iCloud is Apple's remote storage and cloud computing service, and allows you to access your photos, contacts, email, bookmarks and documents anywhere you can get online. It's a useful and - if you can manage with the pretty stingy storage allocation - free set of services, available to anyone with an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV or Mac; even Windows PC owners can get involved.
In this article we explain how to set up iCloud on any of those devices. We show how to sign up for an Apple ID and iCloud account, and how to activate iCloud in general, and for specific services.
Create an Apple ID
Your iCloud account is based on your Apple ID. So if you haven't got an Apple ID already, you'll need to create one. If you've already got an Apple ID, you can skip ahead to the next section (or the one for your device).
There's two ways to sign up for an Apple ID: on your iPad or iPad, as part of the device's setup process, or in a browser on any device at any time.
If you're setting up a new iPad or new iPhone, the simplest option is to create an Apple ID then and there. At the appropriate moment during setup, tap 'Don't have an Apple ID or forgot it', and 'Create A Free Apple ID'. Then enter your details.
But you don't need to be on an Apple device, or even own an Apple device, to create an Apple ID: anybody, even curious Windows or Linux users, can create an account. You simply have to visit the ID section of Apple's website and click Create Your Apple ID at the top right.
We walk you through the process in more detail here: How to create an Apple ID.
Apple advises you to make sure the device you'll be using iCloud services on is running the most recent version of its respective OS. (Newer versions of iOS, iPadOS, macOS and tvOS may add extra iCloud features, fix bugs or tweak the way it works.) If your device is brand-new you shouldn't need to update its OS, although it's still worth checking in case some bug fixes have been released since it was boxed up.
For iPads and iPhones, go to Settings > General > Software Update. iOS or iPadOS will either tell you that the operating system is up to date, or give you details of a newer version and let you download and install it. Read more about updating iOS on iPad or iPhone.
On Apple TV, open the Settings app, scroll down and select 'System' and then, under the Maintenance submenu, click on 'Software updates'. Select 'Update Software' and the new update will be downloaded to the Apple TV. After a while you'll see a tvOS update prompt: select 'Download and Install'. Read more about updating tvOS on Apple TV.
To update macOS, open the App Store and run a search for the latest version (at time of writing it's macOS Catalina, but just searching for macOS will generally return what you're looking for in the first couple of results). Click Download. For smaller point updates - rather than installing an entirely new version of macOS - you can just click the Apple icon at the top-left corner of the screen, and select About This Mac. Click Software Update. Read more about updating macOS.
Turn on iCloud on iPad, iPhone or iPod touch
It's easy to switch on iCloud. As with signing up for an Apple ID, this can be done during the setup process for your Apple device, or later on if you declined the option initially.
Partway through the setup process for an iPhone or iPad, iOS will ask if you want to use iCloud. (You'll be given the self-explanatory options 'Use iCloud' and 'Don't use iCloud'.) You'll just need to tap Use iCloud, enter your Apple ID and password, and proceed from there.
If you didn't activate it during setup, you can do this later in the Settings app.
Tap the headshot picture at the top of the main page (or top of the left column). This will show your name and/or face, or a blank face and the words 'Sign in to your [device]', depending on whether you're signed in. If you're not signed in, you'll be asked to enter your Apple ID and password, and possibly your passcode too.
Now tap iCloud and follow the onscreen instructions.
Turn on iCloud on Apple TV
Setting up iCloud on the fourth-gen or 4K Apple TV (earlier models don't offer this feature) is easy. When you first turn on the Apple TV you'll be asked for your Apple ID and password. Fill in your details and you'll be able to use iCloud for photo sharing, iTunes Match and various other features.
If you didn't enter your Apple ID when you first set up, you can do so by going to Settings > Accounts > iCloud, then selecting Sign In.
Turn on iCloud on Mac
Open System Preferences and click iCloud. On the next screen you'll be able to sign in with your Apple ID (or sign out), and tick the iCloud services you want to use on your Mac.
Turn on iCloud on PC
It's a bit trickier, but even Windows PC users can benefit from iCloud services.
You need to download iCloud for Windows and install it. Open the program, and sign in with your Apple ID.
As with iCloud on the Mac, you can then decide which iCloud services you want to use: iCloud Drive, photo sharing, Mail/Contacts/Calendars, and internet bookmarks. Put a tick next to the ones that appeal.
There! You're all set up and ready to go. For advice on getting the most out of the service, read How to use iCloud. And if you decide it's not for you, have a look at our guide to the Best alternatives to iCloud.