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How to Set Up iCloud (for Beginners)

April 23, 2014

[Updated November 2015]

One of the most important things about getting to grips with iCloud is to make sure you set it up properly, which is why it’s one of the key points we discuss in our iCloud e-book!

This article gives you a step by step guide (6 steps to be precise) on how to make sure you set up iCloud properly. If you follow these, we guarantee you will get the most out of iCloud. We also include three excellent YouTube videos, to make following the steps that bit easier for you.

Before making any changes to an iOS device (iPhone or iPad) or a Mac, you always want to make sure you are using the latest software.

1. Update

First make sure you’re using the latest software. You can download and install the latest system update easily.

On your iOS device go to Settings > General > Software Update

On your Mac go to the Apple Menu > About This Mac > Software Update

2. Get an iCloud Account

If you haven’t already got an iCloud account, go to www.icloud.com and create one.

If you have an Apple ID, you simply enter this and login and your iCloud will be automatically created. If you don’t have an Apple ID, instead of logging in, look at the bottom of the screen, and click ‘Don’t have an Apple ID? Create one now.’  Follow the instructions to create one and your iCloud account.

You will now have an Apple ID which is the username you’ll need for everything iCloud – don’t lose it, and make sure your password is saved somewhere safe.

IMG 5 - How to Set Up iCloud (for Beginners)

Once set up, you can now use iCloud to store, sync and back-up all of your data across a variety of devices. In each of your devices, go to settings, while connected to the internet and select iCloud. This is where you can manage iCloud settings by identifying the apps you want to store, sync and back-up there.

3. Switch On Backup

Before we talk about this very important little switch we need to go through this explanation. Bear with me and -re-read it as it might just fix all your confusion about how iCloud works!

Very important stuff about ‘Backup’ & ‘Sync’!

One of the things that people get most confused about with iCloud is the difference between the ‘sync’ of data via iCloud and the ‘Backup’ of data to iCloud.

They are different things and this is made more confusing by the fact that some settings choices mean that you are using iCloud as the main storage location, and so those items are never ‘backed up’ as they live permanently in iCloud.

You can only sync email if you use the iCloud email address. In that case, in fact, all your email is located on iCloud and is synced from there. If you have another email address, this isn’t backed up or synced via iCloud but is either on your device (if POP3) or on a server (if IMAP).

Photos can be backed up to iCloud. If you have iCloud Photo Libary switched on you’ve actually changed the location for their storage to iCloud permanently. If not, they will be backed up to iCloud only if you switch ‘Backup’ on in iCloud settings.

Similarly, if you have set Contacts and Calendars to ‘sync’ with iCloud, you have, in fact, set them to be stored in iCloud. So, they aren’t backed up there but stored there permanently.

Again, it’s the same with iCloud Drive – if you have it on, that is where those documents are stored and then they are synced to your devices from iCloud.

And, it’s critical that you understand that all the music and video in your iTunes is NEVER backed up unless you plug in and connect to iTunes on your computer. ‘Backup’ to iCloud only backs up music, videos and apps that you bought from iTunes! All other music and video isn’t backed up unless you do a full backup to iTunes on your computer – (Note that since the introduction of Apple Music you can have iCloud Music Library ‘back-up’ all your music –  but this requires a lot more explanation. We cover it in this article on iExpert News.)

The key thing to understand is that toggling on (to green) in iCloud settings on your iPhone or iPad is fixing the location of where that data is stored to iCloud – from where it is synced to your devices.

Anything stored and syncing from iCloud is as good as a backup, since that data is stored there anyway, although it’s technically different!

So, toggling on ‘Backup’ in the iCloud settings DOES backup your device to iCloud so that you can restore from there, but this does not include non-iCloud email, and some music and video.

We have the definitive explanation of the difference between ‘sync’, ‘Backup’ and location in this article on iExpert News – ‘Sync, Backup and Location – What these Functions in iCloud Actually Mean!’

iCloud Backup - How to Set Up iCloud (for Beginners)

If you don’t select ‘Backup’, nothing other than the data you have set to store and sync from iCloud will be backed up automatically (although that individual data such as Contacts and Calendars will still be stored and synced if you have toggled them ‘On’ in iCloud settings). This means you’ll be losing some of the benefits of iCloud and will only be backed up when you manually plug your device into your computer and back up via iTunes – the old-school way. Make life simple for yourself and turn this on!

However, there is nothing stopping you having ‘Backup’ to iCloud switched on and still regularly doing a back-up to iTunes on your computer as well. They aren’t mutually exclusive and since an iCloud Backup does not actually back up everything on your device (your own ‘not purchased’ music and videos, for example) a backup to iTunes is the only way to have a FULL backup of your device and all its content.

4. Choose your Apps

Using the above process, you can choose which apps to store in and sync from iCloud and which not to by swiping left or right to turn them on or off. We’d always recommend you switch on Contacts, Calendars, Backup, Keychain and Find My iPhone (or whatever device you are using). Photos requires more thought (and I suggest going back to our iCloud guide and reading Tip 6 in detail)

5. Set it Up On your Device

To set up iCloud on your device, just go to:

Settings > iCloud and swipe on or off the apps you want to sync via iCloud.

6. Set it Up On your Mac

To set it up on your Mac, go to the Apple Menu > System Preferences > iCloud and click the boxes to identify the apps you want to back up.

7. Set it up on your PC

To set up iCloud on Windows, you need a few more details, and Tip 2 covers this in more detail.

8. Set Up Family Sharing

To set up family sharing (which you may or may not wish to do), all you need is to be signed in to iCloud and iTunes with your Apple ID and a device using iOS8 or later or a Mac with OS X Yosemite or later.

An adult can set up a group for the family files. To do this on your device (iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch) go to:

Settings > iCloud > Family Sharing > Get Started.

To do it on your Mac, go to :

the Apple Menu > System Preferences > iCloud > Family and follow the on-screen instructions.

For more information on how to do this, click here to visit the Apple support page.

iCloud Set-Up Videos

We’ve watched a lot of videos on iCloud and the ones that we’ve put in this article are all well worth your time.

You might not need to watch all three as they do cover some of the same ground but we’ve included them all as they are the three best we have found.

This first video is just lovely and simple if you need to get your head around how to set up iCloud, and why you need it.

Steve talks you through all sorts of scenarios to show you how much easier your life can be with the assistance of iCloud. He discussed where and how to activate apps, and whether you want them to be saved to iCloud as well as your device.

It’s a bit older than the other two and some things have changed with iOS 9 but it’s a great introduction.

This next video is a different take on helping you through iCloud as it’s all done on the screen of an iPhone. Again, it’s pre-iOS 9, but the key information is all there and it has a great little menu at the start that means you can skip to the parts you really want to see.

This third video is really here for completeness. It’s a run through on iPad and, again, it’s worth your time!

That’s it. You should really have everything here that you need to get set-up, but also more importantly, understand iCloud and what it does!

If you want more information on everything iCloud, then check out our article on our Top 12 iCloud Resources.

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