How to use iCloud with Windows


If you have an Apple ID, you can use iCloud with Windows, which means you can access your email, videos, photos, calendars, bookmarks, files and other iCloud data from your PC – useful when you’re at your desk or traveling without an Apple device, or if you are inside Boot Camp on your Mac.

How to use iCloud with Windows

There are two ways to use iCloud with Windows: via a browser or using a dedicated application called iCloud for Windows, but there are differences between the two:

The browser

On the surface, the most straightforward approach to using iCloud with Windows systems might appear to be accessing your iCloud account from your favorite web browser.

The app

That’s great up to a point, but to unlock the power of sync across all the devices you have logged into your iCloud account, including your Windows systems, it is far better to download and install Apple’s iCloud for Windows software on your PC. The software is available for free download directly from Microsoft’s app store.

Once installed and set up, you’ll be able to use iCloud to get to all your photos, documents and bookmarks on your Windows PC to update automatically across all your Apple devices, and vice versa, which is what you get when you use iCloud for Windows

Borrowed from One Drive

The most recently published version of iCloud for Windows uses Microsoft’s Cloud Files API, (One Drive’s Files On Demand feature) which makes the solution more robust and faster.

This means new assets will swiftly sync across all your devices, “enabling users to be more productive offline on mobile devices and quickly share files on iOS,” according to Microsoft Engineering General Manager Giorgio Sardo. In part, this is because the system is smart enough to just download a “breadcrumb” (around 1k in size) of each of your files, downloading the full item on request.

How does iCloud Drive work?

If you already use iCloud Drive, you’ll be familiar with what it does. If not, then the easiest way to understand the feature is as online storage for all the files and projects you are working on. Anything you save into any folder of the iCloud Drive will sync across all your Apple ID devices (it’s very like Dropbox in this). You will also be able to access items saved to iCloud Drive on your Mac, iPhone, or iPad within this folder on your PC using File Explorer. Fully searchable, the service also lets you share your files with others.

How do I access iCloud using a browser?

At those times when it makes sense to use the browser to access your iCloud data — such as when travelling and using a borrowed machine.  It’s easy: just navigate to using your browser and log in using your Apple ID and password. 

In a neat touch, any active Reminders you might have will appear at the top of the iCloud main page when you log in. You’ll also find an icon-based set of links to take you to your  iCloud apps and services, including your iCloud Drive.

  • Mail
  • Contacts
  • Calendar
  • Photos
  • iCloud Drive
  • Notes
  • Reminders
  • Find iPhone
  • Account Settings

You’ll also find fully functional online versions of Pages, Numbers and Keynote, which you can use to create documents compatible with both Mac and PC. You may also find News Publisher, if you have enabled that app.

NB: There are a small number of useful tasks you can only achieve using iCloud via your browser, such as creating rules to help improve email management across all your systems.

Accessing iCloud using a browser is especially useful on borrowed machines, during emergencies, while visiting Internet cafes or even using a machine you don’t own that you happen to have access to. Just remember to log out.

Of course, the beauty of iCloud is its ability to sync across all your devices, but to sync from a Windows system you need to install iCloud for Windows.

How to set up iCloud for Windows

Apple’s iCloud for Windows software should install automatically once downloaded. If it does not, open File Explorer, launch iCloud Setup and restart your PC. 

Setting up the app will create iCloud Photos and iCloud Drive folders on your Windows 10 device. These will sync with your iCloud account and connected devices, and should automatically appear in File Explorer’s Quick Access menu.

What are the system requirements?

The current iteration of iCloud for Windows requires that you are running at least Windows 10 and that you re signed into your Microsoft account. You’ll also need Outlook and a web browser (Microsoft Edge, Firefox, Chrome).

If you use Windows 7 or Windows 8, you can download compatible versions of iCloud for Windows directly from the Apple website. (Some iCloud services might work differently, as detailed here.)

Once the software is installed and open, you’ll be asked to enter your Apple ID to sign into iCloud, and you’ll then need to choose which iCloud features you want to use. To do this, you’ll be shown a window in which you check or uncheck each feature:

  • iCloud Drive,
  • Photos & videos, including sharing albums of images and videos.
  • Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Tasks
  • Bookmarks.

As you enable each of these categories, iCloud for Windows will create folders for those categories in File Explorer, so you can dive in to access or add to your iCloud content. You can also share and collaborate on files held in your iCloud Drive from within File Explorer, with edits synced across your devices.

Here is how to use each of these features:

How does iCloud Photos work?

When enabled, iCloud for Windows creates an iCloud Photos folder in File Explorer. Any images of videos you add to this folder will then be synced across all the devices you own that logged into this Apple ID. You can share galleries of images using iCloud Photo Sharing.

iCloud for Windows will keep lightweight copies of your images on your PC, only downloading full-res versions on request.

When you set yourself up with iCloud for Windows you’ll see an ‘Options’ item appear beside Photos. Tap this and you’ll find the following choices:

  • iCloud Photo Library: Enable this and any images/videos saved to the iCloud Photos folder on your Windows device will be stored in iCloud. You can also change which folders are used for photo and video sync.
  • My Photo Stream: Downloads all your most recent images from your devices to your Windows system.
  • Download new photos and videos to my PC: This option appears when you enable iCloud Photo Library, and is self explanatory.
  • Keep high-efficiency originals if available: Check this if you have plenty of drive space.
  • Upload new photos and videos from my PC: Disable this if you only want to view items captured by your other iCloud devices.
  • iCloud Photo Sharing: You can view items shared with you by others.

Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Tasks and Bookmarks

The final selection of iCloud items you can access using Windows. Once you enable this all your iCloud mail (typically sent to [email protected]) will be made available in the folder pane on Outlook. You’ll also find all your other calendaring data there, and bookmarks will be made available through your browser.

Apple recently made an extension available for the Chrome browser on Windows to ensure it remains compatible with iCloud and iCloud for Windows. Once the new version is installed, users should find a new “Passwords” section in the app with an iCloud Keychain logo.

Everything else

If you have any problems with these features, please refer to Apple’s extensive Support pages that should help you resolve them. (Don’t forget, you won’t receive email if you failed to create an iCloud email address when setting up your Apple ID).

There are some iCloud services that just don’t work on Windows: Find My iPhone, Back to My Mac, Backup, Notes and Reading List. All these require deeper OS integration, though in the case of Find My iPhone you will be able to track lost devices using iCloud in your browser.

However, if you have valuable data that you want to sync between your Macs, iOS devices and Windows PC, iCloud for Windows should help – though that 5GB of storage Apple supplies remains miserly at best.

(Find out more on how to synchronize iCloud — and what to do when it won’t sync.)

Can I use a Managed Apple ID?

Unfortunately, iCloud for Windows isn’t yet supported if you use a Managed Apple ID.

More useful iCloud tips

Here is a short collection of what may be useful tips for iCloud users on any platform, not just Windows:

Got a story? Please drop me a line via Twitter and let me know. I’d like it if you chose to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know about new articles I publish and reports I find.

Previous Story

Apple’s grip on retail tech is strengthening

Next Story

Adobe brings AI image generation to Acrobat