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How to Master iCloud Drive

You might say that iCloud Drive was long overdue.

You might say that iCloud Drive was long overdue. When iCloud was introduced, many people were disappointed that it didn’t include a regular file repository that could be accessed from the Finder. You could sync contacts, calendars, and bookmarks through it, but you couldn’t drop files onto it manually. With iCloud Drive, however, you can.

It’s also at the heart of Handoff, Apple’s recently introduced tech for starting a document on one device and then picking up where you left off on another. You’ll need OS X Yosemite to access iCloud Drive (and be running iOS 8 if you want to use compatible apps, such as Apple’s iWork suite and a growing selection of third-party apps that will surely expand moving forward).

In addition to the iWork suite, you can store documents from many third-party apps in iCloud Drive.

Signing into iCloud on your Mac running OS X Yosemite lets you switch on iCloud Drive (go to System Preferences > iCloud), after which it will become available as a shortcut both in the sidebar of any Finder window and in the Go menu from the Finder. Select it, and your iCloud Drive folder appears in a Finder window as any other folder would, though with a unique design. You can then drag and drop anything from your Mac onto the drive and it will upload to the cloud.

For small documents this will take a matter of seconds, but for bigger items it will depend on your connection speed. You also only get 5GB of space for free; while this is fine for uploading some files, if you’re backing up your iOS device too, those backups may already be using most of that space. You can upgrade for a modest monthly fee of $0.99 to 20GB of storage, though 200GB ($3.99/mo), 500GB ($9.99/mo) or 1TB ($19.99/mo) options are available — and you can downgrade, too, if you change your mind.

In Finder, you can open iCloud Drive with the keyboard shortcut of Command + Shift + I.

Not Just for Storing

As well as simple file storage, the space on your iCloud Drive can be used for other things when you are running the latest version of OS X. Perhaps the most useful is a new feature called Mail Drop, where you’ll be able to send Mail attachments much larger than those allowed by any email provider directly from inside Mail.

Attach a file, and, if it’s large, Mail will upload it to iCloud and instead of sending the whole message through your email service, the attachment gets uploaded to your iCloud Drive. If the recipient is also using Mail they see an inline copy of the file and can click to download it. Users of other mail programs will see a link to enable them to do the same.

Attachments of up to 5GB are supported, though you’ll be waiting a while for anything that big to upload over a home broadband connection. You’ve been able to use other upload services for this before now, but it’s now integrated into Mail, removing several steps.

Cutting out the Middleman

On a device running iOS 8 you can also use iCloud Drive, but there’s no dedicated app for exploring its files; instead you have to use an app that’s been updated to be able to read and save files directly into iCloud Drive. This includes Apple’s iWork suite, of course, and it’s been made easier for third-party app developers to incorporate the functionality, so expect to see it coming to more apps soon. The reason this updating is necessary is because iCloud Drive works differently to the old iCloud “documents in the cloud” model. Previously, apps could still use iCloud to save their documents across device, but you couldn’t browse them in other apps — it was all very locked away. iCloud Drive is more flexible, letting you browse for, say a text file that’s been saved in TextEdit’s iCloud Drive folder to open in Pages. It’s easy to do this on iOS or Mac.