If you own an iPad then you’ve probably heard about iCloud, the online storage system that Apple recently launched for its various mobile devices, as well as its range of Mac computers.

Of course, there are millions of PC users who own iPhones and iPads, so Apple has also released a version of the iCloud software that runs on Windows too. The PC version of iCloud isn’t quite as straightforward to use as it is on a Mac, but it still works well as a quick and easy way of transferring files from an iPhone or iPad onto your PC. It works the other way too, allowing you to view and edit files on your mobile devices when you’re away from your PC.

There’s no charge to sign up for an iCloud account, and the free service includes 5GB of storage. Furthermore, music, videos, books and apps that you buy from Apple’s iTune Store don’t count towards that 5GB, and neither does your Photo Stream: the photos that you take with the built-in camera on your iPhone or iPad.

For most people, 5GB should be enough to store all your other documents, email, calendars and other information. However, you can buy more storage if you need it, starting at £14 per year for an extra 10GB, and going up to £70 per year for 50GB.

That sounds great, but the PC version of iCloud does have some limitations. Sending photos from an iPhone to your PC is completely automatic, but transferring word processor or spreadsheet documents to or from your PC requires you to log into the iCloud web site in order to upload and download files manually.

Unfortunately, iCloud's email contact and calendar support for PCs isn't great. Apple’s Mail, Calendar and Contacts programs are standard on all its computers and mobile devices, so they share that information without any problems. But, on a Windows PC, iCloud can only handle information stored in Outlook 2007 or 2010 – neither of which are free – and there’s no support for the free Windows Live Mail either.

The problem can be overcome if you're happy to set up a new email address, as iCloud works with Apple’s ‘@me.com’ email addresses, which are free. Plus, you’re getting 5GB of free cloud storage that you can use to backup your iPhone and iPad, and that's more than you’d get from similar free cloud services such as Dropbox which includes only 2GB for free.

How to install and use iCloud

1. In order to use iCloud you first need a free Apple ID. If you own an iPhone or iPad then you probably already have one, but you can quickly sign up in the iCloud settings panel on your iOS device.

Apple ID

2. Once that’s done you’ll see a list of the iCloud options that are available. You can store and sync a variety of different files and information, such as photos, documents, email and contact and calendar info. Just select the options you want.

iCloud options

3. On your PC, browse to www.apple.com/icloud/setup and click on Windows PC. Download the iCloud Control Panel for Windows.  This works on Windows 7 or Vista (with Service Pack 2), but not on XP.

Download iCloud for Windows

4. The iCloud Control Panel on the PC provides a similar set of options to the website for sharing photos, emails, and other information. Some options work better than others, though. Sharing photos is very straightforward, so that’s where we’ll start.

iCloud Control Panel for Windows

5. The Pictures library on your PC now contains two new folders. Any photos you take on your iPhone or iPad are automatically sent to the Photo Stream folder. You can also send photos to your iOS devices by placing them in the Upload folder.  

Photo Stream folder
6. Sharing documents via iCloud is a little more complicated. Unfortunately, you can’t transfer documents from an iPhone or iPad directly to a PC. Instead, you have to use the PC to log into your account at www.icloud.com and click on ‘iWork’.

iCloud website

7. Documents created on an iPhone or iPad using Apple’s iWork apps (which cost £6.99 each) are uploaded to this site. You can then download them onto your PC, edit them, and upload them back to iCloud. You can do this with Word and Excel documents too.

iWork documents

8. Unfortunately, iCloud falls down when it comes to email, contacts and calendar info. The PC version of iCloud only works with Outlook 2007 or 2010. More importantly, it only works with Apple’s ‘me.com’ email addresses – which means you have to create an entirely new email address.

me.com email address

9. You can still use the basic iOS Mail app to work with your existing email address. However, your emails will only be stored locally on your PC and iOS devices. They won’t be stored online as part of your iCloud account.

 iOS mail

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