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The iCloud logo
The iCloud logo

iCloud is a cloud service from Apple Inc. launched on October 12, 2011 as a successor to MobileMe. As of 2018, the service had an estimated 850 million users, up from 782 million users in 2016.[1][2][3]

iCloud enables users to sync their data to the cloud, including mail, contacts, calendars, photos, notes and files, to collaborate on documents, backup an iPhone or iPad, and track lost Apple devices. It is built into iOS, iPadOS, and macOS, and a more limited version can be downloaded for Windows.

History

iCloud was announced on May 31, 2011 in a press release.[4] On June 6, 2011, during the WWDC 2011 keynote, Steve Jobs announced that iCloud would replace MobileMe, which had been widely seen as a "failure",[5] a fact which Steve Jobs acknowledged during the announcement.[6] iCloud was released on October 12, 2011, and MobileMe was discontinued on June 30, 2012. Previous MobileMe users could keep their @mac.com and @me.com email addresses as aliases to their new @icloud.com address.

iCloud had 20 million users in less than a week after launch.[7] It received early criticism for bugs, especially with Core Data syncing.[8][9][10] These issues were addressed in iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks.[11][12]

Since its launch, iCloud was partly hosted on Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. In 2016, Apple replaced Azure with Google Cloud Platform.[13] In 2021, The Information reported that Apple was storing 8 million TB of data on Google's cloud, and was on track to spend $300 million that year.[14] Apple also operates its own data centers, including one in Maiden, North Carolina.[15]

In June 2019, iCloud was introduced to Windows 10 via the Microsoft Store.[16]

In June 2021, Apple introduced iCloud+, which added Private Relay, Hide My Email and custom email domains to paid users of the services, as well as an unlimited storage limit for video from cameras added through HomeKit Secure Video.

In March 2022, Apple settled a class-action lawsuit alleging that it had misled users by storing data on non-Apple servers.[17][18]

Features

iCloud is a free service, and come with 5 GB of cloud storage. Users can subscribe to iCloud+ for additional storage up to 2 TB (or 4 TB for users of Apple One Premier plan who also buy an additional 2 TB of storage).

Some of iCloud's features are accessible not only through apps built-into macOS, iOS and iPadOS, but also on iCloud.com. These include:

iCloud is also built-in as a backend to many Apple apps and system features, where it can sync users' data and settings. This includes:

Third-party iOS and macOS app developers can implement iCloud functionality in their apps through the iCloud API.[19]

Backup and restore

iCloud allows users to back up the settings and data on iOS devices running iOS 5 or later.[20] Data backed up includes photos and videos in the Camera Roll, device settings, app data, messages (iMessage, SMS, and MMS), ringtones, and Visual Voicemails.[21] Backups occur daily when the device is locked and connected to Wi-Fi and a power source. In case of a malfunction of any Apple device, during the restoration process, iCloud offers to restore all data along with App data only if the device was synced to iCloud and backed up.

Back to My Mac

Main article: Back to My Mac

Back to My Mac, also previously part of MobileMe, is now part of iCloud.[22] As before, this service allows users to log in remotely to other computers that have Back to My Mac enabled and are configured with the same Apple ID. On August 9, 2018, Apple updated a support document to note that Back to My Mac would not be part of the upcoming macOS Mojave (10.14) release.

Find My Friends

Main article: Find My Friends

Find My iPhone My Friends was added to iCloud alongside the launch of iOS 5, allowing users to share their current location with their friends or family. iOS 6 added location-based alerts to notify the user when a device arrives at a certain location.[23]

On iOS 9 and 10, Find My Friends is built into iOS and cannot be removed. From iOS 11 onwards it is included, but can be deleted and then subsequently reinstalled from the iOS App Store.

In October 2015, Find My Friends was added to iCloud.com to view other "friends" locations.[24]

Find My iPhone

Main article: Find My iPhone

Find My iPhone, formerly part of MobileMe, allows users to track the location of their iOS device or Mac. A user can see the device's approximate location on a map (along with a circle showing the radius depicting the margin of error), display a message and/or play a sound on the device (even if it is set to silent), change the password on the device, and remotely erase its contents.[25] The feature was first announced on June 10, 2009, and was included in the iOS 3.0 software update as a feature for paying MobileMe users.[26] Find My iPhone was made free of charge with the iOS 4.2.1 software update on November 22, 2010, but only for devices introduced in 2010.[27] An iOS app was also released by Apple on June 18, 2010, which allows users to locate their device from other iOS devices running iOS 4 or later software.[28] In iOS 5, Find My iPhone was continued as a feature for iCloud. iOS 6 introduced Lost Mode, a new feature that allows the user to mark a device as "lost", making it easier to protect and find. The feature also allows someone that finds the user's lost iPhone to call the user directly without unlocking it. Similar phone finder services under various names are available for other families of smartphones.

Activation Lock was introduced in 2013 with iOS 7. It is integrated with iCloud and Find My iPhone feature. This new feature locks the activation of any iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or Apple watch which has been restored in either DFU or Recovery mode without first disabling the Find My iPhone feature. Once restore is completed, the device will ask for the Apple ID and password that has been previously associated with it, to proceed with activation, ultimately preventing any stolen device from being usable.[29][30]

As of iOS 9, Find my iPhone is a built-in app, and thus cannot be removed.[31]

In iOS and iPadOS 13, both Find my iPhone and Find My Friends have been merged into Find My.

iCloud Keychain

Main article: Keychain (software)

iCloud Keychain is a password manager developed by Apple that syncs passwords across devices and suggests secure ones when creating new accounts.[32]

iCloud Keychain backups provide different security guarantees than traditional iCloud backups. This is because iCloud Keychain uses "end-to-end encryption", meaning that iCloud Keychain backups are designed so that the provider does not have access to unencrypted data. This is accomplished through the use of a novel "key vault" design based on a Hardware Security Module located in Apple's data centers.[33]

iTunes Match

For other uses, see ITunes (disambiguation).

iTunes Match debuted on November 14, 2011. It was initially available to US users only.[34] For an annual fee, customers can scan and match tracks in their iTunes music library, including tracks copied from CDs or other sources, with tracks in the iTunes Store, so customers do not have to repurchase said tracks. Customers may download up to 100,000 tracks in 256 kbit/s DRM-free AAC file format that matches tracks in any supported audio file formats in customers' iTunes libraries, including ALAC and MP3. Customers also have the choice to keep their original copies stored on their computers or have them replaced by copies from the iTunes Store.[35] Any music not available in the iTunes Store is uploaded for download onto customers' other supported devices and computers; doing this will not take storage from the customers' iCloud's storage allowance. Any such tracks stored in the higher quality lossless audio ALAC, or original uncompressed PCM formats, WAV and AIFF, are transcoded to 256 kbit/s DRM-free AAC format before uploading to the customers' iCloud storage account, leaving the original higher quality local files in their original format.[36]

If a user stops paying for the iTunes Match service, all copies of the DRM-free AAC iTunes Store versions of tracks that have already been downloaded onto any device can be kept,[37][38] whether on iOS devices or computers.[37]

From iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks, the iTunes Radio function will be available across devices, including integration with the Music app, both on portable iOS devices and Apple TV (2nd generation onwards), as well as inside the iTunes app on Macintosh and Windows computers. It will be included in an ad-free version for subscribers to the iTunes Match service and is currently[when?] available only in the US and Australia[39]

The streaming Genius shuffle is not available in current[when?] versions of iOS but is available in iTunes on the Mac.

On January 28, 2016, ad-free iTunes Radio was discontinued and is therefore no longer part of iTunes Match.

As of March 26, 2014, iTunes Match is available in 116 countries, while iTunes in the Cloud is available in 155 countries.[40]

iWork for iCloud

Main article: iWork

During the 2013 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote speech, iWork for iCloud was announced for release at the same time as the next version of the app versions of iWork later in the year. The three apps for both iOS and macOS that form Apple's iWork suite (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote), will be made available on a web interface (named as Pages for iCloud, Numbers for iCloud, and Keynote for iCloud respectively), and accessed via the iCloud website under each user's iCloud Apple ID login. They will also sync with the user's iOS and macOS versions of the app, should they have them, again via their iCloud Apple ID.

This allows the user to edit and create documents on the web, using one of the supported browsers: Safari, Chrome, and Microsoft Edge.[41] It also means that Microsoft Windows users now have access to these native –previously only Apple device– document editing tools, via the web interface.

Photo Stream

Photo Stream is a service supplied with the basic iCloud service which allows users to store the most recent 1,000 photos on the iCloud servers for up to 30 days free of charge. When a photo is taken on a device with Photo Stream enabled, it is automatically uploaded to the iCloud servers. From there, it becomes available for viewing and saving on the rest of the user's Photo Stream-enabled devices. The photo is automatically removed from the server after 30 days or when it becomes photo number 1,001 in the user's stream. Photo Stream installed on a Mac or Windows desktop computer includes an option to have all photos permanently saved on that device. The service is also integrated with Apple TV, allowing users to view their recent photos wirelessly on their HDTV.[42]

iCloud Photos

iCloud Photos is a feature on iOS 8.1 or later and OS X Yosemite (version 10.10) or later, plus web app access. The service stores all of the user's photos, maintaining their original resolution and metadata. Users can access their iCloud Photos on supported devices via the new Photos app when available or via the iCloud Photos web app at iCloud.com, which helps limit the amount of local storage each device needs to use to store photos (particularly those with smaller storage capacities) by storing lower-resolution versions on the device, with the user having the option to keep some/all stored locally at a higher resolution.

Storage

See also: Apple ID

Since its introduction in 2011, each account has 5 GB of free storage for owners of either an iOS device using iOS 5.x or later, or a Mac using OS X Lion 10.7 or later. Users can pay monthly for additional storage for a total of 50 GB, 200 GB or 2 TB. The amount of storage is shared across all devices per iCloud Apple ID.[43]

Several native features of iCloud use each user's iCloud storage allowance, specifically, Backup and restore, and email, Contacts, and Calendars. On Macs, users can also store most filetypes into iCloud folders of their choosing, rather than only storing them locally on the machine. While Photo Stream uses the iCloud servers, usage does not come out of the user's iCloud storage allowance. This is also true for iTunes Match music content, even for music that is not sold in the iTunes Store and which gets uploaded into iCloud storage, it does not count against the user's allowance. Other apps can optionally integrate app storage out of the user's iCloud storage allowance.

Not all of a user's content counts as part of their iCloud storage allowance. Apple can keep a permanent track of every purchase a user makes under their Apple ID account, and by associating each piece of content with the user, it means only one copy of every Store item is needed to be kept on Apple's servers. For items bought from the iTunes Store (music, music videos, movies, TV shows), Apple Books Store (books), or App Store (iOS apps), this uses a service Apple call iTunes in the Cloud, allowing the user to automatically, or manually if preferred, re-download any of their previous purchases on to a Mac, PC, or iOS device.[40] Downloaded (or streamed, provided the user is connected to the Internet) iTunes Store content can be used across all these devices, however, while Apple Books Store and App Store content can be downloaded to Macs and PCs for syncing to iOS devices, only iOS and Mac devices (and their respective apps) can be used to read the books.[44] Similarly, macOS apps purchased from the Mac App Store are also linked to the Apple ID they were purchased through and can be downloaded to any Mac using the same Apple ID. Also, when a user registers any new device, all previously bought Store content can be downloaded from the Store servers or non-Store content from the iCloud servers.[45]

Audiobooks and their metadata fields from non-Apple purchased sources are not synced across devices (macOS or iOS) inside the Apple Books apps, and nor does the metadata from non-Apple purchased books (in Ebook or PDF format). There remains a syncing mismatch on some types of media, between Apple-purchased content and non-Apple purchased content that remains in effect for iCloud users.

iCloud Drive

iCloud Drive is iCloud's file hosting service, that syncs files across devices running iOS 8, OS X Yosemite (version 10.10), or Windows 7 or later, plus online web app access via iCloud.com. Users can store any kind of file (including photos, videos, documents, music, and other apps' data) in iCloud Drive and access it on any Mac, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, or Windows PC, with any single file being a maximum of 50 GB in file size (earlier it was 15 GB). This allows users to start their work on one device and continue on another device.[46] By default, users still get 5 GB of storage for free as previously, but the expandable storage plans available have increased in size (current tiers: 50 GB, 200 GB, and 2 TB), and altered to monthly subscription payment options from the yearly ones offered under the previous MobileMe service.

In iOS 11, iCloud Drive has been integrated into the new Files app that gives users access to all their cloud and local on-device storage, which replaced the standalone iCloud Drive app.[47][48]

Messages on iCloud

Messages on iCloud is a feature on iOS 11.4 and macOS High Sierra 10.13.5 which keeps all of a user's iMessages and SMS texts stored in the cloud.[49]

Private Relay

Private Relay, an iCloud+ feature, allows users to browse Safari privately, similar to a virtual private network.[50] According to Apple, "regulatory reasons" prevent the company from launching Private Relay in China, Belarus, Russia, Colombia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Uganda, and the Philippines.[51] [52]

Up to 5% of Wikipedia editors globally could be negatively affected by using Private Relay, because Wikipedia blocks ranges of IP addresses to combat page vandalism [53]

Hide My Email

Hide My Email is available to iCloud+ users and allows users in Mail and Safari to generate temporary Apple email addresses which forward messages to their main email address.[50]

Custom email domain

Custom email domains, an iCloud+ feature, allows users to personalize their email address with a custom domain name and invite family members to use the same domain with their iCloud Mail accounts.[50]

Security

In 2013, as part of the Snowden revelations, The Washington Post and The Guardian reported on leaked NSA documents which showed that iCloud was part of the NSA's PRISM surveillance program, along with other cloud services. According to the documents, the NSA could access emails, chats, photos and videos, and stored files. The documents specifically stated that the data was collected through "equipment installed at company-controlled locations".[54][55] The Washington Post further stated that Apple, like the other companies, was aware of the program and was a willing participant, which Apple denied.[54][56]

Some iCloud data is end-to-end encrypted. As of October 2022, these include: Apple Card transactions, Health data, Home data, iCloud Keychain, Apple Maps favorites, collections, and search history, Memoji, Messages in iCloud, vocabulary learned by the QuickType keyboard, Safari history, tab groups, and iCloud tabs, Screen Time, Siri information, Wi-Fi passwords, and W1 and H1 Bluetooth keys.[57] However, if iCloud Backup is enabled, the encryption key for Messages in iCloud is part of the backup, allowing Apple to access users' entire iMessage history if served with a search warrant.[57]

In August 2014, it was rumored that hackers had discovered an exploit involving the Find My iPhone service, which potentially allowed an attacker to brute-force a user's Apple ID and access their iCloud data. The exploit was later incorrectly rumored to have been used as part of an August 2014 leak of a large number of private, nude photos of celebrities that had been synced to their iCloud storage from their iPhone. Apple confirmed that it was working with law enforcement agencies to investigate the leak.[58][59][60] Apple subsequently denied that the iCloud service itself or the alleged exploit was responsible for the leak, asserting that the leaks were the result of a very targeted phishing attack against the celebrities.[61] On September 13, 2014 Tim Cook, while being interviewed by Charlie Rose, stated on camera that the celebrity leaks were not an iCloud exploit at all, but rather the celebrities had been phished by very targeted phishing to trick them out of their login credentials.[62]

Privacy

Apple has been scanning iCloud Mail for CSAM information starting 2019.[63] On August 5, 2021, Apple confirmed it has planned to started scanning iCloud Photos for the same reason.[64] After receiving a public backlash against Apple scanning private photos, Apple announced it will collect further input before releasing new functionality.[65]

China

In February 2018, Apple announced that iCloud users in China would have their data, including encryption data, on servers called "云上贵州" located in the country to comply with local regulations. This raised concerns from human rights activists who claim that it may be used to track dissidents.[66] In response, CEO Tim Cook stated that Apple encryption was "the same in every country in the world," including China.[67]

On June 7, 2021, during the WWDC event, Apple announced that iCloud's new 'private relay' feature would not work in China for regulatory reasons.[68]

See also

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