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Apple, everyone needs more free iCloud storage

Apple, everyone needs more free iCloud storage


Giving students 200GB is a good start, but consumers have been stuck with 5GB since 2011

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During yesterday’s education-focused event that saw the introduction of a new iPad, Apple executive Greg Joswiak revealed that the company is upgrading the amount of free iCloud storage given to students. Previously, managed student accounts had the same 5GB as regular consumers, but now, Apple is raising that limit to a much more spacious 200GB. This applies to students who have Apple IDs provided and administered by their school. 

That’s a great thing! Apple is displaying a focused, determined approach to providing educators with powerful new hardware and improved classroom software and services. 200GB is an enormous amount of runway for collaboration and creation among students.

But why shouldn’t people shelling out hundreds of dollars for an iPhone or iPad have a similar, worry-free chunk of storage in the cloud for their photos, documents, message history, and other precious content? Apple charges consumers $2.99 per month for that same 200GB allotment (which can be shared between family members), so you’d be paying just shy of $36 annually. That’s not much, but it continues to feel like ill-disguised penny pinching from the world’s biggest and richest tech company. In January, John Gruber said the included allotment of 5GB “seems ridiculous” when it comes alongside a 64GB device. If you’ve got a 256GB iPhone or 512GB iPad, it becomes even more unreasonable.

Apple has stuck with 5GB of free cloud storage since iCloud was introduced nearly seven years ago.
Apple has stuck with 5GB of free cloud storage since iCloud was introduced nearly seven years ago.

The 5GB limit has been in place since Apple unveiled iCloud at WWDC 2011. It’s been almost seven years! That’s too long to be stuck in place, and it’s reminiscent of the way Apple dragged its feet in moving away from 16GB iPhones. It eventually happened, but long after many of us had determined 16GB to be an unworkable amount of space.

A lot of people (most?) buy the base-level iPhone, so Apple’s decision on how much storage goes inside is a critical choice. And the same holds true for iCloud; I’d wager that most customers never upgrade from the free tier. They just won’t give in, whether it’s out of principle or because they’re sensibly trying to avoid yet another monthly charge in their lives.

5GB makes things way more difficult for those people than they should be. Fundamental tasks like backing up your device become cumbersome chores. If you never upgrade, you’re likely going to have a worse time using an iPhone. Full stop. It surprises me that Apple continues to let that fly.

Also disappointing is that the paid tiers have continued to increase in capacity over time, but the free allotment hasn't budged even once.

And despite Apple’s best efforts (like the video above) to explain how you can manage iCloud, customers are inevitably confused, frustrated, and annoyed when they hit the ceiling. It usually happens well before they approach the limits of their iPhone or iPad’s physical storage, and that disconnect between the two only makes things more irritating.

The most effective ad that Google has ever made for Google Photos was aimed at the dread of seeing Apple’s “not enough storage” message pop up on your iPhone’s screen. It works because it’s a thing that millions of people have experienced. Joanna Stern likens the message to a ransom note; you’d better pay up if you want to keep all that data safe.

Apple’s ideal scenario involves you continuing through those prompts and upgrading to a higher tier of monthly iCloud space in seconds. And sure, maybe that’s an inevitability if you’re storing years of photos in the cloud. Apple has no obligation to give you a free digital locker for everything. Buying an expensive gadget doesn’t somehow make us entitled to that. But people are hitting this wall way, way too soon in their experience with an iPhone or iPad.

For context, let’s look at what you get on Android:

Google: 15GB of free cloud storage with Google Drive, unlimited photo backup with Google Photos at “optimized” quality. 100GB for $1.99 / month, 1TB for $9.99 / month, or 10TB for $99.99 / month.

Samsung: Samsung Cloud, the iCloud equivalent for Galaxy S and Note smartphones, also offers 15GB of storage to start out. 50GB is $0.99 / month, and 200GB matches Apple’s monthly price of $2.99.

So 15GB is the baseline for Apple’s competitors. That still feels insufficient, but it’s a big enough increase to make a difference when it might count.

I’m hopeful yesterday’s announcement for schools was a precursor to an increase in iCloud storage for everyone at WWDC in June. Apple is long overdue to raise it up to an amount that’s actually helpful for the people storing their lives and data on an iPhone. 200GB is certainly overkill for most. At the bare minimum, I think Apple should match the competition. But I’d love to see the company increase free iCloud storage to 50GB, which currently costs $0.99 / month. That would be a substantial improvement and help make device backups and putting more photos in the cloud much less stressful. Keep charging for people who want hundreds of gigabytes or a terabyte of space, sure. Apple’s services division is turning into a money-making machine, and iCloud upgrades certainly factor into that.

But the bigger the free number ultimately is, the better. Customers who’ve just handed over their hard-earned money for an iPhone should be getting it anyway. We talk about iMessage, FaceTime, and other software as powerful ways of locking consumers into Apple’s ecosystem. But I can think of another way to accomplish that: give customers enough free iCloud storage that the thought of one day switching to something else and moving out of Apple’s cloud would seem hopelessly daunting.

Make it more essential and less hassle. Seems easy. What’s taking so long?