iCloud Storage Pricing

Yesterday’s hardware announcements from Google came with some pretty intriguing updates to their software, as well. Chief among them: Google says that Pixel owners will be able to back up their entire photo and video library in full resolution, for free. As far as I’m concerned, that’s huge. Regardless of the misgivings someone — me — may have about giving my entire photo collection to Google, it’s probably one of the most precious libraries of data I have. I never want to lose my photos.

Among all of Apple’s iCloud offerings, iCloud Photo Library has been the most successful for me, and I generally trust that it will remain more secure than Google Photos. It’s one of the few iCloud products that I actually trust, the others being iCloud Keychain and Contacts syncing. However, this peace of mind comes at a price: a price.

Thomas Ricker wrote about iCloud’s storage and pricing for the Verge:

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.

I don’t agree with Ricker’s assertion that iCloud storage fees make these apps not free, nor that Apple is being deceptive by marketing them that way — nobody ever complains that free computer programs are not actually free because their data takes up hard drive space, and it’s possible to use many of these apps without touching iCloud.

I do think that the iCloud storage tiers become increasingly stingy with every passing year. iCloud launched with 5GB of free storage, and it has remained so for five years. Over that same time period, Apple has introduced tiered storage upgrades that are priced more competitively than they used to be, but I bet most Apple users are still on the free tier and simply tolerate the messages that say “iCloud Storage Full”, particularly when Apple’s online services efforts occasionally feel half-assed.

There are, I think, a few things Apple could do to make iCloud feel like a serious commitment: increase the space allotted at the free tier, exclude iOS device backups from iCloud storage limits, and improve its reliability to Google or Amazon levels. Apple’s executives may put on a brave face when speaking to the press, but if they’re not concerned about iCloud internally, I find that deeply worrying.