As the name suggests, iCloud is a cloud-based computing and storage service from Apple, Inc. Like similar file sharing/storage services, iCloud enables users to synchronize their digital content across all Apple applications and devices, including Mac, MacBook, iPad, iPod, iPhone, and Apple Watch.
Although an Apple ID (and by extension, an iCloud account) is not required to access Apple devices or software, many features or functionalities are limited without one. iCloud is accessible from iCloud.com in addition to the general settings/preferences pane of any supported device or application.
iCloud was unveiled in 2011 alongside Mac OS X Lion and iOS 5 and was made publicly available with an iTunes update. It replaced MobileMe, a paid service that had targeted Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, iPhone, and iPod Touch users since 2000. In less than a week, iCloud had 20 million users, and it has since been expanded to include a number of native applications and functionalities. Today, users of Apple devices (like iPhones) and Apple software (like iTunes) are strongly encouraged to create an iCloud account, which comes with 5 GB of free storage for mail, documents, photos/videos, backups, music, apps, TV shows, and books.
When Apple’s then-CEO Steve Jobs announced that iCloud would be replacing MobileMe, he also gave an overview of the new apps and functionalities that would be introduced in the new iCloud user experience. While many of the announced features have remained constant since the launch, many subsequent launches and updates have molded the iCloud environment into what it is today, including:
- Backup and Restore, which automatically creates a data backup of all files and settings that can be restored in the event of system updates, hardware failure, or device upgrades
- iCloud Keychain, a password manager for storing and streamlining passwords
- iTunes Match, a paid service for scanning CD tracks and matching them to music in the iTunes Library (now bundled into the Apple Music subscription)
- Find My (formerly two separate apps, Find My Friends and Find My Device), an application for locating Apple devices and other iCloud users
- Handoff, a functionality for accessing an application that has recently been used on a different iCloud device
- Photos (formerly iPhoto and My Photo Stream), an application that uploads a copy of every photo taken on every iCloud-enabled device to iCloud Drive
- iMessage, which replaced the previous iChat application and incorporated SMS messaging from mobile service providers
- iCloud Drive, the landmark storage service , which provides 5 GB of free storage to iCloud users
iCloud also offers integrated support for a number of other applications, both native (Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Reminders, etc.) and third-party (Lyft, Slack, Uber, etc.).