud username) and password, or other data stored within their personal iCloud account.
In addition to being able to share all previously purchased content, all new content can now be acquired using either separate or a single credit/debit card(s), and parents can set it up so their kids require permission before making iTunes Store, App Store, or iBookstore/Newsstand purchases. This permission request will show up on a parent’s iPhone or iPad in the form of an interactive text message, so parents will be able to approve or decline the purchase request from almost anywhere with a single onscreen tap.
Thus, someone can now use their iCloud account to backup and sync their personal data from the Contacts, Calendar, Reminders, and Notes apps, as well as other app-specific data with all of their own Macs and iOS mobile devices, but not share this personal and potentially confidential information with others when sharing their content purchases.
Another feature of Family Sharing will give participating family members the ability share selected photos and videos with each other in the form of an online-based Family Photo Stream. Each family member will be able to select images or videos stored within their own Mac(s) or iOS mobile device(s), and have only that selected content uploaded to a central Family Photo Stream, where it will become accessible by other family members. However, all other images and videos that were not selected for the Family Photo Stream will remain private.
Meanwhile, while iCloud currently allows individuals to sync Calendar specific app data between all of their own computers and iOS mobile devices and access this data via iCloud.com, once Family Sharing is set up, a shared family-oriented calendar can also be created, which will be accessible by all family members.
This shared calendar data will be displayed within the Calendar app on Macs and iOS mobile devices, for example, and sync with all family members who will be able to view it, as well as add or edit new events. However, this data will always remain separate from personal calendars being managed by the Calendar app.
iCloud’s Family Sharing option also allows participating family members to track the location of other family members in real time. But, when someone wants their privacy, the location sharing option can be temporarily turned off.
iCloud Drive Makes Storing Files and Data More Efficient
Currently, iCloud can easily be set up to sync and backup app-specific data for Calendar, Contacts, Reminders, Notes, Mail, Safari, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. With the introduction of iCloud Drive, which will automatically become part of all iCloud accounts, individuals will be able to store other types of files, documents and content online, as a separate part of their iCloud account.
As soon as a file is uploaded to iCloud Drive, it will be securely accessible from all of the Macs, PCs, and iOS mobile devices that are linked to the same iCloud account. In other words, iCloud Drive will now offer some of the same functionality as other cloud-based file sharing and achieving services like Dropbox, for example.
Using iCloud Drive will provide yet another way to quickly and easily transfer files between computers and iOS mobile devices, as long as Internet access is available. While each of Apple’s iWork apps (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote) will immediately be compatible with iCloud Drive, allowing for files, documents, and data to immediately sync up, this functionality is likely to also be incorporated into third party apps, making it easy to begin working on a file using one computer or mobile device and then continue working on that same file on another computer or device without having to manually copy or transfer the file.
iCloud Photo Library Will Replace My Photo Stream and Shared Photo Streams
In 2015, a few months after the launch of iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, Apple plans to replace the iPhoto app on all Macs with a newly designed Photos app. At the same time, the Photos app for iOS mobile devices will again be updated. The new Photos app on all Macs and iOS mobile devices will take advantage of a feature called iCloud Photo Library.
Once enabled, all photos and videos created or stored on a Mac or iOS mobile device will automatically upload to iCloud, and then sync with all other computers and mobile devices that are linked to the same iCloud account. As a result, all image Albums will be accessible and kept up to date (as photos or videos are edited) on all of a user’s computers and mobile devices.
These image Albums will be stored online, so as long as a computer or mobile device has Internet access, they’ll be accessible. This will free up a lot of internal storage space within the computers or devices themselves. Using search tools built into the Photos app, all images will be easily searchable, and once edits are made, the updated images will be shared with all other computers and mobile devices linked to the same iCloud account.
Functionality will also be put in place that will allow users to share images and Albums with others, using a feature that’s similar to what is now referred to as iCloud Shared Photo Streams. As a result, Mac, iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch users will only need to organize and maintain one centralized photo/video collection, yet all of their individual images, videos, and Albums will be accessible on all of their Internet-connected devices.
iCloud Pricing Will Soon Change Too
Currently, the majority of iCloud’s features and functions are offered to all Apple users for free, with the exception of the iTunes Match service (which is used for syncing someone’s entire digital music collection, not just iTunes Store music purchases). Each iCloud account comes with 5GB of online storage space. However, Apple provides as much storage space as is needed for free.
In the past, if more than 5GB of online storage space was needed for personal files, iOS mobile device backups, or to store app-specific data, that storage space needed to be paid for. Starting in Fall 2014, when the majority of these new iCloud features and functions are introduced, a new pricing model will also be implemented.
The new pricing model will continue to offer 5GB of free online storage space. However, if you opt to heavily use the iCloud Drive feature or maintain backups of multiple iOS mobile devices using a single iCloud account, additional online storage space may be required. As of early July, Apple has announced only some of the new pricing options. For example, 20GB of additional online storage space will cost $0.99 per month, while 200GB will cost $3.99 per month. Additional, yet unannounced online storage options will also be available.
Since it initially launched in October 2011, Apple has gone to great lengths to offer features and functions for easily backing up, syncing, and sharing data and files using iCloud, while offering functions not available from other cloud-based services. Much of this functionality is possible thanks to full integration with the iOS and OS X operating systems, as well as Apple’s own apps.
As Apple prepares to launch new versions of its powerful operating systems, it’s continuing to expand the capabilities of iCloud to offer easy and affordable solutions for backing up, syncing, and sharing data, content, documents, photos, and files, while also offering features like Find My and the ability to access app-specific data from iCloud.com.