Apple iCloud Drive continues to add new features and improvements, and they're certainly needed: Apple was slow out of the blocks, and its cloud storage service has lagged behind the more polished competitors made by Microsoft, Google and Dropbox in recent years.
There are signs of Apple finding its feet with iCloud Drive though, with the addition of new features like folder sharing, and integration with macOS and iOS getting better all the time. Here's what to expect from Apple iCloud Drive right now, and how well it will work for you.
Apple iCloud Drive features
As well as backing up data from certain apps, iCloud Drive is now a user-facing, more conventional cloud storage service: it has its own entries in the Finder on macOS, and has its own apps on iPhones and iPads. The idea is you can back up anything you like, from PDF documents to images, to Apple's servers and get at it from anywhere.
Support is non-existent for Android though – unless you count logging into the iCloud web portal in an Android browser, which is a tortuous process. Windows users are treated a little bit better, because as well as the web interface there's a desktop iCloud client that you can use to sync files to and from a machine running Microsoft's OS. iCloud Drive is only really of use for those on Apple hardware though.
The best feature of Apple iCloud Drive is really just that it works – it's not as hidden as it once was, but it's still designed to operate largely in the background, syncing your important files between mobile and desktop devices. Anything that gets added to your iCloud Drive is synced to the web, and on a Mac you can opt to include the Desktop and Documents folders as well.
Basic file and folder sharing is included, but there's no versioning, so you can't get back older versions of files. What you can do is make files online only if you start to run out of space on your Mac – but like much of what Apple does, this is mostly handled automatically and you don't get much in the way of control over the feature.
Apple iCloud Drive interface
We've touched on how well iCloud Drive is integrated into macOS and iOS, and even if you don't sign up for extra storage, and don't allow iCloud to manage your photos and videos, it's still deeply embedded in these operating systems (if only to manage app backups and calendar and contact syncing, if nothing else).
iCloud Drive is right there inside the Finder on macOS, and you can also find a variety of options in System Preferences too. While iCloud Drive isn't able to back up an entire machine, it gets pretty close—considering you can reinstall macOS and your programs from the web, just about everything else that matters can be stored in iCloud. From what we can tell, file transfers are usually speedy and almost instantaneous.
Over on iOS, there is now a dedicated Files app with its own iCloud Drive section. You can copy, move, delete and share files without too much trouble, and everything has the usual visual appeal and slickness you would expect from Apple. The same goes for iCloud online, which again has improved significantly in recent years, making it much easier to get at your files – you still can't stream videos direct from the web, unfortunately, but you can stream audio files as long as they're saved in common formats.
In terms of the interface, everything about iCloud Drive is pretty much in line with the other software Apple makes – it's mostly polished and smooth, with a few occasional quirks. At least iCloud Drive no longer looks like a tagged-on afterthought whenever it appears, which was the case when it first appeared.
Apple iCloud Drive security
While iCloud Drive data is encrypted to keep it safe from prying eyes, it's not end-to-end encrypted – that means Apple can technically get at the data if it wanted to, though there's no reason to suspect it would. Many other cloud storage services take the same approach, not least to make sure your files can be accessed easily from anywhere, but for the very tightest security there are better options around.
Apple accounts can be protected with two-factor authentication and we would strongly recommend that you switch this on – it means that even if your username and password are exposed, unwelcome visitors can't get at your data without an extra code that's displayed on your phone or laptop. In general, Apple and iCloud Drive do an impressive job of data security.
Apple iCloud Drive pricing
Apple gives everyone 5GB of storage space for free with iCloud Drive, though that's not going to go all that far if you're syncing all your photos and videos to the web. After you've used up all that, you need to pay a monthly fee for some extra space – though you can share that space with other family members through the Family Sharing scheme that Apple has in place across several of its services.
After that you have a choice of three tiers: 50GB for $0.99/£0.79 a month, 200GB for $2.99/£2.49 a month, or 2TB for $9.99/£6.99 a month. That's broadly comparable with the consumer cloud storage services offered by Apple's big tech rivals. If you stop paying, your files don't go anywhere, but you won't be able to upload anything new.
Apple iCloud Drive verdict
iCloud Drive is a lot better than it used to be, and is now a proper cloud storage solution to compete with rivals from Dropbox, Microsoft, Google and others. However, despite recent improvements, it still doesn't offer quite as much as those other services – most obviously when it comes to having an Android app of any description, but also with more advanced features like versioning and selective sync.
There are better cloud storage services out there, and yet if the only devices you use are a Mac and an iPhone, iCloud Drive is so well integrated into them that you might never need to switch to an alternative. macOS and iOS will always default to iCloud, so it's the most convenient option for Apple users, but we still think your money is better spent elsewhere.
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