Messages in iCloud arrives with iOS 11.4, here’s how it works

Messages in iCloud is finally here as part of this week’s iOS 11.4 release, but the long-awaited feature isn’t totally straightforward without a little help. Turning it on, understanding how it works everywhere, saving important messages, and knowing what benefits it actually offers aren’t made obvious by Apple, but we’ve got it figured out for you:

How to turn on Messages in iCloud

During the iOS 11.4 beta cycle, Apple included a prompt to opt-in to Messages in iCloud with a special splash screen and an activate button. With the official release of iOS 11.4, however, many readers are reporting various experiences with Messages in iCloud being activated.

If you want to be certain that Messages in iCloud is turned on, follow these steps:

  1. Update your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to iOS 11.4 or later
  2. Enable two-factor authentication if disabled
  3. Open Settings app
  4. Tap [Your Name] or Sign in to iCloud
  5. Tap iCloud
  6. Check that Messages is toggled on (green capsule background with round slider on right)

What does Messages in iCloud do?

Messages in iCloud makes messaging work more like modern email. If you receive a message on one device, it shows up everywhere for that account. If you delete a message on one device, it goes away on (almost) every device.

That means you can delete a message thread on your iPhone and it will go away on your iPad automatically without needing to delete the thread in both places.

That also means you’ll want to be more cautious about deleting important messages going forward as they will go away on all devices. Apple now includes a confirmation prompt when deleting entire threads of messages, but individual messages don’t have this prompt.

Another benefit is that once enabled, your old messages will appear on new devices using your iCloud account when setting up as new. Prior to iOS 11.4 and Messages in iCloud, messages only carried over after backing up an old device and restoring a new device from that backup.

You can still use the old method, but Messages in iCloud is a much more modern approach — assuming the feature works well.

Does Messages in iCloud cost money?

Technically no, but you probably need to pay up to use it anyway. Messages in iCloud uses iCloud storage and Apple gives each account 5GB free, but large message libraries with lots of attachments like photos and videos will quickly exceed that 5GB limit — especially if you use iCloud storage for other purposes.

But Messages already used iCloud storage if you included it in your iCloud backup (you have to opt out to exclude it) so if you can back up your device to iCloud, you should be able to use Messages in iCloud without a change.

Unless you actively delete older messages and attachments, most people will probably need to upgrade iCloud storage to a paid tier to use Messages in iCloud. Apple currently offers three upgraded plans in the United States:

  • 50GB: $0.99
  • 200GB: $2.99
  • 2TB: $9.99

You can see current and international plans here. The good news is iCloud storage can be used for iCloud backups, iCloud Photo Library, iCloud Drive, and other purposes beyond Messages in iCloud if you do pay.

Does Messages in iCloud work on Apple Watch and Mac?

Apple describes Messages in iCloud as working everywhere, but there are a few exceptions that aren’t obvious without experience.

iOS: Messages in iCloud works across all iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches with iOS 11.4 using the same iCloud account when the feature is turned on.

macOS: Messages in iCloud works on Macs running macOS High Sierra or later starting with macOS 10.13.5. As of this writing, macOS 10.13.4 is the latest public release, however, with macOS 10.13.5 currently in developer and public beta. A public release is expected shortly. [June 1: macOS 10.13.5 is now available.]

watchOS: Messages in iCloud does not work with Apple Watch for now. If you delete a message from your iPhone with Messages in iCloud enabled, the message will still be present on Apple Watch. If you delete a message on Apple Watch, it will still be present on iPhone.

iCloud․com: Messages in iCloud keeps your new and old messages in sync between devices, but it doesn’t give you access from the iCloud web portal, Android, or other platforms.


Still looking for answers? Check out Apple’s support document here and leave us a comment with questions!

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Avatar for Zac Hall Zac Hall

Zac covers Apple news for 9to5Mac and hosts the 9to5Mac Happy Hour and 9to5Mac Watch Time podcasts.