First Click: OK Google, why is iCloud storage so expensive?

October 5th, 2016


I’m feeling like a chump after yesterday’s Google event. I currently pay Apple $2.99 each month in return for 200GB of iCloud storage — space mostly allocated to my iCloud Photos library. But my free space recently dropped to zero after upgrading all my devices to iOS 10 and macOS Sierra. Now my iPhone is complaining that it can’t backup my data unless I upgrade my storage plan. The next tier is 1TB for $9.99 a month, or $120 a year. Google Pixel owners, meanwhile, receive free unlimited Google Photos storage at original picture and 4k video quality. Apple’s telling me to pay up or else and it feels like extortion.

Most of the time I’m happy to have gone all-in on Apple. But I feel backed into a corner when it comes to paying for even more iCloud storage when it’s necessitated by Apple’s increasingly cloud-centric app bundles. See, the best way to live inside of the Apple ecosystem is to use the company’s free (as it loves to remind us) apps. But Apple caps its free iCloud storage tier at a paltry 5GB — capacity that’s quickly filled with Live Photos, iOS app data, 4k video, GIFs everyone’s sending you in the new iMessages; and critically, iOS device backups. So in reality, Apple’s apps are not free — Apple charges you for them indirectly by requiring you to purchase more and more storage over time.

Some call this approach cheeky, but I'd call it deceptive in 2016. Apple sells you on a premium experience that’s undercut by the menial reality of its storage plans. It’s like buying a Rolex and then being required to buy a plastic bag just to carry it out of the store.

Apple likes touting its new iCloud Drive sync feature that makes all your desktop files accessible from your Macs and iOS devices. Apple even asks you to enable it when upgrading to Sierra. Trouble is, my desktop, like yours perhaps, is my workspace, containing hundreds of screenshots, drafts, photos, and videos. I have so many files on my iMac’s desktop that Sierra prompted me to purchase more storage during installation. "Ugh!" I thought, feeling like a dolt for believing my free OS upgrade wouldn't cost anything. I decided not to pay so I'm currently not able to use this feature.

I don’t mind paying for storage as long as it’s reasonably priced, but Apple’s 1TB pricing is not reasonable, especially when the iPhone’s camera is a major selling point and iCloud Photos is the culprit maxing out everyone's storage plans.

Apple charges $9.99 per month for 1TB of iCloud storage, or roughly $120 per year. Compare that to Amazon, where for $4.99 per month you get unlimited storage. Hell, Amazon Prime subscribers ($99 per year) get free unlimited photo storage as just one of many membership perks. Microsoft’s 1TB OneDrive plan costs only $6.99 per month and you get full access to the Office 365 suite of apps.

Google is doing exactly what Apple should be doing

Google, meanwhile, is doing exactly what Apple should be doing. People who buy Google’s new Pixel phones are given free unlimited Google Photos storage to host all their original photographs and 4k video. For Google it’s a fair trade, it gets to scrub your photos for anonymous data that will ultimately help it sell better ads, and Pixel owners never have to worry about seeing a "storage is full" message when uploading their imagery. Apple’s not making money from ads like Google, but it definitely wants the world to think iPhone when deciding what camera to buy next.

Dropbox comes close to Apple’s exorbitant pricing model but Dropbox is in the business of selling cloud storage. Even then, 1TB Dropbox Pro subscriptions cost $99.99 per year. Just think about that for a second; Apple charges more than Dropbox even though iCloud storage is a fundamental requirement for the features Apple promotes to help drive hardware sales. And in case it wasn’t obvious to you by now, Apple still makes its money by selling hardware.

It’s bad enough that iCloud’s storage pricing hurts Apple’s most loyal customers — people who want to synchronize their data across multiple iOS, macOS, tvOS, and watchOS devices and then share it with like-minded friends and family. But the pricing also inhibits new customers from experiencing Apple devices to their fullest potential because the owners are reluctant to pay for something they were told was free.

In fairness, Apple has been lowering its iCloud Storage rates over the years. Apple introduced the 1TB tier in September of 2014 for $19.99 per month which dropped to the current $9.99 rate in September of 2015. September 2016 has come and gone and all we got was a new $19.99 2TB tier. In other words, there's no reason to expect a discount anytime soon.

Am I mad enough about my storage predicament to buy a new Pixel? No. But that new Google Home AI assistant sure looks appealing and it’s priced about the same as an annual 1TB iCloud storage subscription. And Google Home’s a gateway drug if I’ve ever seen one, that would certainly lead me to buy a Chromecast Ultra, and then a Google TV, and probably a Google Wifi, and then an Android…

Is that really what you want Apple?

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