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  1. Computer Skills
  2. iCloud
Computers

Get More Out of iCloud With iCloud Drive

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:ShortLanguages:

Apple’s iCloud storage service has been around for years, but it’s never been incredibly easy to access the data and documents stored in iCloud. Apps that sync with iCloud could each get to the data they needed, but it is not possible to browse files stored in iCloud the way they you can with Dropbox or Google Drive. There was no dedicated iCloud folder in OS X, and even logging into the iCloud website didn’t give you direct access to synced documents.

The advent of iCloud Drive has changed the way users interact with Apple’s storage service. iCloud Drive can now handle a broader range of documents and makes it easier for you to get at them. Better iCloud integration between OS X and iOS 8 means that you can quickly pick up on an iPhone or iPad where you left off on a Mac. 

I’ll show you how to get started with iCloud Drive and show you how to quickly access synced documents, giving you control over what gets synced.

Setting Up iCloud

Step 1

Open System Preferences from the Apple menu in Finder. Click the iCloud icon or enter iCloud in the search field to the right. Once you’re into the iCloud preference pane, check whether you’ve already logged into iCloud. 

Chances are you have at some point, whether while installing OS X or later, but if you’re not logged in, you’ll need to sign into iCloud to begin using iCloud Drive. Enter your Apple ID and password in the appropriate fields.

Enter your Apple ID and password or create an Apple ID
Enter your Apple ID and password, or create an Apple ID.

Step 2

From here you can choose whether to sync mail, contacts, and more with iCloud and if you’d like to use Find My Mac

This tutorial focuses on syncing files with iCloud Drive, but check out the previous tutorial about how to retrieve a lost or stolen Mac with Find My Mac. Don’t worry if you don’t want to sync everything; once iCloud is set up, you can choose what features you’d like to use.

Choose what iCloud features you want to use
Choose what iCloud features you want to use.

You can sync as much or as little with iCloud as you like. Just toggle on the features you’d like to use and make sure the features you want to pass by are toggled off. 

None of the extra iCloud data syncing is required for this tutorial, but make sure that you have iCloud Drive enabled at the top of the list.

Make sure iCloud Drive is enabled
Make sure iCloud Drive is enabled.

Step 3

Click Options to the right of iCloud Drive. Here you’ll find all of the Mac applications that store documents and data in iCloud. 

These apps store documents in iCloud
These apps store documents in iCloud.

You can’t access an application’s documents here, but you can choose whether you want it to sync with iCloud Drive. To prevent an app storing data in iCloud, deselect it in the list. Click Done when you’ve finished.

Step 4

If you haven’t been using iCloud Drive to store documents, you might not even be aware of storage limits, but it’s good to keep an eye on your usage if you’re going to rely on iCloud Drive to sync between devices.

At the bottom of the iCloud preference pane, you’ll find your iCloud storage usage. Click Manage to see details about your storage. From the Manage Storage window, you can delete documents and data associated with specific applications.

Keep an eye on your storage usage
Keep an eye on your storage usage.

If you find you’re running low, you can also buy additional iCloud storage. For users already syncing an iPhone or iPad to iCloud, your free space may already be pretty limited. First try deleting unneeded data from the apps in the list, but if that doesn’t work, an upgraded storage plan may be your solution.

Syncing and Accessing Files With iCloud Drive in OS X

Once enabled, it’s pretty simple to sync files to iCloud and works just like saving files locally to your hard disk. I’ll use Preview as an example of how to save a file in iCloud Drive.

You can save files to iCloud Drive
You can save files to iCloud Drive.

With the file open in Preview, click the file name at the top of the application window. In the Where field, select Preview — iCloud. This will save the file in the Preview folder in iCloud Drive. 

You can also save the file directly to iCloud Drive without choosing a subfolder. Create a new folder for the file in iCloud Drive by selecting Other in the Where menu.

Navigate to iCloud Drive in the Go menu
Navigate to iCloud Drive in the Go menu.

There are two easy ways to access your iCloud files directly on the Mac. The first is to locate iCloud Drive in Finder’s Go menu.

The other way to locate iCloud Drive is from the Finder window sidebar. If you don’t see iCloud Drive in the sidebar, toggle the sidebar favorites (including iCloud Drive) on and off in the Sidebar pane of Finder Preferences, found in the Finder menu item.

You can access iCloud Drive from the Finder sidebar
You can access iCloud Drive from the Finder sidebar.

Once you have the iCloud Drive window open, you can view all of the synced files. To sync a file to iCloud Drive without opening it in a compatible application, simply drag the file into the iCloud Drive window. A small notification that reads Syncing will appear below the file name.

Accessing iCloud Drive Files in iOS 8

Files synced to iCloud Drive are available in iOS 8, but you can’t access files directly on an iPhone or iPad. There’s no iCloud Drive app for iOS, so there’s no way to browse the iCloud Drive files as you can in Finder.

Browse iCloud Drive in iOS using a compatible app
Browse iCloud Drive in iOS using a compatible app.

Instead, you’ll need to use a mobile app updated for iOS 8 that uses files stored with iCloud Drive, such as Numbers or Pages. In this case, I browsed iCloud with the Google Drive app. By selecting a file in iCloud Drive, I can copy the file from iCloud Drive to my Google Drive storage.

Save or share iCloud Drive files
Save or share iCloud Drive files.

Conclusion

Apple’s iCloud storage service has always been a promising feature of OS X, with a free 5GB for files and data and built-in integration with OS X and iOS. Many users were disappointed, though, that they couldn’t use iCloud the same way they used other cloud storage services. While it worked great for data that you want to access on all of your devices, like contacts and calendars, it still wasn’t easy to sync files iCloud.

With the addition of iCloud Drive, though, Apple’s previously lackluster cloud storage service became a viable option for syncing documents across devices. The ability to upgrade storage allows users to rely on iCloud Drive to sync anything, and easier access via the Finder removed some of the mystery of iCloud’s storage.

In this tutorial I showed you how to turn on and start using iCloud Drive, remove synced data from iCloud, and navigate to the iCloud Drive files in Finder. Let me know, in the comments below if you have been making the most of iCloud Drive or if it has replaced or supplemented the other cloud storage services you used.

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