The Apple internet revolution we needed didn’t happen. We wanted a unified service that would let us store all our media and personal information in the ether. But we didn’t get it. So forget the fruit stand; we’re going rogue.
The dream is a single service that invisibly shuttles data to and from our phones and computers; streams an infinite jukebox of music and videos to every device we own; stores every photo and video we snap in the cloud. It’s email, texts and voicemails, easily accessed from anywhere or anything. In short, seamless ubiquity of all the things we care about. Apple’s still a long way from getting there. But you can cloudify your life right now and get pretty close to the dream with just a little bit of legwork.
Store everything you care about online
Dropbox is the wet dream of online storage and sync. New users get 2GB of free storage—which you can pump to 10GB by getting your friends to sign up. Dropbox syncs data across multiple computers and devices, and makes it easy to share files with just a couple of clicks. (It’s easy to setup, say, a personal music sharing service between you and a few friends). The file syncing speed and ease-of-use puts iDisk to shame, frankly. Better still, it has mobile apps for all iOS devices and Android, with a BlackBerry app on the way, so you can access files from your smartphone.
Because of the way it syncs files, there’s also a ton of clever ways to use Dropbox, like starting torrents from any computer. Personally, I use it as a replacement for a Docs folder—by saving all of my text files in Dropbox, I can pick up wherever I left from any computer, and never again worry about a computer crash taking out my critical docs. (And with Elements, edit them from my iPhone or iPad too.)
If you’re just looking for raw online storage, Windows Live SkyDrive drops 25GB in your lap for free.
Dump all your photos and videos in the cloud
Flickr is the best way to go for online photo and video storage and sharing. It’s got the most massive community, some of the most extensive tools, and with the recent redesign, looks fresher than ever. Thanks to the huge community, Flickr plugins and apps abound for basically every platform and device, from dedicated upload(e)r apps to iPhoto bolt-ons, and an excellent mobile app for iPhone that can now upload multiple photos in the background. Flickr’s massiveness also means it’s more likely than most to be integrated into other service and devices, like Apple TV, Facebook and other stuff. Free accounts come with 100MB of storage a month, and a pro account with unlimited storage is just $25 a year.
Write and edit notes anywhere
While Dropbox + Elements satisfies most of my requirements for writing anywhere, it’s hard to deny the appeal of Simplenote, which stores plain text notes online, easily accessible from desktops or iPhone/iPad with free apps. Everything is synced quickly and seamlessly. It’s great. (It’s got a better interface Evernote, though you can go that route as well.) Check out Lifehacker’s definitive guide to getting it set up everywhere you could possibly wanna capture text.
Read ebooks on any screen you’ve got
One word: Kindle. Free apps for Mac, PC, Android and iPhone mean you can snag your Kindle books on pretty much anything, anytime you want. The apps sync where you left off, bookmarks and highlights. And it’s the service that seems most likely to be left standing at the end of the great ebook war, so you can breathe (slightly) easier about the fact every new bestseller is wrapped up in DRM.
Consume all the music and video you want
Sadly, Lala is dead, and Apple hasn’t brought back it back as an iTunes that lives in the cloud. Worse, Spotify, the most obvious choice to entirely replace iTunes with a jukebox in the sky—complete with an iPhone app with offline caching—isn’t available in the US. Lifehacker has a handy guide to streaming services. Any totally on-demand service is going to run you $5-$10 a month, but your best bets are Rhapsody or Rdio, which both have millions of songs available for unlimited streaming, and apps for PC, Mac, iPhone and Android. A huge perk of Rhapsody? The iPhone app has local caching for offline playback. If you’re more flexible, there’s always radio-style services like Pandora and Last.FM.
To stream music from your desktop to your phone, though, SubSonic is one of the better ways to go—a $5 app takes out most of the hassle. And, slightly more robust than iTunes’ new(ish) native Home Sharing, MediaRover syncs iTunes libraries across multiple PCs and Macs, even backing up the shared, combined library to a NAS for access by all. (Oh, and it makes for easy access from your Xbox 360 or PS3.)
Video’s slightly trickier. There’s no way to get a complete catalog for any one service, but if you’re going to drop money each month, Netflix is the best bet for a subscription that’ll stream movies to most any screen in your house—iOS devices, Mac, PC, Xbox 360, Blu-ray players, TVs, you name it. It syncs where you last left off in a movie, so you start watching on your TV and pick up on an iPad. And hey! You can also get one of those shiny discs in the mail each month, if you want.
Stream video to an iPad or iPhone? AirVideo makes it easy, and supports multiple formats, like MKV and Divx.
Access your contacts, email, calendars, texts and voicemail anywhere
This might as well be called “the Google Section,” since Google provides the easiest way to frictionlessly sync all of your critical info across multiple devices.
First, you’ll wanna set up Gmail and calendar sync with your PC or Mac. Fortunately, syncing Google contacts with the Mac address book is easy—it’s just a checkbox under Accounts in Preferences. Here’s how to set it up in Outlook.
Google Sync for Mobile uses Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync to sync mail, contacts and calendars from your Google account with full over-the-air push powers. The catch is that it becomes your master contact list, erasing the rest of them from the phone, so make sure they’re all uploaded to your Google account. (On the plus side, Google Contacts sucks a lot less than it used to.)
You can sync additional calendars from other accounts by setting them as CalDAV accounts (which works for iCal, or any other app with CalDAV support as well). Same goes for email—just set them as a standard IMAP account, which keeps your email in sync across multiple devices. Oh, and if you just want push email notifications without going through this mess, the Google iPhone app will let you know when new emails arrive for a single account.
Google Voice, now open to everyone, is the magic that’ll let you access your voicemails and text messages from any phone (with a decent browser) or desktop. And, now you can make free calls with your Google Voice number from Gmail (in addition to these 10 tricks from Lifehacker).
Sync your bookmarks to everything with a web browser
The free program Xmarks will sync your bookmarks across multiple browsers and computers—though you’ll have to use iTunes to push them down to your iPhone. (There’s also Firefox Sync for Mozilla diehards.)
Command your computer from anywhere
Vee. Enn. See. If you wanna control your computer from anywhere, accessing files, starting up torrents or whatever else you could possibly wanna do by remote controlling your home computer, VNC is the way to go. Just follow this handy how-to guide.
It takes way more effort than it should to perfectly live your life where everything’s connected, but once everything’s tied together, it’s…comforting.
Awesome article, I bookmarked this one b/c there are definitely things I want to access from afar! However a word to the wise: if you’re going to upload your life to the cloud, please try to anonymise yourself a little, or at the very least be selective in what you put up there. I love google as much as the next girl but I hardly expect them or the other myriad of services written here to protect my rights. Also, in this tough economic time when many of us are/will be looking for work, be aware that companies DO look you up and aren’t stupid about it either. All I’m saying is, when in doubt, allow common sense to prevail. 🙂