When Apple took the wraps off Mac OS X Lion, iOS 5 and iCloud at the Worldwide Developers Conference keynote, the speakers focused on just some of the new features that will be offered. As a result, we have received a deluge of questions from our readers. While not every detail is available just yet, we’ve gathered up what Apple has so far revealed to answer your burning questions about the forthcoming Mac OS and iOS updates and Apple’s new iCloud service.
We’re seen developer versions of iOS 5 and Lion, and the beta of iCloud (which is US only), but because much of iCloud won’t be up and running until this autumn when iOS 5 ships and the developer versions of the software are far from final, there will still be lots of unanswerable questions, but here’s everything you need to know right now…
iCloud and MobileMe
What is iCloud?
iCloud is Apple’s name for a number of internet-based services for syncing files and data across iOS devices, Macs, and PCs.
Isn’t that what MobileMe does?
Yes and no. iCloud will offer some of the same features as MobileMe, but not all, and it will add plenty of new features of its own.
What does this mean for MobileMe?
MobileMe will be going the way of the Dodo. More on that in a bit.
What does iCloud offer?
iCloud can sync your contacts, calendars, email, and Safari bookmarks between iOS devices and computers. It will also offer document storage, photo storage, and music-syncing features, along with backup features for iOS devices.
How does iCloud really compare with Dropbox and SugarSync?
Unlike Dropbox and SugarSync, which are designed to let you sync any file or folder on your computer through their services, iCloud is focused on integration with apps. So it doesn’t matter where you save that Pages document on your Mac; it’ll be synced with iCloud merely by virtue of being a Pages document.
On the other hand, you won’t be able to use iCloud to sync a document created in an application that lacks iCloud support.
What’s going to happen to my photos?
iCloud includes a feature called Photo Stream, which auto-imports any new pictures taken on an iOS device or added to iPhoto and stores them for 30 days in the cloud. You can view those photos on (and in some cases download them to) your other iOS devices, computers, and even your Apple TV. Because of their size, photo syncing is limited to 1,000 pictures on iOS devices, but is unlimited on computers. Although you can’t run iPhoto on a Windows PC, Apple says Photo Stream will work with PCs as well – all you have to do is choose a local folder to use as a “photo library”.
Only 1,000 photos?
iCloud stores and syncs your most-recent 1,000 photos. But that doesn’t mean you lose older photos. Apple said that any photos in iPhoto will be permanently stored on your computer.
Will using iCloud’s photostream on the Mac require me to upgrade to iPhoto ’11? Windows users don’t need to spend any extra to use it.
Yes, it looks like you’ll need to upgrade to the latest version of iPhoto for £8.99.
What kind of music features does iCloud have?
iTunes in the Cloud offers manual downloading of all your previously purchased iTunes Store music, as well as automatic downloads of all new purchases, to any computer or iOS device authorised for your iTunes account. If you’ve purchased tracks from the iTunes Store in the old 128kbps protected AAC format and re-download them, they’ll be delivered in that same format. They won’t be offered to you as unprotected 256kbps AAC files – for that you’ll have to pay 20p a track to upgrade them through iTunes. If tracks that you’ve purchased are no longer available from the iTunes Store, you won’t be able to download them again.
Streaming music from iCloud is not currently supported, nor does it look like it will be in the future. To play a song or album, you’ll first need to download it to the device or computer on which you’re going to listen to it.
What about music that isn’t from the iTunes Store (stuff I ripped from CDs myself, say)?
For $25 a year (UK users will have to wait for this feature), Apple’s iTunes Match feature can scan your iTunes library and match up, if possible, any songs you have that you didn’t buy from iTunes with the same track in Apple’s iTunes Store – and then you can access those tracks from all your computers and iOS devices, just like tracks you bought through iTunes.
This is in sharp contrast to the cloud-based musical offerings from Amazon and Google, which require you to upload your music to be able to access it (although those services allow you to stream your music, rather than just download it like Apple’s).
Once iTunes Match has ‘matched’ those tracks, it replaces low-bit rate versions with 256kbps, DRM-free AAC versions.
For the songs iTunes doesn’t offer, you can upload your own files instead. Apple says that you can store up to 25,000 matched and manually-uploaded tracks – iTunes-purchased tracks don’t count against this limit.
It’s unclear what happens when you stop paying the annual subscription fee, but if it’s anything like other subscription music services, chances are that a portion of your iCloud experience will cease to function.
If I don’t decide to renew iTunes Match after a year, will I lose all of those non-iTunes songs I downloaded to my devices?
We don’t know. If we had to guess, we’d say you probably get to keep those files forever, but when your subscription lapses, you will no longer have access to them on iCloud, so you won’t be able to download them to any device on demand. We’re guardedly optimistic that the music files themselves will remain intact and playable, but detached from the cloud.
Does it work with any other purchased files?
Yes, you can set up your iOS devices to auto-download newly purchased apps and books as well.
What about other iTunes Store content, like movies and podcasts?
It looks like the iTunes in the Cloud features are limited to music/apps/books, so no TV shows, movies or podcasts. That could be due, in the case of movies and TV shows, to concerns about bandwidth and/or licensing agreements with studios. But we suspect Apple will extend iTunes in the Cloud to at least some other types of content at some point.
Can I play music directly from iCloud, or do I have to download music files first?
You can listen to a preview of your purchased music to help you identify a track before downloading it, but you can’t stream songs.
I have a few albums I copied from a friend. How will iTunes Match be able to decide which files are legal for me to upload and which aren’t?
The specifics of how iCloud does or doesn’t deal with pirated music will likely be a secret. We’d guess that if you try to match tracks purchased from someone else’s iTunes account, you’ll be told that you don’t have the right to use them. Those tracks are watermarked with another Apple ID and therefore easy to identify. As for tracks that have been downloaded from the Internet, it’s possible that Apple could look for identifying characteristics that indicate the music came from a dodgy source. For example, tags, watermarks, and sonic footprints.
Storage and backup
Will iCloud store and back up any file I want it to?
Not quite. Apple says that iCloud will sync documents created with Apple’s apps (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, for example) as well as any third-party apps that are adapted to take advantage of iCloud. Presumably, most iOS and Mac developers will get on the iCloud bandwagon, but there will be a transition period where some apps will sync with iCloud and others won’t. That means users will need to be careful not to assume that all their files are automatically saved to iCloud, because only some apps will do the job.
How much will I be able to store on iCloud?
You’ll have a total of 5GB – this covers mail, documents, and backup. Purchased music, apps, books, and Photo Stream photos (more on that above) won’t count as part of your 5GB limit.
What if I need to have more storage? Will there be a way to pay for more?
It looks like there will be. In the iOS 5 beta, buried within the iCloud section of the Settings app is a Buy More Storage button. This makes a lot of sense, since some users will hit their 5GB storage limit rather easily. The Dropbox cloud-storage and file-syncing service offers 2GB of storage for free, and charges $10 (£6) per month for 50GB or $20 (£12) per month for 100GB. Apple will probably offer extra storage at similar prices.
Can I use iCloud to back up my iOS device?
Another aspect of iCloud is automatic data backup. According to Apple, once a day – but only when your iOS device is connected to both a power source and a WiFi network – iCloud will back up many types of user data to the cloud. It won’t back up everything, but it will handle purchased music, apps, and books; your Camera Roll (photos and videos); device settings; app data; Home screen and app organisation; text and MMS messages; and ringtones. If you ever get a new iOS device or need to restore from a backup, Apple said, you can just enter your Apple ID and password and all your data will be automatically loaded onto that device.
Will I be able to use iCloud to sync settings and other data between my Macs?
Other than the types of data already mentioned – photos, media, and data in iCloud-enabled applications – Apple hasn’t said much. But we think it’s only a matter of time before you’ll be able to sync your application and system settings, and perhaps even your login sessions, between your Macs.
MobileMe and IDs
I’ve got lots of Apple IDs. I’ve got an iTunes account with all my apps and music on it and we have family MobileMe accounts for email. What does the advent of iCloud mean for me and my family?
At the moment, we’re not sure how Apple is going to handle multiple accounts. However, the iOS 5 beta features an iCloud settings item as well as a separate Store settings item. The iCloud item handles the syncing of mail, contacts, calendars, reminders, bookmarks, notes, Photo Stream, and Find My iPad, as well as storage and backup. The Store setting seems to cover music and apps. So it’s possible you’ll be able to use one Apple ID for media purchases and syncing, and a separate ID for all the other data. In this way, if you have a single family account for media purchases, you can keep everyone on that while using a separate account for other data.
Will I be able to merge my iTunes and MobileMe accounts into a single account? Or change my Apple ID and retain my old apps and media?
Apple hasn’t said anything about how management of Apple IDs will be handled. Given their increasing importance, it would certainly be nice if Apple allowed users to change, merge, and even split accounts.
If I have an expired me.com email address from a MobileMe trial, or a mac.com AIM account, will I be able to claim them when iCloud is released?
It seems likely that if you signed up at some point for a me.com or mac.com address, you may be able to re-activate that user name once iCloud launches.
I’m a MobileMe user. What happens now? Will I lose all my data?
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 30 June 2012.
Do I get a refund?
If you’ve recently purchased a boxed copy 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 document detailing how the process works. You can also request a part refund for the remaining portion of your subscription. For everyone else, Apple has extended MobileMe subscription until 30 June 2012. After that date, MobileMe disappears.
What about my new email address? Does it stay like my old one – ending in @me.com – or will it change to something else?
According to Apple, 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 like 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 we’ve said 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, Apple has made this feature absolutely free for all owners of new iOS 5 devices.
How much and how long?
Will iCloud eat up my data plan?
iCloud seems to be intentionally focused on WiFi syncing. Backups won’t happen unless you’re on WiFi and plugged in, for example. But some features will sync over 3G connections, and yes, they will use your data plan. Users on limited data plans will need to consider their iCloud strategy carefully.
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 (around £15) per year. Although as mentioned below, this feature won’t be available in the UK at first.
When will iCloud be up and running?
Initially, the iTunes in the Cloud feature is available for users in the US only. Happily, the rest of the services are all fully expected to roll out with iOS 5 in the autumn.