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!

18 thoughts on “What to Know Before Flying in the iCloud”

  1. [From a friend of mine… notes are really important because people put a lot of important information in them… back up your notes!]
    If there’s any way you can help me with this, please do. I’m ready to throw this stupid phone against the wall. User-friendly my ass. It appears that my iPhone has mysteriously deleted all of my Notes and there doesn’t seem to be any way to get them back. Despite the fact that I have an iCloud account, it never synched any of my notes to iCloud. I’m in the predicament because most of the mail from app features use the built-in mail app, which has never worked correctly. I was trying to mail something, it failed and took me to the iPhone mail app. It tried to sync email with my gmail account, which is the email I set up for it (also the email that’s used for my iCloud account). It failed several times (also showing me all the unsent draft emails that never arrived) and then took me to settings. It said the username and password didn’t match, which is not true. But I re-entered them anyway. It tried to sync again, and failed, claiming that my gmail login info was wrong. False again. The screen for the account had the option to turn on or off syncing for gmail, notes and calendar. I accidentally turned the sync off for Notes and turned it right back on. Curious if it had done anything, I opened Notes to find it empty. Nowhere in settings have I been able to find anything that will restore it. Even though that whole thing was set to sync with my gmail stuff, Google doesn’t seem to have a place for those notes to be stored. And as I said, for some reason it never showed up in iCloud. Best of all, the closest thing I can find to a fix online is people talking about a backup being created when you sync with iTunes on your computer, but never use iTunes on my computer. Anyway, you don’t really have to help if you don’t want to, but if you have any suggestions that fix it, I’ll buy your next meal. I just can’t believe that the alleged usability experts would make something so impossible to back up and that they would let me delete all of my Notes with a single accidental finger swipe without so much as a warning message letting me know that I was permanently deleting everything for all eternity. What a piece of #$%!.

    [Turns out all his notes were safely stored in a “Notes” folder in gmail.]

  2. hi! i feel really dumb – but it’s been already a while that i am trying to figure out how to transfer around 200 notes i have “on my iPhone” to gmail or icloud so that they are available on ipad and the mac.. i already have the mountain lion installed but the notes app always just quites unexpectedly, and seems to have only icloud and gmail accounts.. can you please suggest how to batch transfer notes from the iphone? 
    (i also have set up the me.com email account, but in the mail app i dont see any notes whatsoever! oh oh oh…)

    thanks in advance for your help! 
    can’t believe it is so confusing, or that i am so confused with this rather. 

    1. Yeah they don’t make it easy to transfer from the iPhone. I think I copied them one at a time via copy and paste. I only had 15 notes though. There is no batch import / export…. yet. Hopefully they will add that feature but Apple seems to have most of their programmers working iPhone / iPad apps. The notes app on the mac works great for me… you might want to do a clean install of mountain lion… I keep all my notes on the iCloud account… seem to be easier to keep all the notes on one account. You can sync your iPhone to your mac with iTunes using the cable and then get them in the notes app. Once they are in the notes app I think you can batch import into your iCloud / Gmail notes accounts. 

      1. Thanks a lot for your advice. I had to give my iphone to service, and havent found the way to sync up all the notes from it with other devices… but i do hope that they are all safely backed up and i will be able to restore them once i get the phone back.. and then will have more time to figure it all out .)))

        cheers!

      2. Thanks a lot for your advice. I had to give my iphone to service, and havent found the way to sync up all the notes from it with other devices… but i do hope that they are all safely backed up and i will be able to restore them once i get the phone back.. and then will have more time to figure it all out .)))

        cheers!

  3. Hi, I have a MacBook Pro, iPad and iPhone, and love the notes feature, especially because they sync so perfectly.  I like to read my notes on the iCloud web interface as well, and sometimes copy some of them.  I renamed the Notes folder today to Personal Notes, and now the iCloud web interface does not sync any new notes anymore.  I also couldn’t find the existing notes in the Notes folder, until I went to the mail folder and looked under iCloud.  But I would like to be able to have the notes sync seamlessly again, do you have any ideas?  iCloud also does not allow me to rename the Personal Notes folder back to Notes again, it says that folder already exists, but I cannot see it in iCloud. 

    1. I would get Mountain Lion for your macs if you haven’t already. The built-in Notes app is fantastic and syncs better. You can try to restore your iDevices to get the notes back, but it’s a pain. Also, there is no built-in support for Time Machine for Apple Notes (Shame on Apple!).  

  4. *sigh* We used to use MobileMe and are now forced to use iCloud. I have
    an iPhone and iPad, but a PC. When I try to use the iCloud control
    panel it says I need to load Outlook before I can use it. However, I DO NOT USE OUTLOOK. I just want to get to my iCloud stuff from my PC. I used to be able to use the website, not I have to use the control panel, but it won’t let me. Help?
     

    1. Hmm. As far as I know iCloud works only with outlook. There used to be a free version of Outlook called Outlook Express. I’m not sure if they still make it though. The idea that the iPads and iPhones are now cordless is ridiculous. There are still a lot of things you can’t do without a Mac or PC. I would recommend getting a MacBook Air, if you can.

  5. i recently switched from mobileme to icloud. for some reason i lost emails from november until tonight?
    what went wrong?! can i get them back:(

    1. Hmm… your email address should stay the same. Do you backup your files with time machine? There are a lot of ways emails can get hidden… iPhones will hide and reorder them sometimes. MobileMe is a cloud-based email service, so email stays on the server until it is deleted by you. 

  6. Thank you! Excellent advice. I am a nurse – I know bodies, not computers – but am forcing myself to stay in the learning curve here. Your tips on what features to stick with as far as Google and i Cloud are excellent. Thank you so much.

    1. Your welcome. Luckily computers are getting easier to use… I borrowed an iPad recently and am amazed how much they can do. I think they are great for people who have been turned off by the complexity of keyboards and mice and wires.

  7. I’ve been using my google contacts since iPhone 3G, it’s been very useful. Mind you, I don’t use outlook for an email client (PC user), so I can’t speak about iCal.

    Yes, it was quirky when started but once gotten the hang of it, works flawlessly. I think when I try to change b-days then it populates weird.

    1. Yes, I think it’s really important to back up all your contacts regularly… I don’t care what Apple or Google say about clouds. Computers of any kind can go down. I like physical media like DVDs and thumb drives for backups… also keep them in different physical locations if you can in case of fire or theft.

  8. I’m having trouble gettting  iCloud notes to sync with my pc.  All my “pre” iCloud notes are fine but none of my new ones created in the “cloud” will transfer through iTunes (and therefore don’t show up in Outlook).  My iPad and iPhone Notes sync just fine.  What am I missing??? 

    1. Hmm… PC integration isn’t as smooth as it is on the mac. Are your notes stored in your @me.com account? It could be that you don’t have the @me.com account wired up to Outlook.

    2. Did you use the iCloud control panel for Windows? It seems things are harder to sync using a PC. I would suggest getting a mac if you can. The syncing of notes goes over-the-air on macs… nothing to configure once you have the icloud account setup.

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