The iCloud Drive App, and how to hide it
iCloud Drive is a bit like Finder on the Mac, as it allows you to view all the files and folders that you have stored within your free 5GB of iCloud storage.
That's great if - like me - you constantly need to transfer work files between multiple devices running different apps when you're on the move. However, the iCloud Drive app might be a little confusing for people who aren't familiar with cloud services such as iCloud or Dropbox. And if you ever let your kids or other people use your iPad or iPhone there's also the possibility that they could use this app to view personal files, or even delete some important work files without your permission.
To prevent this, iOS allows you to hide the iCloud Drive app so that it's no longer visible on your Home screen. Your iCloud account still works, and all your files and emails stored in iCloud can still be opened up within apps like Mail or Pages, but hiding the iCloud Drive app ensures that no files can be viewed, moved or deleted by mistake.
So, if we return to the main iCloud Settings panel once more, and tap on iCloud Drive, we'll see the 'Show On Home Screen' switch, which allows us to show or hide the app as required.
iCloud and third-party companies
And, at long last, there are some third-party apps from companies other than Apple that are starting to use iCloud Drive as well. The latest version of Excel for iOS can now use your iCloud Drive to store files - as can the iOS versions of Word and PowerPoint too.
Each app that uses iCloud gets its own control switch that lets you turn the iCloud storage option on or off, so you can turn it on just for the main apps that you work with, and turn all the others off in order to avoid using up extra space unnecessarily.
Some files - such as PowerPoint or Keynote presentations - can be pretty large, so there's also a switch that allows you to restrict file uploads to wifi connections so that you don't bust your mobile broadband data cap.
iCloud settings on the iPhone
The iCloud panel is a bit of a biggie. However, the essentials here are the ability to turn iCloud syncing on or off for a variety of different apps.
You can use iCloud to share photos, emails and contacts, as well as files created in apps such as Pages, Numbers and Keynote. One really useful iCloud option is Find My iPhone, which can be used to locate any device that's logged into your iCloud account. I mislay my phone around the house all the time, so I often use this feature to find it again - but, more importantly, Find My iPhone works with iPads and Macs too, and can be used to locate your devices if they get lost or stolen.
After iCloud and iTunes you'll find settings for a variety of individual apps. These include the standard apps, such as Mail and Contacts that are built into your iPhone or iPad, but there are also settings for other apps that you buy and install yourself, so these will obviously vary from person to person.
Cloud options for iPhones and iPads
It may sit quite a long way down the list of options in the iOS Settings panel, but iCloud is now one of the key technologies at the heart of both iOS and macOS. When it was first launched back in 2011, iCloud was really just designed for syncing emails and photos between your iPhone and your Mac. However, it has now matured into a sophisticated cloud storage system that can share all sorts of personal information across multiple devices.
Family Sharing allows one person - known as the 'organiser' - to create a special 'family group', and to then invite up to five family members to join that group. Family Sharing works on iOS devices, Macs, and even PCs running Windows (though you'll need to download the iCloud for Windows software from the Apple website).
The only restriction here is that the organiser has to be an adult, with a credit card linked to their Apple ID account. The organiser agrees to pay for any purchases made by members of the family group, and any purchases made by any member of the group are automatically made available to everyone else in the group. But don't worry - there are options within Family Sharing that can prevent your family going crazy with your credit card.
iCloud storage: free 5GB
When you create an Apple ID account you automatically get 5GB of free storage on iCloud, which you can use to store your photos, emails, and your device backups.
That's not a huge amount, but the music, videos and apps that you buy from iTunes or the App Store don't count towards the 5GB total, so most people can still get by with that basic amount of storage. I use my iPhone and iPad all the time, and I've still got about 4GB spare.
If you want to know how much storage you have left you can see it displayed near the top of the main iCloud settings panel.
But, as iCloud adds more new features, such as iCloud Drive and iCloud Photo Library, it gets easier and easier to fill up that 5GB of storage. Fortunately, you've got a couple of options for managing your iCloud storage, which you can see just by tapping on Storage in the settings panel.
Get more space in iCloud
The Storage Panel shows you how much storage you've got left (above). If you take a lot of photos, or use iCloud Drive to store a lot of work files then you might need to pay for some extra storage. However, there's another option that you can try first. Just tap on Manage Storage and you'll see a detailed list of everything you have stored in iCloud. Your Photo Library comes first, followed by back-ups from all your iOS devices, and then a detailed list of all the files created in other apps such as Keynote and Numbers (below).
I recently moved a load of holiday photos back onto my office Mac, so the Photo Library on my iPhone currently only takes up about 190MB. My iPad backup is bigger, though, taking up 200MB, and there's a number of files that I created in Keynote on my Mac that take up another 190MB on their own.
If you're close to your 5GB limit you can see which apps and files are taking up the most space and you might be able to grab back quite a bit of space simply by deleting a few old files that you don't need any more.
Remove data from iCloud to make more space
You actually have really fine control over the data that you store in iCloud.
Of course, you can delete individual photos and videos from Photos whenever you want, and it doesn't hurt to clear out your email Inbox now and then either. You can also delve into iCloud and delete files from other apps too. Just tap on the name of any app in the Manage Storage panel, and you will see a list of every single file created by that app, along with the size of each file.
I wrote an article on Keynote for MacWorld recently, and I've still got a number of large Keynote presentations files that are taking up space in my iCloud storage. But if I tap the Edit button at the top of the screen I can delete individual files that I no longer need, or just use the Delete All command to delete every file created by Keynote.
You can also control which files will be included in future backups. If I tap my iPhone in the Backups list I can see a list of every app that I have on my iPhone, and how much data each app will store when I back up my iPhone to iCloud. You can click the green button to turn off back-ups for individual apps, and as you do this you'll see an updated count of how large the next back-up will be.
Removing backups to make more space
After your Photo Library, one of the biggest items that most people upload to iCloud is the daily back-up of their iPhone or iPad data. By default, iOS automatically backs up your iPhone or iPad to iCloud once a day (as long as the device is turned on, connected to power, and connected to a wifi network). But if those back-ups take up too much space on iCloud you can simply turn off the back-up function altogether.
Tap on Delete Backup and you'll see another little window pop up that asks if you want to 'Turn off & Delete'. If you go ahead and do this you will delete any back-ups from that device that are already stored in iCloud, and also turn off any future back-ups as well. You can still back up your iPhone or iPad by connecting it to your Mac or PC and using the automatic backup option in iTunes, but those back-ups are stored on your computer's hard disk so they don't take up any of your iCloud storage.
Upgrading iCloud storage
If these space-saving tricks still don't stop you from hitting that 5GB limit then you might just have to bite the bullet and pay for some more storage. Apple's pricing for iCloud storage used to be ridiculously expensive - which is why so many people still use rivals such as Dropbox or Microsoft's OneDrive. However, Apple cut the prices of iCloud storage quite drastically last year, following the introduction of iCloud Drive.
Go back to the main Storage panel and tap Buy More Storage, and you'll see a price list for the different iCloud storage options. You can upgrade to 50GB - and that's 50GB total, not 50GB on top of the original 5GB - for just 79p a month. There are also plans for 200GB at £2.49 per month, and 1TB for £6.99.
Rivals such as Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft's OneDrive are still cheaper - with Microsoft and Google both offering a really handy 15GB of storage for free - but the simplicity of iCloud and its ability to seamlessly share all your important files and data across multiple devices is really useful if you own a lot of Apple products. And, of course, you can use more than one cloud storage service if you want.
I mainly use iCloud for syncing photos and emails across my devices, but I also have a free Dropbox account that I use as an emergency backup for important work files on my office Mac.
iCloud and Apps
However, the iCloud Settings panel also includes a number of options that determine how iCloud works with individual apps on your iPhone or iPad. If you want to share your Mail messages, Contacts info and Calendar events across all your devices then you need to make sure that you turn on iCloud for each of these apps here.
You can also use iCloud to share information from other apps too, such as Reminders and Notes, bookmarks that you have stored in Safari, and the Passbook app that stores information about airline tickets and for now is your link to Apple Pay.
It's worth being selective here, as not all apps really need to share data and info across your devices. I have lots of web pages bookmarked on the iMac in my office, but I don't want to mix them up with other web pages that I view on my iPhone, so I tend to turn off iCloud sharing for Safari most of the time.
Although there's a simple switch that allows you to turn iCloud On or Off for Mail there's also another set of Mail options that are hidden further down in the iCloud Settings panel.
Scroll right down to the 'Advanced' section and tap on the entry for Mail. That opens up a page that contains options for managing multiple email accounts. Scroll down again, and tap on 'Advanced' again, and you'll now see a window that allows you to control how Mail handles different mailboxes. You can actually change which mailboxes are used to store emails that you send and receive. If you're an email obsessive - or Hillary Clinton - you could specify that emails that you discard are archived for future retrieval, rather than going straight into the Trash and being deleted.
You can also specify how long deleted messages stay in the Trash before they are completely removed. You can keep them for one day, one week or one month, or select the 'Never' option which leaves messages in the Trash until you decide to delete them yourself.
Important apps like Mail and Safari get their own individual controls for iCloud, but there's another option in here, simply called Backup, that allows you to store data from a number of additional apps too.
The Backup option is a little confusing, as it overlaps with the iCloud Photo Library to some extent. Turning on iCloud Photo Library stores your entire Photo Library in iCloud and updates it continuously whenever you shoot any new photos and videos. The Backup option works slightly differently - in fact, it's a bit more like doing a Time Machine back-up on your Mac.
When you activate Backup in iCloud Settings your iPhone or iPad will automatically perform one complete back-up every day - but only when the device is locked and not in use, and is being charged and connected to a wifi network at the same time. That daily back-up includes photos and videos, just like the iCloud Photo Library, but it also includes data from other apps too, such as text messages, health data that is stored in HealthKit apps, and even details of how you've organised all your apps on your Home Screens.
Turning off the iCloud Backup option doesn't affect important apps, such as Mail and Contacts, so your most important data is still protected even if this option is turned off. It's still worth using Backup every now and then, though, just in case anything goes wrong with your iPhone or iPad. If you don't want to use Backup via wifi - which could take a while - you can also perform a manual back-up by using a USB cable to connect your iPhone or iPad to iTunes on your Mac. That's a good option too, as it allows you to store the back-up on your Mac's hard disk, rather than taking up the limited space in iCloud.
iCloud Security Code
There's one other important type of data that can be stored on iCloud. The iCloud Keychain stores private personal data, such as passwords for email accounts and web sites, and even credit card numbers that you use on sites such as Amazon or eBay. This is very important information, obviously, so you can keep this information extra safe by creating an iCloud Security Code. If someone gets hold of any of your Macs or iOS devices without your permission they would need to know both your normal iCloud password and the extra iCloud Security Code before they could access your Keychain.
I tend to keep Keychain turned off on my iPhone, so that some important passwords that I have on my office iMac aren't shared with the iPhone when I'm away from the office. But if you want to turn Keychain on then you can simply tap Keychain in the iCloud Settings panel and then click the On/Off button that appears. Underneath that button you'll also see the 'Advanced' option, which allows you to set up the additional iCloud Security Code.
There are two options here. You could choose to use your normal iPhone Passcode as the Security Code too. But, of course, if someone manages to get hold of your passcode then your iPhone is completely defenceless. It's better to create a separate Security Code that has no connection with your normal passcode. You can either opt for a simple four-digit security code or let your device generate a longer, random code number for you.
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