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iCloud complete guide

We run you through all the details of iCloud -- Apple's rather exciting pantheon of cloud storage services. Read on to learn how your music, photos and ebooks will sync across multiple devices...

Steve Jobs took to the stage today to talk about Apple's newest service, iCloud. It stores your content online and pushes it to all your other Apple devices -- and wonderfully it's free.

It's a bold stab at encouraging people who own one Apple device to buy into a whole Apple-flavoured ecosystem. But what exactly does it offer? Read our complete guide for the skinny.

Calendar, Contacts and Mail

Contacts, Calendars and Mail might be the less exciting apps on your iPhone, but they're important! iCloud will back up all the info from these three apps, and push the information wirelessly down to other Apple devices you own. Apps and iBooks you've downloaded or purchased already will be stored too, so you can download them again on your other bits of Apple kit.

Using iCloud you'll also be able to back up your whole iOS device wirelessly, once a day. Not only does that free you from the horrifying tyranny of iTunes on the desktop, but it means you can stop worrying about dropping your iPad in the toilet, or having your iPhone nicked -- you can restore your whole mobile over the air.

You'll get 4GB of storage for your Mail, Contacts and Calendars. That's a healthy pasture of virtual real estate, but Google offers over 7GB of storage for Gmail accounts. Apple's also trying to change the way people use its photo, music and ebook apps.

Photo Stream

One of the more exciting prospects of iCloud is the ability to store all your photos online, and have them pushed to all your Apple devices. If you took some snaps on your iPhone out and about, for instance, you'd find those photos popping up on your iPad when you got home. It's also peace of mind -- nobody likes backing up photos, but it's great to have those precious, precious memories and hilarious snaps of your pets in Santa hats backed up online.

Apple's only really going to store your photos for syncing purposes. It'll store your last 1,000 photos on iOS devices -- all your photos if you're using a Mac, and it stores photos for 30 days since they've been taken. If you want to keep a photo permanently, you can drag it into an album.

Photo storage only works over Wi-Fi, so you'll need to be at home or in a hotspot to cloudify your photos.

Music

iCloud lets you download songs you've purchased from iTunes on other Apple devices, for no additional cost, on up to 10 devices. And if you want, you can have songs you purchase on one device automatically pushed to your other Apple machines.

It all happens via a new tab that's visible from the iTunes app on iOS devices. It shows music you've purchased before in a list, so you can re-download it. That list will be the same across all devices that use your Apple ID.

Matchmaking

iTunes Match is a whole new ballgame. If you've got music on your iTunes you didn't download from the iTunes store, and it matches (see what they did there?) music in Apple's vast music library, you can have those tracks downloaded on to your other Apple devices. It'll probably work with pirated MP3s too.

The privilege will cost you, however -- it's $25 per year to subscribe to iTunes Match, and it's US-only for now.

iBooks

Books you've purchased using Apple's iBook's ebook reader will be pushed to your other devices, and they'll even remember which page you were on. Jolly good. 

To start using iCloud, all you'll need is an Apple ID and password, which is something you'll assign yourself when you turn your Apple device on for the first time. It looks like a great all-round offering, and the fact it's free will certainly put the willies up Apple's competitors.

We've seen many of these features before on Android devices, but can Apple do a better job than Google of persuading people to actually use them? We'll let you know more info as soon as we have it, but in the meantime let us know what you think of this radical service overhaul in the comments, or on our spiffy Facebook page.