iCloud vs iCloud Drive – What’s the big difference?

When it comes to cloud services for your iOS device, iCloud and iCloud Drive are the most easily available and convenient. However, if you want to start using these services, their similar names can be a bit confusing.

You’re right if you thought iCloud and iCloud Drive weren’t the same. Before using either option, it’s best to learn what each is and how it works. This article explains just that, gives you a brief overview of iCloud and iCloud Drive, and outlines the differences between the two.

What is iCloud?

You’ve probably heard of iCloud as the essential cloud storage solution for Apple users. This service is very useful for backing up your data and freeing up your device. You can enable iCloud backup on your iPhone or iPad, and the service stores several files in the cloud, including:

  • photos
  • Videos
  • Contacts
  • Music
  • Calendars
  • All iTunes Purchases
  • Messages
  • App data
  • Settings
  • Ringtones

These files are saved automatically, but you need to add other information manually if you want to back them up. Optional iCloud backups include your call history, emails, iCloud Drive files, and health data.

The standard storage space you get with your Apple account is 5 GB. If you need more storage space, you can purchase additional gigabytes. Please note that iCloud will not replace previous versions of backup files with new ones.

As for backing up apps, it’s worth noting that iCloud only backs up the information about your App Store purchases. This means that the apps themselves will not be transferred to your iCloud account. Still, the service notes everything you had previously installed, making it more convenient to set up the same app if you switch devices.

What is iCloud Drive?

You can think of iCloud Drive as the Apple-exclusive variant of Dropbox. In other words, this is a cloud-based sharing service that you can set up on your iOS devices. However, iCloud Drive is not quite the same as commonly used services like Google Drive or Dropbox. It functions a little differently.

Unlike most sharing services, iCloud Drive does not store your collection of shared files in the app. Instead, you can access the files through a companion app for the specific file type. For example, if you want to access your photos stored in iCloud Drive, you’ll need to use the Photos app on your iPhone or iPad.

The main aspect that sets iCloud Drive apart from iCloud is that you cannot back up your devices through the Drive service. It will automatically sync selected data and the sync can be two-way, but the app doesn’t provide the same backup as iCloud.

This doesn’t mean you can’t use iCloud Drive to protect certain documents and files. Everything you upload to iCloud Drive remains safe, even if something happens to your device or if you accidentally delete the files. However, turning on two-way sync will also remove the file from iCloud Drive if you delete a file on any of your iOS or Mac devices.

There is another important option in iCloud Drive that can come in handy. While iCloud backs up certain files, iCloud Drive has no restrictions on the files you can upload to it. In other words, you can upload any files that do not have a designated place in the iCloud tree to iCloud Drive.

The Crucial Differences Between iCloud and iCloud Drive

The most crucial difference between the two services is that they are not equally important. While iCloud is an essential part of your Apple account and is accessible and usable once you activate the account, iCloud Drive is designed as part of that service.

In other words, anything you upload to iCloud Drive is also uploaded to iCloud. The same doesn’t apply the other way around: if you put a file on iCloud, it won’t appear on iCloud Drive.

On the one hand, iCloud is for storing files from your devices. On the other hand, iCloud Drive is for sharing those files between Apple devices. This means you don’t have to worry about copying files or transferring them in any other way.

Using iCloud

Setting up iCloud on your iOS device is relatively easy. You can do just that by following these steps:

  1. Open “Settings” on your iPhone or iPad.
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  2. Go to ‘Apple ID, iCloud, Media and Purchases’.
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  3. Select “iCloud”.
  4. In the “iCloud” menu, find “iCloud Backup” and select that option.
  5. If iCloud is currently disabled, tap it to make the gray button green.
  6. You can now exit the “Settings” menu.
  7. To back up your device, make sure it’s plugged into a power outlet, connected to Wi-Fi, and locked. The backup will start automatically once these conditions are met.
  8. You can also choose the “Back Up Now” option from the “iCloud Backup” menu you selected in step 4. This will run the backup immediately.
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After iCloud is activated, your data is backed up regularly. If the backup fails, make sure your Wi-Fi connection is stable while your device is charging and the screen is locked.

Using iCloud Drive

Setting up iCloud Drive should not be a complicated process on your iPhone, iPad or Mac computer. Here’s what you need to do to start using this service:

  1. Make sure your iOS or macOS is on the latest version and iCloud is set up as described above.
  2. Sign in with your Apple ID on all devices where you want to share files.
  3. Open “Settings” on your iOS device. You can also go to “System Preferences” on your Mac.
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  4. Click on ‘Apple ID’.
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  5. Select “iCloud”.
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  6. On iOS devices, you can enable iCloud Drive by using the appropriate button in the “iCloud” menu. For Mac computers, skip this step and proceed to the next step.
  7. From the “iCloud” menu, select “iCloud Drive”.
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  8. Enable the “Desktop and Documents” option.
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  9. You can copy files to iCloud Drive using the “Desktop and Documents” folder. This folder is located in Finder, under “iCloud”.

Using iCloud Drive on a Windows computer

After you set up the iCloud Drive service on any of your iOS or Mac devices, you can continue to use the service on a Windows PC. Follow these steps to do just that:

  1. Go to the Microsoft Store, download and install iCloud.
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  2. Open the iCloud app and sign in with your Apple ID.
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  3. Check the box next to ‘iCloud Drive’ and select ‘Apply’. After that, iCloud Drive will be enabled on your Windows computer.
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What you can do with iCloud

Of course, you can use iCloud to back up your devices. However, if you have some extra storage space, you can use the service for some additional features.

First, you may want to enable iCloud backup on each device. When you need to restore a device, here’s how to do it:

  1. Go to “Settings” and proceed to “General”.
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  2. Select the “Reset” option.
  3. Wait for the device to reboot, then choose “Restore from iCloud Backup.”

Then you can enable photo and video backups on your iCloud. This option uploads high-resolution copies of your photos to the cloud and saves optimized versions on the device. Don’t worry though: your device will access iCloud storage to display the full resolution version whenever you want to see a photo.

The same goes for videos, although there will be a noticeable difference with this media type. As a rule, video files are much larger than images. So streaming a video can take some time, especially if your internet connection is not particularly fast.

You may also want to check if your apps are set up to store data on iCloud or your devices. This can be very useful in certain situations as app data will not clog your system. However, keep in mind that the default iCloud storage is limited. If you’re running out of space, it might be better to disable the app data save option.

Finally, many users consider iCloud as a primary tool for iOS devices, but you can also use the service to lighten the load on your Mac computer. To free up some space on your Mac with iCloud, do the following:

  1. Go to the Apple menu.
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  2. Choose About This Mac.
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  3. Navigate to “Storage” and go to “Manage”.
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  4. Enter “Save to iCloud” option to save all files in “Documents” and “Desktop” folders on iCloud.
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The files will remain accessible from your Mac, but the computer will get them from iCloud instead of local storage.

Share files with iCloud Drive

If you want to share files through iCloud Drive, you can do it easily using these steps:

  1. On an iOS device, navigate to the file or folder you want to share.
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  2. Tap and hold what you want to share to open the menu.
  3. Choose the “Share” option and then “Add people”.

You have several options when it comes to sharing files via iCloud Drive:

  • “Only people you invite”
  • “Anyone with the Link”
  • “View only”
  • “Can make changes”

The first two options determine who can access the files, while the latter determines what other people can do with the shared content.

Take your files to the cloud

The combination of iCloud and iCloud Drive gives you more flexibility in storing and sharing files. Getting familiar with these essential services will help you get the most out of your iOS and Mac devices and your Apple account.

Have you activated iCloud and iCloud Drive on your devices? How did you use the services? Let us know in the comments below.

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