The obvious reaction any PC owner will have to Apple iCloud is to assume that it is exclusively for Apple devices, but that’s technically not the case.
What is true is that if you own an Apple device then once that is registered with Apple to use you’ve also signed up to Apple iCloud, even if this wasn’t your intention.
What will disorientate many, including Apple users, is that iCloud is segmented into two parts, one that is for storing Apple application data and another part that is for more general use, called iCloud Drive.
Those that assume that all Apple application will store their data outside iCloud drive will soon discover that files you might expect to see in iCloud are often hidden elsewhere, and equally, those that you don’t expect to see are there.
Photos, for example, aren’t in iCloud Drive but hidden somewhere else in iCloud, accessible only through the iOS or Web photo application.
For those with Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive experience, these limitations seem odd if not mildly arbitrary.
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Everything in the world of Apple now looks like the iOS interface, and iCloud is no exception.
But this isn’t just the case on Apple devices; this styling has migrated to the web interface used from any computer.
The Apple apps that this interface references will probably confuse most PC owners, on the basis that they’ve no idea what Notes, Pages, Numbers and Keynote are, or have any purpose for those types of documents.
They can create them in the web interface to iCloud, but they won’t be accessible in Windows applications, making it largely pointless.
If the iCloud account was created from an iOS or MacOS device, then it will have other sections, such as iCalendar, that won’t be presented if you created the account with a browser on a PC.
What is common to both is the iCloud Drive, a place where they can drop files and share them with others.
Where iCloud Drive fails is that while it identifies many file types, like Microsoft Office documents, it has no mechanisms to convert them into an editable format and will simply offer to download them to you if you double click on them.
We were also disappointed that you can’t drag folders to the web interface only files, making using it in an ad hoc manner rather cumbersome.
But where it becomes truly frustrating is that having provided iCloud Drive that you can access through a browser on the PC, most users will want to take the next obvious step and iCloud for Windows on their computers, allowing for seamless integration.
Without this tool, you can’t secure your data to iCloud Drive automatically, a basic requirement for any storage-as-a-service solution.
And, here comes the whammy for PC owners…
You can’t activate iCloud for Windows on a PC if it hasn’t already been used on an iOS or MacOS device, even if you pay for service!
According to Apple, "Note: To create an iCloud account you need an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch with iOS 5 or later, or a Mac with OS X Lion v10.7.5 or later."
When you are working with the web interface you have an AppleID, but not an iCloudID one.
That’s a major slap in the face for anyone who doesn’t use Apple products and scuppers its usefulness for a significant number of potential users.
I’ve been told that if you go into an Apple store and ask nicely, they’ll create an iCloudID for you, but that assumes you have one of those within a reasonable distance.
And, there is no official Apple app on Android, though there are some third-party ones that will link the two.
Should you be an Apple hardware customer, and therefore can create not only an AppleID but also an iCloudID then you should be able to install iCloud for Windows, and then have your photos, email, calendar, bookmarks and other data to the iCloud storage.
This functionality is inherent in MacOS and iOS, but on the PC you also get a linked drive in File Explorer that takes you to your iCloud Photos.
The notion that you might use the iCloud space for more general purposes doesn’t appear to have ever considered by Apple, and even securing Chrome’s bookmarks requires an extra extension to be added to that browser.
The way this works is remarkably clunky compared to Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive and is unlikely to cause any major migration from those services over to Apple.
Those that register with the iCloud service are given a token amount of space by default, although 5GB doesn’t go far these days, we’ve noticed.
That’s less than the 15GB that Google Drive users get gratis, although it’s more than you receive from Box or Dropbox.
For those that haven’t already contributed to the $45.7 billion Apple profits made in 2016 or the greater amount in 2017, then you can still use Apple iCloud. But, you only get 1GB for free and no iCloud for Windows installation.
Once you’ve eaten your free allocation, you can choose a selection of storage boosters that start at 99 (£0.77) cents for 50GB and step up to $2.99 (£2.30) for 200GB on an ongoing monthly basis.
Those with $9.99 (£7.68) to splash each month can have 2TB, a level that should hand most person files unless you generate excessive amounts of 4K resolution video files.
For the larger capacities, those are the same costs that Google offers, although Microsoft gives you 1TB for $6.99 (£7.99) and throw in the Office 365 suite into that bargain.
Overall, iCloud was built to support Apple hardware customers, and sadly it does very little for anyone who isn’t one.
Even for those who use Apple hardware, this isn’t the best or most flexible solution available and represents decidedly muddled commercial thinking on their part.