What is iCloud?

Apple's free iCloud service stores subscribers' photos, videos, documents, apps and more and updates everything across users' synced devices.

Replacing Apple's MobileMe storage service in 2011, iCloud enables subscribers to save their address book, calendar, notes, Safari browser bookmarks and photos on Apple's servers. Changes and additions to one Apple device can be pushed to the user's other registered Apple devices, including the Apple Watch and Apple TV.

What does iCloud do?

The iCloud subscription service starts as soon as users set it up by signing in to iCloud with their Apple ID, which they only have to do once on all their devices or computers. After that, any changes made on one device are synced with all other devices that use that Apple ID.

How to set up iCloud

To set up iCloud on all of their devices, users must simply sign in to each device with the same Apple ID and password. After setting up iCloud on their iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch or Mac, users can also set it up on a Windows computer.

On a Windows computer, users must first download and install iCloud for Windows, then enter the Apple ID and password, select features, and click Apply. Microsoft Outlook syncs with iCloud Mail, Contacts, Calendar and Reminders. Other apps are available on the iCloud website.

System requirements

The service, which requires an Apple ID, is available on Macs running macOS Ventura 13, iPhones running iOS 16, iPads running iPadOS 16 and iPod Touches running iOS 15. Apple Watches must run watchOS 9 to support the service, while AppleTVs must run tvOS 16. Some features, such as photo sharing, have their own minimum system requirements.

PCs must have Windows 10 or later to synchronize with iCloud. PC users must also have an Apple device to set up iCloud for Windows.

Important iCloud features

iCloud Mail

An iCloud account includes a free email address -- formerly This feature is optional, but users can choose to use the free email address as their iCloud Apple ID.

Find My iPhone

The Find My iPhone feature enables users to geolocate, lock and remotely wipe their iPhone, Mac or iPad if it is lost or stolen. This feature was first available to paying MobileMe users in 2009 as part of the iOS 3 software update. It was available for free with the iOS 4.2.1 software update the following year.

An additional feature, called Lost Mode, appeared with iOS 6, enabling users to mark their missing iPhones as lost.

iCloud Photos

The iCloud photo library automatically uploads any photo or video the user takes to the iCloud. Users can access their files from an iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Apple TV, Mac or PC, or on the iCloud website. This feature requires an internet connection.

Backup and restore

Users can automatically back up their iPhones and iPads to the iCloud mobile service daily when the screen is locked and the device is connected to Wi-Fi and a power source. Users can also back their data up manually and restore data from an iCloud backup.


Users can save downloads -- including purchases from the App Store -- in a digital locker and enable automatic synchronization on other devices, or they can do so manually.

Saved settings 

Purchases from the App Store can store settings and data in iCloud so users don't have to reenter information on multiple devices.

iCloud Drive

The file hosting service lets users store all of their files in iCloud and access them from any device where they're signed in.

On a Mac, users can opt to have any files they saved in their Desktop & Documents Folders automatically saved to iCloud Drive. On iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches, files will appear automatically in the built-in iCloud Drive app.

iCloud Storage

Users get 5 GB of storage for free. For more storage, customers can upgrade to iCloud+ and choose from three storage plans. Prices vary from country to country, but in the United States, 50 GB of storage costs $0.99 per month, 200 GB of storage costs $2.99 per month and 2 TB of storage costs $9.99 per month.

This was last updated in June 2023

Continue Reading About iCloud

Dig Deeper on Mobile operating systems and devices

Unified Communications