It would be impossible to talk about iOS 5 without mentioning iCloud. iCloud is the successor to Apple’s previous subscription MobileMe service. iCloud offers many of the core features of MobileMe, but does so with more elegance in my opinion. Also, where MobileMe ran you a C note per year, iCloud is free.
Apple billed MobileMe as Exchange for the rest of us, referring to Microsoft Exchange for similarly handling email, calendars, and contact syncing. MobileMe also tacked on things like iDisk, Photo Gallery, and iWeb integration. In my experience using MobileMe for three years, the email, calendars, and contacts worked great. iDisk and Photo Gallery were abhorrent. I never used iWeb.
Here is how Apple describes iCloud:
iCloud stores your music, photos, documents, and more and wirelessly pushes them to all your devices. Automatic, effortless, and seamless — it just works.
iCloud still handles email, calendars, and contacts very well — I’d go so far as to say even better. Everything about iCloud just feels faster than MobileMe. I think a lot of that can be attributed to iCloud being a completely rewritten service. It’s lean.
iCloud also does a few other things that are pretty great. iTunes in the Cloud lets you browse your entire purchase history from any device and redownload music, TV shows, apps, & books for free. Photo Stream lets you take a picture with your iPhone, and in mere moments it is also on your iPad and Mac (via iPhoto or Aperture)! Find my iPhone (or iPod, or iPad, or Mac) is a great security feature (or great for finding out which cushion of the couch your phone slid under).
And, for one aspect, Documents in the Cloud works incredibly well. That one aspect is between your iOS devices. Make a change on a document on your iPhone, and it is updated on your iPad. Where Documents in the Cloud falls short is integration with the Mac. It just really doesn’t work. You have to upload and download changed documents manually via iCloud.com. And that stinks. It dispels the magic.
I have to believe Apple is working on a completely new version of iWork for OS X that will work well with Documents in the Cloud.
Overall, iCloud is fantastic. You get 5GB of storage for free. There are paid subscriptions for more storage if needed. Storage is comprised of email, Documents in the Cloud, and backups. Photo Stream and your iTunes purchases do not count against your storage.
Speaking of backups, iCloud allows your device(s) to backup wirelessly over Wi-Fi while they are charging. This will help ensure that your iPhone or iPad have fairly current backups. Even better, if you need to replace a device or decide to upgrade to a newer model, you can restore from that iCloud backup over Wi-Fi, which I have heard works incredibly well.
So please, sign up for iCloud. Enjoy ad-free email from Apple. Enjoy having access to your entire purchase history any time. Enjoy the wonderful web-apps at iCloud.com when you are away from your own computer. Enjoy knowing that you can track a lost device. And enjoy knowing your data is backed up more than you have been backing it up.
Quite simply: enjoy.