Why I Love iCloud

March 2012

Email has taken over my life. Okay, so I'm partly to blame because I'm addicted. But also, it's simply part of the new way of doing things. If you're a professional these days, you're up to your waist in email.

Much of my time is spent reading and responding to these emails. Which is why I'm so thrilled with Apple's iCloud. Here's how it helps me:

I'm out an about and have 10 minutes to wait before a meeting. So I take out my iPad and start dealing with my email, deleting those that I don't need, marking some for followup, and replying to others. The beauty of iCloud is that when I then get back to my office and sit in front of my computer, all those changes have been automatically registered in my email software on my computer.

The emails that I've deleted are gone, the replies I sent on my iPad are now there in the Sent mail folder on my computer. Because I'm using iCloud, any change that I make in one place gets made everywhere.

Or let's say that I'm traveling and don't happen to have either my laptop or iPad with me (which is unlikely to ever happen), but want to do email. I can go to any computer that's connected to the Internet, log into my iCloud account, and then see all my email there. Again, any changes that I make, any emails that I send, are also automatically synchronized to my computer at home and my iPad.

The same thing is true if I add an appointment to my calendar or add a contact on my iPad. Those changes are synced to my computer.

This is how it should be: my personal information in the cloud, always kept up to date, always in sync with every device, and always available to me from any device. iCloud has many other features, but email syncing is the feature that I find the most valuable, and that I use every day.

This is not new, of course. This kind of functionality has, for example, long been available in corporate environments via Microsoft Exchange Server. Corporate employees typically have been able to keep their personal information and email in sync between various computers and their smartphone.

What makes iCloud different is: 1) it's available to everyone, 2) it's easy to use, and 3) it's free up to 5 GB. Awesome.

This kind of functionality for email is also available from some Internet providers via the IMAP protocol. Instead of the POP protocol, which is most common and which entails your email database residing on your personal computer, the IMAP protocol stores your email on a server.

Also, if you're in the habit of using a web-based email account, such as Yahoo or Hotmail or Gmail, you're accustomed to accessing your email from any computer or device just by logging in. What makes IMAP or iCloud special?

In my experience, the email software on my computer is faster and has more features than web-based email accounts. Plus, there might be occasions when I don't have an Internet connection. Because I use email software that's local to my computer or iPad, I have it all there and can read it, reply, or write a new message, even though I don't have a connection. Then when I'm connected, the emails that I've written automatically go out.

Gmail also offers IMAP, which means that it can function as I've described for iCloud. As I understand it, a service called Google Sync can keep your email, calendar, and contacts in sync. For example, it feeds all of your changes to your local email software in just the same way that iCloud does.

I haven't used Google Sync, but online reviews say that if you're in a Mac/iPhone/iPad environment, the integration that iCloud offers is better than with Google Sync. And it's easy to set up. iCloud also works with Windows Vista or Windows 7. It apparently will even work with other smartphones such as Android if you simply configure the phone for IMAP, but Gmail Sync would probably be a better choice.

Gmail does offer more free storage than iCloud. However, iCloud has a host of additional cloud features that are nicely integrated, such as PhotoStream and iTunes Match, a cloud-based service for storing your music.

So get a smartphone, get a cloud, and start syncing, so you, too, can get a handle on your email.

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© 2012 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen