Is iCloud Free?

By Carol Finch

Apple's iCloud allows users to store, manage and access data in the cloud across multiple devices. Once you subscribe with your Apple ID, you can associate iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches and Macs to your account -- the service also works on PCs. Apple allows up to 10 devices to be linked to one Apple ID account. Relevant data is then stored in the cloud and made available to each device. Core services are free; you have to pay extra if you want to increase your storage limit or add the iTunes Match app.

iCloud Overview

When you set up iCloud, you can configure it to back up and store data, making it automatically available to each device linked to your account. This includes purchases from the iTunes Store, apps, iBooks and any data you create using Apple apps. You can also add third-party apps that Apple has approved. For example, if you download a song from iTunes, and you've configured your iCloud settings accordingly, the song is available on all of your associated devices, so you don't need to download it multiple times. ICloud also automatically notes what you are doing on one device and updates it on others; if you save a bookmark on Safari on your iPad, it will be there when you go into Safari on your Mac. You also get photo sharing, access to Find My iPhone and a password storage and generator option. ICloud also offers a web-based beta version of iWork, as of the date of publication. This is Apple’s version of an office suite; it contains document, spreadsheet and presentation apps. ICloud has a free basic storage limit; if you want to increase this, you need to purchase an upgrade.

iCloud Storage Plans

ICloud comes with 5GB of free storage as part of its basic service. If you need more, you have to buy more. At the time of publication, there are three plans to choose from: 10GB, 20GB and 50GB. Each plan adds its total to the free 5GB, so you will ultimately have 15GB, 25GB or 55GB of storage. At the time of publication, the cost of upgrading is $20 per year for 10GB, $40 per year for 20GB and $100 per year for 50GB.

iTunes Match

ITunes Match is not a part of iCloud and requires an annual subscription fee. It adds features that change the way iCloud stores your music. ICloud focuses solely on music you buy from Apple. If you subscribe to iTunes Match in the cloud, it automatically includes music from other sources, such as songs you ripped from CDs you own and songs purchased from other sites. At the time of publication, a subscription to iTunes Match costs $24.99 per year.

Pros and Cons of Paying for Extra iCloud Services

The 5GB of storage that comes with iCloud covers mail, documents and iOS backups. Five gigabyte may seem like a lot, but it goes quickly, so you may find yourself debating upgrading before you know it. If you do get close to the limit, you can delete data, change the way your backups run or remove some documents from your cloud storage instead of paying for an upgrade. This may help, but if you have a lot of content, it may not. ITunes Match may be useful if you have a lot of music in your library that didn't come from Apple, but users with large libraries should know there is a 25,000-song limit.

Setting Up iCloud

You can sign up to iCloud via your device or from the service's website. If you have a new iDevice, you can use the setup assistant; if you have an older device, you can find iCloud in the Settings screen. On a Mac, it is located in the "System Preferences" on your Apple menu. You need your Apple ID, or will have to set one up if you do not have an account; once you have an account on one device or machine, you can associate other devices with it. If you want to use iCloud on a PC, you have to enable it on an Apple device first and then download the iCloud Control Panel for Windows. This only works on PCs running Windows 7 or 8. You can also register with the iCloud website if you already have an Apple ID.