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How to use iCloud for backups on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac

Anyone immersed in the Apple ecosystem can readily access iCloud for no extra charge, but there are a few tricks to learn to make the most of it.

Apple’s iCloud is not an application, but rather an application suite, one that’s directly baked into the framework of nearly all Apple products. It’s designed to be a repository of your digital life, a place to store and backup your photos, personal files, and application data so you never lose anything. Despite its slick design and simple execution, however, setting it up for the first time can be a pain. We’ve put together a guide on how to use iCloud.

Setting up and signing into iCloud

Signing up with iCloud is completely free and simple to do with an Apple ID. Each free account automatically grants you access to 5GB of remote storage — available for backups, mail, app data, documents, and other components stored in the cloud — with 50GB, 200GB, and 2TB storage offerings available at an additional cost.

If your devices are recent, you shouldn’t have any issues with compatibility, but we recommended quickly scanning over the minimum requirements to get a better understanding of what will and will not work on your device. Afterward, follow the guidelines for your respective device below.

Setting up iCloud on MacOS

Step 1: Update your Mac (optional) — It’s always a good idea to update MacOS prior to setting up a new utility or application on your iMac or MacBook. If you haven’t done so already, click the Apple icon in the upper-left corner of the desktop to access the main Apple menu, and select About This Mac. Then, click the Software Update button. The App Store should open up. Head over to the Updates tab, then click on the particular software you wish to update. Or, click Update All in the upper-right corner of the application window to download and install all available updates.

Step 2: Enable iCloud — Once again, click the Apple icon in the upper-left corner of the desktop to access the main Apple menu. Afterward, select System Preferences from the drop-down menu, and choose the iCloud option in the System Preferences panel (the logo is a blue cloud). Enter the Apple ID and password you want to use with iCloud and click the Sign In button directly to the right of the password field when finished. It’s also never a bad idea to pop that password into a password manager at this point.

Step 3: Select your iCloud services — iCloud will present you with several individual services, from mail and Safari to contacts and calendars, once signed in. Check the box directly to the left of the applications to choose which ones you’d like to sync across your various devices. Syncing options vary from application to application, but you can typically fine-tune the process by clicking Options on the right or from within the main Accounts setting of each service.

Step 4: Buy more storage (optional) — Obtaining a little extra storage can’t hurt if you’re on the cusp of reaching your storage cap. To do so, click the Manage button in the bottom-right corner of the main iCloud interface, followed by the Buy More Storage button located in the top-right corner of the window.

Step 5: Check out optimized storage (optional) — All right, so you’re all set up, and you have your iCloud storage, your Apple ID, and your shiny new Mac. If you’ve been away from the MacOS ecosystem for a while, there’a feature you should know about: It’s called Optimized Storage, and it uses your iCloud storage to free up even more hard drive space on your Mac. Check out our full guide on how to get it all set up.

Setting up iCloud on iOS

Step 1: Update your iOS device (optional) — It’s always a good idea to keep your iOS devices up to date, especially with the release of iOS 13. If you haven’t done so already, tap Settings located on your device’s home screen, followed by tapping General, then the Software Update option and the resulting Download and Install button. Wait for the latest version of iOS to download and install before proceeding to the next step.

Step 2: Enable iCloud — Tap Settings located on your device’s home screen. Afterward, tap your name up at the top. You may be prompted to log in to your Apple ID. On the next menu, click iCloud.

Step 3: Select your iCloud services — iCloud will present you with a list of services. Just toggle the slider directly to the right of the application to choose which ones you’d like to sync across your various devices.

Setting up iCloud on PC

Step 1: Enable iCloud on another device — Apple’s iCloud software is designed to work seamlessly with iOS and MacOS. Begin by enabling and setting up iCloud on another device prior to setting up the software on your Windows PC. Luckily, the two tutorials above will help you get started on both your Mac and iOS device.

Step 2: Download and install the iCloud Control Panel — Unfortunately, Windows does not feature built-in iCloud integration of any kind (surprise, surprise). If you’re mostly a Windows user, you might want to consider a different cloud storage solution. Navigate to the Apple support site, and click the blue Download link at the top to download a copy of the iCloud Control Panel. Afterward, choose a save location from the resulting window, click the Save button in the bottom-right corner, and run the installation software when it’s finished downloading. The bundled wizard will walk you through the entire installation process.

Step 3: Enable iCloud — Launch the iCloud Control Panel and enter your Apple ID and password corresponding to your previously-registered iCloud account. Click the Sign In button in the bottom-right corner when finished.

Step 4: Select your iCloud services —  Once signed in, iCloud will present you with four services, including iCloud Drive, mail, bookmarks, and contacts and calendars. Check the box directly to the left of the services to choose which ones you’d like to sync across your various devices. Syncing options vary from application to application, but you can typically fine-tune the process within the main Options setting of each service. Click the Apply button in the bottom-right corner when finished.

Backing up and restoring iOS devices with iCloud

Apple’s iCloud may be a terrific way to sync data between your iPhone, iPad, and computer, but the software also offers an effortless way to back up your devices. Backup information includes everything from device settings, like your chosen wallpaper and app organization, to direct purchases from the App Store and text messages.

How to back up to iCloud

Step 1: Navigate to the iCloud storage settings — Tap Settings > Your Apple ID > iCloud.

Step 2: Toggle on iCloud Backup — At the bottom of the iCloud page, you’ll be able to toggle on the iCloud Backup option to allow the software to automatically back up your camera roll, accounts, documents, and settings when your device is plugged in, locked, and connected to Wi-Fi. Alternatively, tap the Back Up Now option to manually back up your device when connected via Wi-Fi.

How to restore from iCloud

Step 1: Start from the beginning — All recent iOS devices offer a setup assistant that allows you to restore your device from a backup. However, if you’ve already opted out of restoring from iCloud during the initial setup process, you merely need to reset your device to its factory defaults to access the same setup assistant featured on new devices. To do so, tap Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Contents and Settings. Tap Erase iPhone to confirm. If you have an older iPhone, your steps might vary a little, so be sure to check out our comprehensive guide if you’re having trouble.

Step 2: Restore from backup — Once you’ve begun the initial setup assistant, you’ll be prompted to either set up a new device, restore from iCloud, or restore from iTunes. Select Restore from iCloud Backup, enter the Apple ID corresponding to your iCloud account, and tap whichever option you’d like to use. If you choose iCloud backup, you’ll see the three most recent backups for each of the devices on which you’ve enabled iCloud Backup.

Once chosen, the setup assistant will handle the rest. A progress bar will appear, indicating how long it will take to download and install the iCloud backup. When finished, your iPhone or iPad will reset and begin downloading the same version of any apps you had previously installed on the device. Enter the appropriate password when prompted, and ensure you’re connected via Wi-Fi, or your download could take a while.

Deleting iCloud backups

If you haven’t figured it out already, iCloud is a terrific and autonomous way of syncing and storing data from all your connected iOS devices. Unfortunately, the provided 5GB of storage only goes so far when you’re constantly backing up an iPhone, iPad, and MacBook using the same iCloud account. Luckily, select backups can always be manually deleted directly from your iOS device to free up storage when they become extremely outdated or in the event you no longer have the device to which the backup belongs.

Step 1: Navigate to backup —  Tap Settings > Your Apple ID > iCloud > Manage Storage.

Step 2: Delete the backup — Once you’re at your storage management page, select Backups. Select the backup you wish to delete and tap the red Delete Backup option at the bottom of the resulting menu. Each backup will show its relative size, the specific date when it was initially uploaded, and which device it’s from, so you shouldn’t have much trouble distinguishing between the various backups. However, you’ll typically want to keep the most recent backup.

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