Believe it or not, there once was a time where you could just store files in a special folder on your Mac and it would magically appear on every one of your machines. It was called iDisk and from 2000 until it’s discontinuation in 2012 it was part of Apple’s “cloud” service (first called iTools, then .Mac and later MobileMe). When Apple introduced iCloud in 2012 and subsequently discontinued MobileMe, this particular feature was also discontinued. Since then, there has been no (easy) way to even access the files stored in iCloud, e.g. documents created with Pages on iOS, or store other arbitrary files in iCloud. In Apple’s opinion, users shouldn’t even see the underlying filesystem or think about iCloud in that way, thus it was hidden from normal users. People seemed to disagree (or at least some professionals did) and Dropbox came to their rescue. This could have been the end of this story, but thankfully it wasn’t.

This last June, when Apple announced the new iCloud infrastructure, they also announced a feature called iCloud Drive which replaced the existing, opaque iCloud service with a new, much more transparent, container-based system. Basically every user gets a container (something like a big folder) on Apple’s iCloud servers for storing files. Apps like the iWork suite get their own unique folders inside said container where they can store their own files. If another app (other than the original app that created the file) needs access to any file, it can request access. Then a user has to grant this access by selecting the file(s) in the file selection dialog. This is what I dubbed “the new iCloud” in the recently published article about iCloud on iOS 8.

iCloud Drive in Finder

Now, with the release of OS X Yosemite, Apple has finally added the missing piece of the puzzle: access to this container from your Mac. On Yosemite you get a special folder aptly named “iCloud Drive” that not only gives you access to the existing contents of your personal iCloud container, but also allows you to add your own content. It will show up automatically when you’re logged into iCloud (Yosemite will ask for your credentials when you set it up. You can add/change them at any given time by opening up System Preferences and clicking the iCloud button).

iCloud Settings in the System Preferences

You can add and delete files, add your own folders and move stuff around. Just like with any other folder on your Mac. The only real difference is, that what ever you do inside this special folder also happens on Apple’s iCloud servers, meaning also on your other (iOS) devices. It’s synced everywhere that uses the same Apple ID.

This gives you a lot of power, but with great power also comes great responsibility. I wouldn’t recommend putting huge files in there (e.g. entire movies) unless you have a fast enough internet connection. You also shouldn’t delete the folders that were created by the apps you’ve used (e.g. Pages, Numbers, …) unless you absolutely have to. In fact, Finder will warn you that the file/folder you’re about to delete will also be deleted from all of your other devices before allowing you to do so.

Finder warning you when you delete a file/folder from iCloud Drive

Keeping that in mind, iCloud Drive can be a powerful and relatively inexpensive tool for your business. Apple gives you 5GB of storage for free, which might be more than enough if you’re just storing a few letters or receipts in it. If you need more than that, Apple offers multiple tiers of additional storage space for a relatively inexpensive monthly fee:

  • $0.99/month for 20GB
  • $3.99/month for 200GB
  • $9.99/month for 500GB
  • $19.99/month for 1TB

Of course you can up-/downgrade at any given time.

Now you can store all your projects in a central location and access them on any of your devices: your Mac(s), your iPhone, your iPad or your Windows PC.
And even if you aren’t using your own devices, you can still access your files. Simply head to iCloud.com, log in using your iCloud credentials and select the iCloud Drive app. There you can access and manage your files just as well as on your Macs.

iCloud Drive app on iCloud.com

Getting files into iCloud Drive is fairly easy. If you own a Mac and it’s running OS X Yosemite, simple open the Finder and select the “iCloud Drive” in the sidebar. All you need to do to put something in your iCloud Drive is to copy or move something into that folder. It behaves exactly like any other folder on your disk, so you probably already know how to do this.
What you can’t do right now (in contrast to Dropbox) is share files with other team members or your friends/family.

iCloud Drive view on iCloud.com

As to what to store in your iCloud Drive, here are a few ideas:

  • For your paperless office, put your scanned receipts in iCloud Drive
  • Put templates for your contracts in the iCloud Drive, then fill them out from your iPad when you’re in a meeting with a new client
  • Put samples of your work in a folder. You can show it to potential new clients using iCloud.com or your iOS devices.
  • Put drafts of your articles/books/documents in iCloud Drive, proofread them in a more relaxing environment using your iOS devices to increase the overall quality of your written work.

We’d also like to hear back from you, how you’re planning to use iCloud Drive for your business or your work. Are you using Dropbox right now? If so, what advantage does iCloud Drive have for you over Dropbox (if any)? Please let us know in the comments of this article or on Twitter.

If you’re interested in more cloud related articles and tutorials, please check back with us regularly as this is only the first in a longer series of articles about the many uses of cloud storage.