With the arrival of iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, Apple transformed iCloud into a fully-fledged cloud storage solution. Apps can already use iCloud to store and share data, and now Apple allows you to store whatever you like in a folder that syncs across devices.
The only problem is that your iPhone doesn’t come with an iCloud Drive app, and other platforms have seemingly no way of accessing iCloud Drive altogether. Today we’ll be exploring how to get file system access to iCloud Drive, regardless of your device or operating system.
Upgrading to iCloud Drive
In order to use iCloud Drive, you’ll need to first upgrade to it — something you may have already done when you updated your iPhone software. To do this on your iPhone or iPad, head to Settings > iCloud > iCloud Drive and look for an option that says Upgrade to iCloud Drive.
On a Mac you can do this by going to System Preferences > iCloud > iCloud Drive. On a Windows PC you should download iCloud for Windows, sign in, select iCloud Drive and you should be prompted to upgrade.
It’s also possible to do this on the web if you don’t have access to the other methods. Just head to iCloud.com and launch Pages — if you need to upgrade, you will be prompted to do so (otherwise you’re good to go).
iCloud Drive provides a place to store any file you like, within the limits of your available iCloud storage. MP3s, movie files, PDFs — they’re all supported, and you can create folders in order to organise your drive as you would any other volume.
Note: You will need to set up iCloud Drive on each of your devices, and once you’ve upgraded, there’s no downgrading.
iPhone & iPad Access
Unfortunately, Apple didn’t provide file system access to iCloud Drive from iOS devices, and though your other apps have access to iCloud Drive, there’s no method of accessing the folder on iOS without a third-party app.
Apple’s own Pages, Numbers, and Keynote apps can access iCloud Drive and allow you to create new documents within the cloud that sync automatically with other devices. These apps do not provide access to the iCloud Drive filesystem, so I’d recommend a third-party document manager app like Documents 5 (free) to get around this.
Once downloaded, you can access your entire iCloud Drive by tapping on the iCloud tab followed by iCloud Drive in the top-left corner. Tap a file to access it, and Documents 5 will read it if it’s supported. Then hit the Share button and choose Open In… to import the file into another application.
Different apps will support different files. Apple’s Pages also allows you to browse your iCloud Drive. As more apps are released and updated to take advantage of it, more apps will have direct access — just like the recently released Ulysses for iPad.
Got Weird Filetypes?
Unfortunately, if Documents 5 doesn’t support the file, there’s no way of sending it to another application (fingers crossed this changes soon). In order to have access to unsupported files, you’ll need to open your wallet and purchase Panic’s Transmit for iOS ($10 launch price), a file-transfer toolbox that allows you to access iCloud Drive, FTP, Amazon Web Storage, and more from your iPad.
Using Transmit you can take advantage of the revised app permissions that came with iOS 8 and use the Share menu to access remote and local locations within other supported iOS 8 apps. The team first encountered some resistance from Apple over this one, as it also allows you to send files back to iCloud — read about it on the Panic blog.
iCloud Drive on OS X Yosemite
iCloud Drive is built into OS X Yosemite and is always accessible via Finder. Launch a new Finder window and click on iCloud Drive on the left-hand side. You can drag and drop files here and create new folders, and OS X will update you on the progress of files yet to sync underneath the filename.
One thing I noticed about accessing iCloud Drive within Yosemite is that if an application creates a folder and it is empty, it will not show up on your Mac like it will your iOS device.
Windows & iCloud
Ever since iOS 5, Apple has produced Windows software that allows users to download photos and administer various other parts of iCloud from their PCs running Windows 7 or greater. Now this same application is used to provide compatibility with iCloud Drive, straight from Windows Explorer.
Download iCloud for Windows, install it, and sign in with your Apple ID. The installer will place a folder within your User folder into which you can drag any files (and organize by folder) in order to share with other devices.
Browser Access to iCloud Drive
You may be running an older version of OS X that doesn’t come with built-in iCloud support, or if you’re using Windows XP or Vista, you won’t be able to use iCloud for Windows. Linux users with iPhones or iPads may also want access to iCloud Drive. Fortunately, these platforms can still use the service via a Web browser.
Simply login to iCloud.com and click on iCloud Drive. You can drag and drop to rearrange files, create folders, and upload items by dragging them into the browser window (or clicking the “up arrow in cloud” button at the top of the screen).
It’s also possible to launch any text documents, spreadsheets, or presentations within the iWork for iCloud suite, simply by clicking on them. You can make changes to supported documents within your browser, without the need for dedicated software.
No Android Support?
As you have probably noticed, not every platform is supported by Apple — in particular, Android. It’s not clear whether or not iCloud.com access is possible from any Android device, but in all my tests (including tablet-sized devices courtesy of Manymo), iCloud simply said that the browser is not compatible.
This isn’t such a big issue for Android users, though, since there are some far more generous storage services than iCloud out there. Check out Dropbox, OneDrive or BitTorrent Sync for truly cross-platform alternatives.
Not Elegant, But Functional
iCloud Drive in its current state is a bit confused. It’s great to have filesystem access to iCloud from Mac OS X and in-browser, but the lack of an iCloud Drive app for mobile devices (Finder for iOS, anyone?) feels like a hurdle that prevents easy access to your data.
For documents, pictures, and the odd sound or video file, it works like a treat. For more obscure files (like password databases), you may need to shell out for an app like Transmit for them to be useful — and at that stage, you might want to think about using something like Dropbox or Google Drive instead.
What do you use iCloud Drive for? Or do you use it at all? Let us know in the comments!