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Cloud Storage Providers: Comparison Of Features And Prices

Apple iCloud Storage - Pricing And Features Overview

Apple's iCloud was originally developed as a backup mechanism for Apple devices and associated apps. It has come a long way in the past three years, but still shows the legacy of its core purpose.

For Apple computer and device users, iCloud is a no-brainer. It is seamless across all Apple devices, and the Windows client/plug-in extends contacts, calendar, tasks, bookmarks and photos to a vast majority of PC users. With Apple's new (2014) pricing model, iCloud is both attractive to end users and developers, the latter of whom get a nearly bottomless glass of storage - via CloudKit - for file assets, app development sandbox space and database storage.

The initial use of iCloud stands true today: it is an excellent backup system for iOS devices. The scheduled backup mechanism can help those who lose or damage an iOS device get back to their most recent state in a matter of minutes (only risking the loss of photos and videos).

Integration with MacOS has become tighter over the past few years. The Mac control panel is pre-installed on updated versions of Mountain Lion (10.8), and is fully integrated with Mavericks (10.9). Apple's Mail, Address Book and Calendar apps quickly download and sync data from iCloud, and mirror what is found on iOS devices and the iCloud Web interface.

Apple also makes a Windows iCloud control panel available for download. While iCloud integrates contacts, calendar and tasks with Microsoft Outlook, and bookmarks with Internet Explorer, the majority of Windows users install the control panel to view and sync photos taken by iOS devices. In my testing, I was a little frustrated with slow photo browsing and Windows Explorer crashes, demonstrating that Windows desktop integration is a work in progress.

While Apple is more expensive for traditional non-developer consumers than the pure-player Cloud storage vendors, Apple also provides the iWork applications – and excellent templates – for owners of devices that ship with iOS 7 (a $99 value).

The Web-based versions are still in "beta" according to Apple, but do not appear to be works-in-progress. The Web interfaces are clean, fast and easy to use, without being too cartoonish. Editing documents on iPhones and iPads has been improved dramatically in the past year. Document synchronization across Apple iDevices is seamless and fast.

The most challenging issue with iCloud is that it’s difficult to get documents out of the system. Since iCloud is designed as a walled garden for Apple content, sharing documents or collaborating with others – key features embraced by other services – require extra steps or just aren’t available. For example, link sharing requires collaborators to have an iCloud account. Downloaded presentations - even those in Microsoft PowerPoint format - have issues with fonts, objects and other formatting. This is not a “pure” cloud drive.

Based on the investment Apple is making, take a cautious look at iCloud if you have an Apple device foundation, but also want platform-independent, browser-based access to documents along with polished templates. The two greatest issues – high cost of plans and slow photo browsing – should improve. The “free” iWork applications are a boon to casual office users, as they are available across platforms and through a browser interface.

Apple iCloud Pricing