What to Know Before Flying in the iCloud

apple-icloudWith the launch of the new iOS for iPhone and iPad along with Apple’s new iCloud it seemed a great time to organize my digital life. Emails, filters, calendars, and photos were all targets for a fall cleaning.

Typical with new Apple products and services, they are often ahead of their time but leave some core features missing. After installing iOS 5+ and iCloud, things were a bit confusing. Were my emails in the iCloud? Notes? Everything on my iPhone in the iCloud? Short answer is no. With only 5GB of free storage and with server technology behind what Google uses, they simply can’t store everything on the iCloud. Here are a few things to note when moving over:

iCloud Creates a New icloud.com Email Address

When you create a new iCloud account it requires that you create a new @me.com @iCloud.com email address so you can use email and notes. I use it just for notes. Did you know Hotmail, Yahoo, and Google all support push email which saves iPhone battery power and data usage?

Google and Hotmail need to be setup as Exchange servers in your email settings. Instructions for setting up Gmail with push technology can be found here. iCloud mail has improved greatly over the years, but advanced mail features can still only be found in Gmail. Google will be more reliable and you can use all the other Google services.

I especially like the simple filters in Gmail that let me filter junk out of my inbox and into subfolders that don’t increment the counts in my mailbox icons. Also it will stop the banner notifications so you won’t be so distracted during the day.

Notes in iCloud Don’t Sync Until You Move them to iCloud

[UPDATE: With Mac OSX 10.8 Mountain Lion there is now a separate mac app for notes. Setup your icloud account and copy / paste notes from other places into the notes app. The notes should upload to iCloud. It’s difficult to restore notes using iCloud, so it’s a good idea to create a local backup folder in the new Notes app and copy / paste your notes there for safekeeping. This area is called “On My Mac.”]

You may be wondering where notes are in the iCloud.com Web interface. Notes are hidden under the mail section of iCloud. Notes in iCloud are nothing more than an IMAP email folder. When you move your data to iCloud any previous notes created on your Mac or iPhone are left in separate account folders than the new iCloud notes folder. You need to copy over the notes using Mac Mail to get them to the iCloud server. Not for the novice computer user. Why should they have to do this? Seems silly and confusing. Migration should be seamless.

[UPDATE: Apple engineers have read my blog post and updated the Web interface to make finding notes easy.] The new iCloud Web interface:

iCloud Web Interface

iCloud Web Interface


Notes Application on iOS and Mac Works Well

That being said I do like how simple the notes app is on the iPhone and I like using it. Once I started using the iCloud account for notes the syncing became automatic with my Mac.

I’ve discovered the best way to manage notes on your iOS devices. Pick an account you want to be your primary notes account – iCloud or Gmail. I use only iCloud for notes. Copy notes from all your accounts to one account. You can do this using the “Accounts” menu item in the top left on iPhone. Paste all your notes to the primary account you want to use. Delete all other accounts and notes – including the account called “On my iPhone” — that’s the local notes that are stored only on your iPhone. Pick a default Notes account in your settings on iPhone / iPad — again, I use iCloud. When you only have one account and all your notes are consolidated the Accounts button in the top left disappears. Now it’s all easy peasy. Use Mac Mail with your iCloud account and all your notes should sync.

For further detail, see the official iCloud Notes help page.

Contacts are Best Left in iCloud

I tried moving contacts on my mac to my Google account to give contacts in Google a try. It just doesn’t work as well as using contacts in iCloud. Not all the fields match properly. Contacts should stay in iCloud until there are better migration tools from Google.

Use Google Calendar for your Calendar

If you create a Google email address you can also configure it use the Google Calendar associated with the account. This is handy when you log in to Gmail. Calendars are pretty universal so moving events you already created between different accounts won’t be a problem. iCloud calendars work great too, but Google exposes their API to more developers so there are more Web apps that integrate with your Google calendar.

iCloud Account for Reminders

Reminders, which are new to iOS5, are a new app. They appear in iCal on the Mac, and for Outlook they are tasks. You need an account to sync reminders. I use the iCloud account because Google doesn’t support reminders at this time. Make sure you have iCloud setup as your reminder account in iCal settings or in your PC setup.

I’d like to see tools from Google that will sync all the iCloud data with Google apps so when I use Google or iCloud everything will really “just work.”

Microsoft Office for iCloud & iOS

Microsoft Office is available for iOS, IF you need it. I haven’t needed Microsoft Office for years. You can buy the iOS suite of apps (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote) and also buy them for your Mac. iCloud syncs the documents. It’s handy for basic documents and the apps work very well and fast on the Apple platforms.

iCloud Photo Stream

You can stream photos from the Photos App, Aperture and all your iOS devices. In theory this sounds like a good idea, but it’s a little limited unless you buy extra storage from Apple and have a fast Internet connection at home to download and upload gigabytes of photo files. You only get a limited number of photos to upload for free, and working with RAW images is difficult.

Office Firewalls May Block iCloud Services

Know that some offices block some of the iCloud services, so you may have to fall back to using Google services, OR use you own cellular network for iCloud services. If one of the iCloud services gets blocked by a firewall you iPhone might act strange and you won’t know why — all because there is no message that pops up telling you services are blocked.

Services to Complement iCloud

BYOC people, Build Your Own Cloud. It seems there are quite a few features I use regularly that aren’t included in Apple’s iCloud or should be. Apple’s software is not always user friendly or cheap. Here’s how I fixed it and made one big fluffy happy Bob Ross cloud tethered to the iCloud.

iDisk, iCloud Drive, DropBox?

I was disappointed that iCloud initially dropped support for iDisk. iDisk would let you move files between computers and they would sync automatically over the air. Is there an iDisk replacement? Dropbox (www.dropbox.com) does exactly the same thing. It works flawlessly. It’s fast, free up to 2GB, and you can access your files on their Web site. It has become my iDisk replacement. If you refer friends you can get up to 8GB of storage free. My co-worker even created a Google AdWords campaign just to get the extra free storage. You can also buy more storage if you want…. good for syncing raw photos or even your whole music collection. Other options for file storage include Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive.

UPDATE – with the release of iOS 8 and OSX Yosemite, Apple resurrected the iDisk as “iCloud Drive.” It will only offer 5GB of space combined with all your other iOS backup data. Not enough. You’ll need to purchase more storage from Apple. At least the storage prices are reasonable though. For anything that requires a version control or file history, I still like DropBox.

Sync Podcasts with Feedly, Not iTunes

I’ve never really like iTunes’ support for podcasts. The reason is probably because Apple can’t make money off of them because most of them are free and they have no way to monetize them. So development for podcast features has taken a backseat to music syncing. Fear not, feed friends! The same Feedly account you use for your regular RSS feed subscriptions can be used to store podcast feeds. I created a “Podcasts” folder in my Feedly and added all the podcast feeds I had in iTunes. Now I can listen to podcasts on my computer and iPhone. Also, there’s no waiting to download. Press the play button in Feedly and it starts playing right away. Get useful  features like:

  • Favorite using the “save for later” button
  • Share to social media sites
  • Organize podcasts into folders
  • Save space on your local disk
  • Automatic updates

The new Podcasts App from Apple can sync your podcasts along with your OS X desktop / Laptop podcasts. The user interface leaves a lot to be desired however and queuing episodes isn’t easy. Also, like I mention, Feedly offers a lot of flexibility. I use both the Podcasts app and Feedly. The TuneIn Radio app can also sync podcast subscriptions as well as play radio stations from all over the world … it also features a car mode!

Google Music / Amazon Music Can Sync Your Music, or Use a Service Like Pandora

Google Music is a new service that can store your music in the cloud, but you need to install software to upload the music. With regular compressed files this is fine. With uncompressed music in your library this can take forever. Google gives you some free music as well, which I was very impressed with. Amazon Music is currently my favorite music app because it’s free with Amazon Prime memberships. It’s similar to Apple Music subscription streaming. Another route to go is a free music service like Pandora. You can create your own stations and the music ad-supported, though not in an annoying way. You can even create a Dashboard Widget using Safari to have quick access to your Pandora music. They also offer a premium service that offers better quality music and no ads for only $36/year. I’m satisfied with the regular Pandora audio quality. Thank you, sponsors. Update: I got a free 30-day Pandora One subscription by clicking on an ad. Definitely worth doing. I’m really liking Pandora One. The audio quality really is a lot better. Fewer interruptions and no ads helps a lot. Plus the music library is almost infinite. There are several ways to get Pandora in your car, so it can make for a cheaper satellite radio alternative. Check out http://www.pandora.com/#!/go/auto for auto options. This Bloomberg BusinessWeek article discusses Pandora’s auto plans in detail. I’ve also used AOL Radio powered by Slacker. There’s an iOS App for AOL Radio and also for Slacker. I find there are fewer commercials and better audio quality. Resources

How are you adjusting to the new iCloud features? Find some apps that work better than the stock ones from Apple? Comment below and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to get updates. Thanks!

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