February 29, 2024

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

Ever try iCloud for Windows and hated it? Yep, join the club. But you may want to try it again. Apple has finally transformed the much-maligned app into a more usable and friendly program. Available in the Microsoft Store, the new iCloud for Windows comes with a complete redesign, new features, and bug fixes.

Beyond the redesign, the latest version offers an easier setup process with prompts to guide you each step of the way. It now supports physical security keys for a more secure sign-in. And thankfully, you won’t get as many of those sign-in prompts as you did in the past.

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You’re now able to see the syncing status of your iCloud content. In addition, Apple promises improvements to photo syncing and fixes for contact and calendar syncing with Outlook. The Outlook syncing, however, supposedly requires Windows 11 version 22H2 or later.

The latest features and improvements are designed to fix an app that for years has been clunky, confusing, and buggy. Past versions of the app have received a slew of one-star ratings in the Microsoft Store. And that’s because you’re using a Windows PC and not a Mac.

Mac owners can easily sync their online iCloud content using a convenient and simple built-in MacOS feature. But Windows users have faced challenges in this process. With no iCloud syncing tool built into Windows, your only option has been the iCloud for Windows app. And this always felt like an app that Apple threw together haphazardly just to placate Windows users.

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For those of you who haven’t yet tried iCloud for Windows, the app lets you sync specific items stored in iCloud online to your Windows PC. In that vein, it offers several key features.

You can access and view your synced iCloud photos in the Microsoft Photos app for Windows 11. You can keep your photos up to date across your PC, iPhone, and iPad. Plus, you’re able to create shared albums that other people can view.

If you enable iCloud Drive, you can see and access your online folders and files directly in File Explorer. You’re also able to share files and automatically sync any changes to your files.

The app lets you sign into websites using credentials you’ve stored in iCloud Keychain. You can access all your passwords and create new ones in the iCloud Passwords app, which is automatically added when you install iCloud for Windows. The iCloud Passwords extension also works in the desktop versions of Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge. You can even generate verification codes to sign into websites.

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And there’s more. You’re able to view your iCloud calendars and contacts directly in Microsoft Outlook. And you can sync your bookmarks from Safari with the iCloud bookmarks extension in Chrome, Edge, or Firefox.

If you already have a previous version of iCloud for Windows, the new version will automatically be installed the next time you open the app. If you don’t yet have it, head to its Microsoft Store page to download and install it.

After launching the app and signing in the first time, the setup screens will ask you which content you wish to sync. You can opt to sync your iCloud photos to the Microsoft Photos app, sync iCloud Drive to File Explorer, sync your passwords in iCloud Keychain, sync your Safari bookmarks, and sync your iCloud calendars and contacts with Outlook.

After the setup is complete, you’re placed at the newly-redesigned iCloud for Windows screen. Here, you can clearly see the syncing status of each type of content and choose which ones to turn on or off. The screen also shows you how much total space you’ve used in iCloud and how much is free.

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Is the new iCloud for Windows a dramatic improvement over its predecessor? A few people chiming in at the Microsoft Store have complained of syncing problems and other glitches. But an equal number have given the overhaul five-star ratings. Some reports say the app overall works better in Windows 11 than in Windows 10, especially the photo, contacts, and calendar syncing.

In my testing, the app ran smoothly in Windows 11 with no hiccups. It did crash once in Windows 10 when I was trying to sync my iCloud photos, but otherwise, it’s been behaving. At the very least, it already seems like a decided improvement over the old version.