iCloud 101: Apple IDs and your iOS device

Configuring your iOS(s aapl) device to take full advantage of the new iCloud services is resulting in confusion and frustration for many users. At the core of this confusion is the Apple ID. Understanding what your Apple ID can and can’t be used for on your iOS 5 device is crucial to working around any difficulties you may have.

Do I need iCloud to use iOS 5?


No, you don’t need to have your Apple ID associated with any of Apple’s iCloud services in order to use your iOS 5 devices. Signing up for iCloud is an optional step that you can take after the iOS 5 upgrade process. However, if you don’t sign up, you will limit access to some great iOS 5 features that do require an iCloud account. These features include:

  • Reminders sync (you can still use local reminders, you just can’t sync them)
  • Bookmarks sync (syncing your Safari bookmarks across iOS 5 devices and Macs running Lion 10.7.2 or higher)
  • Photo Stream (you can still take photos and create multiple albums)
  • Documents and Data Sync (which may be required by an increasing number of apps to take advantage of key features)
  • Find My iPhone, iPod or iPad or Find My Friends
  • iOS device backup to iCloud

If you want the above features, you’ll need to associate an Apple ID with the iCloud service. Keep in mind that you don’t need to use the same Apple ID with iCloud that you use to make your iTunes purchases. You can create a new Apple ID just for use with iCloud, if you are sharing a family account for making iTunes purchases, for example.

Also, if you are an existing MobileMe subscriber and aren’t in a hurry to migrate just yet, some of the above services like Bookmarks syncing and Find My iPhone will continue to work through MobileMe on your device running iOS 5, but you will need to consider migrating to iCloud sometime before June 12, 2012.  You don’t have to migrate as part of the iOS 5 upgrade.

Do I need a .me email address for iCloud to work?

The simple answer is no. This may come as a surprise, due to the way Apple has crafted the configuration screens for iCloud. Mail, Contacts, Calendar and Notes are all part of the configuration screen for your iCloud services.  It just so happens that I have an Apple ID that I created some time ago, using a yahoo.com address. I had no problem using this Apple ID to enable iCloud services on an iPhone running iOS 5. This also applies for other third-party email accounts (i.e., Hotmail, (s msft) Gmail, (s goog) etc.), as long as they’re associated with an active Apple ID.

iCloud Setup 1

On the surface, it appears I’m using my Yahoo (s yhoo) account with iCloud. But I’m not. It just so happens that the ‘name’ I decided to use with this particular Apple ID is the  as the name of my Yahoo account.

The only two iCloud services that you can’t turn on with a non-Me.com iCloud account are Mail and Notes. All other iCloud services should work fine.

iCloud Setup 2

Every time you try to turn on Mail or Notes, when using a non-Me.com Apple ID, you’ll be prompted to create a Me.com email address. If you want to access Yahoo (or other third-party) mail on your phone, add it as a separate account under Mail, Contacts, Calendars in Settings, as I’ve done above. You can also use your non-Me.com ID for FaceTime and iMessages, too.

One Apple ID for iCloud, another for iTunes

You aren’t forced to use the same Apple ID for iCloud and the iTunes Store on the same device. Not having to do this is a good thing, since Apple does not offer any means of consolidating or merging two Apple IDs into one, so you could lose past purchases if you were forced to use only one identity.

iTunes Setup

Another benefit of this is that you can manage all of your family’s iTunes purchases from one iTunes account.  You can configure several Apple products to all share and use the same iTunes account for the App, iBook and iTunes Stores. In the past, you were allowed an unlimited number of iOS devices, and only five Macs. Now, you’re allowed up to 10 Apple products total for each iTunes account, and that can be any mix of iOS and Mac devices. At the same time, you can use a different Apple ID for iCloud on each family member’s device; plus the head of the family can still use that iTunes Store Apple ID for iCloud, too, if they’d rather keep things simple on their own private device.