iCloud for Windows: What is it (and how to use it)

Apple's latest version of its iCloud app for Windows can be downloaded from the Microsoft App Store.

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Apple has published an all-new version of its iCloud app for Windows users and the software is available for download from Microsoft’s App Store.

What is Apple’s iCloud?

iCloud is an essential component across Apple’s universe. You use it to share iCloud Drive files, sync contacts, devices and other personal data, to access a range of Apple’s services and to access key apps like Photos and Mail. You can also make use of limited collaboration and sharing features.

Ever since it opened the iTunes Store to Windows users, Apple has shown that it understands that many of its customers use multiple platforms, an iPhone and a Windows PC, for example.

That’s why the company will continue to offer iTunes for Windows despite breaking out Music from iTunes on the Mac. It is also why the company has worked to make iCloud services cross-platform.

In line with this recognition that its platforms exist in a heterogenous computer world, Apple now offers the iCloud for Windows app for free download from Microsoft’s App Stores. You can also download the software directly from Apple.

Related: What is iCloud storage, how it works, and what to do when it doesn't

What do you get in iCloud for Windows?

Once installed on a supported Windows 10 system, iCloud for Windows lets you access your files on iCloud Drive, Photos, Mail, Contacts, Calendars and Tasks (with Outlook), and your Safari Bookmarks – you just need to log-in with your Apple ID.

Announcing the app on Microsoft’s Windows blog, Microsoft Engineering General Manager Giorgio Sardo revealed that one of the big improvements in iCloud for Windows is that Apple’s app now uses the same tech that powers OneDrive’s Files On-Demand feature, “enabling users to be more productive offline on mobile devices and quickly share files on iOS.”

Starting in August 2021, Apple added support for iCloud passwords for Windows users running the latest iteration of iCloud for Windows. The iCloud Passwords app lets you check your account information, update it, delete it, and add new accounts and will automatically sync across all your iCloud.

What is Files On-Demand?

Files on Demand relies on a newly-introduced Windows tech called the cloud files API, which formalizes support for sync engines.

This works by providing you with small (1k) placeholder files, any of which can be ‘hydrated’ (ie. ‘downloaded’) to you system, a Microsoft tech note suggests.

The idea is that the cloud files API lets third-party developers (such as, in this case, Apple) create apps that store data in the cloud in such a way as to make it easily available to end user devices – precisely what iCloud does on Apple’s systems.

The effect is that items stored in iCloud will appear as if they are on your PC even if they are not, and can be accessed and shared as if they are part of your system.

What can you do with iCloud for Windows?

Once installed and set-up, iCloud for Windows lets you work seamlessly with iCloud on your PC – making it super-easy if you use a Windows machine at work, a Mac at home and an iPhone or iPad at other times.

It means you can:

  • Access your iCloud Drive files using File Explorer.
  • Download files and folders to your PC.
  • Store items in iCloud Drive and access them using an iOS device, Mac or Windows system, or online at iCloud.com.
  • Share and collaborate on files from within File Explorer – edits will be synced across all your devices.
  • Create and share albums of images and videos online.
  • Update and manage your iCloud account.

There is one snag – if you use a managed Apple ID then iCloud for Windows will not be supported.

How do I download and install iCloud for Windows?

Installation is relatively straightforward:

First you must set up iCloud on an Apple device (Mac, iPad, iPhone), after which you must download the iCloud for Windows app to your compatible Windows PC, install it, launch it and sign in with the Apple ID you created on your Apple device.

Is iCloud useful for enterprise pros?

Apple’s big selling point for iCloud is the security and privacy it provides.

The company is also improving its sharing and collaboration tools within the suite, and while these aren’t perfect, if you are looking for an ad hoc way to share important files then Apple’s system is probably among the most secure you’ll find, at least in terms of privacy. Though Apple could improve this by making it possible for users to encrypt data they store on Apple’s iCloud servers.

Where can I find out more about iCloud?

Here are some previous reports that should help you get more from using iCloud on any supporting platform:

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Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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