icloud

The Apple ecosystem is a large part of why I stick to an all-Apple line-up for my laptops, tablet and phone. iCloud is key to that, of course, providing seamless backup and syncing between devices.

Whether it’s my calendar, contacts, reminders, notes, ebooks or Safari bookmarks, all are available on all devices within a minute or two of me updating any of them. Documents I create in Pages, Numbers or Keynote are again available from any of my devices providing I choose to store them on iCloud. As I pay the extra for iTunes Match, I’m also able to stream any of my music from any device.

In some respects, Apple clearly takes the cloud seriously. It has invested massively in expanding its network of data centers, including a $1B investment in Reno, expansion in Maiden and new data centers as far afield as Hong Kong and the Netherlands. Yet, central as it is to the ecosystem, iCloud still feels a bit like it deserves the tag Steve Jobs famously applied to Apple TV: a hobby

It’s partly that the near-instantaneous, transparent sync sometimes isn’t. There are times when I’ve updated a Note on my Mac and the copy on my iPad remains unchanged even a day later, and photos taken on my iPhone that don’t appear in Photostream on my Mac for a day or more.

There have also been occasions when I’ve edited a note on my iPad when it’s without net access (such as on a plane without wifi) and, when it regains net access on landing, instead of updating the cloud version of the note, it creates a second one with the same heading but different content. Here’s an example:

notes

I’ve had similar things happen with calendar appointments when modifying on my phone and viewing on iPad or Mac.

Glitches happen with any technology, of course, but while the type I’ve described are occasional, they happen more frequently than they should. With the ecosystem playing such a central role in driving purchases of iDevices, most people starting with an iPhone and then later buying an iPad or a Mac, fixing them should be a priority. Yet this type of things – reported by others as well as experienced by me – continues happening.

There’s also iWork for iCloud. We understand that things have to be tested internally, then released as betas before they are considered ready for full release, but it still feels odd to me that in 2014 something as simple as making documents available on the web should still be carrying beta labels.

beta

Perhaps most notably of all is the miserly amount of iCloud storage Apple gives us as standard, and the rates it charges to increase that storage. I did a roundup of cloud services last October, and as I noted then, here’s what Apple gives you:

  • 5GB: Free
  • 15 GB: $20/year
  • 25 GB: $40/year
  • 55 GB: $100/year

iCloud was already the most expensive service then, but Google Drive has since offered us even more for our money:

  • 15GB: Free
  • 100GB: $24/year
  • 1TB: $120/year

Google-Drive1

So, for $120 a year, we can have 1TB with Google Drive, or 55GB (5.5 percent of the space) plus twenty bucks in our pocket on iCloud. (This isn’t entirely fair to Apple, since Google counts everything against our storage limit and Apple gives us some freebies: the last 1,000 photos in Photostream, and any content purchased from iTunes. But that doesn’t significantly narrow the gap.)

This isn’t just about the Apple tax, where we expect to pay a premium for something better. This, to me, is about signalling the relative importance the two companies place on cloud storage. Google, by matching the SSD capacity of a fully maxed-out MacBook Pro with Retina display, is telling us that cloud storage is a serious, practical option. Somewhere we can store most of our documents. And if 1TB isn’t enough, Google allows us to buy cloud storage plans right the way up to 30TB (at a price, of course).

Apple’s pricing and 55GB maximum is, in contrast, telling us that cloud storage is a nice-to-have. Somewhere we may want to store some of our documents, but not key to the way in which we work. It is, in short, treating it as a hobby.

itunes

Now, the two companies have very different business models, of course. Apple is predominantly a hardware company, and its online services are all designed to sell more iDevices. With Google, it’s the opposite: hardware like Nexus devices and Chromebooks (maybe even Glass) is designed to boost the market for its online services.

For this reason, it’s neither coincidence nor surprise that Google is leading the way in terms of the cloud. But even Apple’s business model is changing. iTunes is a very substantial business in its own right, so while online content sells the hardware, the hardware also sells online content.

To me, it’s time for Apple to up its iCloud game. Place a few more job ads like this one, make the robustness and reliability of iCloud services a major priority, and offer something similar to the storage capacities and pricing of Google Drive. In short, show us that iCloud is a serious product, not just a hobby.

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56 Responses to “Opinion: With all of the new Apple data centers, is it time for iCloud to get serious about storage?”

  1. Pierre Roy says:

    yes, i think apple needs to give you at least 15gb for iWork, iPhoto, iMovie and more file storage.

  2. Exactly. I have 4.8GB of email alone. There’s no space for anything else, not even a backup. However, I don’t feel like I should have to pay for another 5GB. Maybe it’s because I’ve been using Apple’s services since .mac and those 20GBs we had spoiled me. I don’t want to move away from Apple’s services, so I’m between a rock and a hard place. I might have to bite the bullet and just pay it.

  3. It needs to be 15gb free. I can’t tell you how many family members are just using all there space on photos and can’t even update their OS or back up anymore.

  4. I have to use GDrive to back up my computer… I’d rather not have to do that. I wish everything could go through iCloud.

  5. danbridgland says:

    The iCloud price points are just not competitive. Granted many people need nothing more than the free 5GB, but those of us who do are heavily penalised for using Apple’s iCloud at the above prove points compared with all the other major cloud storage players in the market.

    I for one am pinning my hopes on a WWDC iCloud storage bump.

    • danbridgland says:

      Especially for those of us with multiple devices.

    • I can’t believe how many people don’t get Apple. It’s a paid ecosystem and is the best by far, if you don’t like it use another one.
      @benlovejoy, why you guys are always messing Apple with Google? Stop writing this shit about Google services, use 9to5Google for that. we are not interesting in Google at all, they make profits stolen your private info, how you compare Apple to them? This is 9to5Mac, please stay focus on that.

      Apple business isn’t about stole your private data and sell it for advertising, for that you guys are free to use Google, Gmail, Facebook, and all those crappy services. Nothing is free, don’t be ignorants.

      • danbridgland says:

        By your measure we would not have an AppStore since most apps on the store are not provided by Apple. Learn to embrace competition, it’s ultimately beneficial for all of us.

        That’s the beauty of competition, we are not forced to use one offering, but many of us, myself included, favour the ease of use of iCloud. But the favour wanes in respect of anti-competitive pricing.

        Price often wins a battle.
        Quality always wins the war.

      • mikhailt says:

        It’s more like you don’t get Apple. Apple has more incentives to keep using their iCloud services, it locks us in their ecosystem. The more folks use Apple’s service, the better for the ecosystem. This article is about how Apple can improve their services to stop making us crave going to the other service.

        The more Apple drives us away from their services to other companies because they provide the best bang for the bucks, the easier it will be for folks to switch to them that have the said services integrated.

        Less people using iCloud means more apps going to have to stop offering iCloud sync and offer the other sync service instead. I’ve already seen this happening more and more ion iOS. More iOS developers are intentionally switching away from iCloud because it sucks.

        Google is Apple’s main competitor, why shouldn’t we be comparing them to Apple especially when Apple dropped Google services to provide their own services? Apple’s Maps service sucks because Google Maps provides the best mapping data that doesn’t often get people lost. Even Apple confirmed and apologized for it.

        Also, storage/bandwidth costs are dropping every year for carrying traffic. Apple is earning more profit from the iCloud services while intentionally pissing us off and making us think about using a different service.

        I’ve already seen more people using Google Drive and OneDrive and demanding those services in many iOS apps.

      • If you guys want more GBs, just paid for them, easy. If you don’t, just use Google.

        You may not be aware of how many billions are gained for free accounts traded in marketing and advertising campaigns. This is NOT the Apple business model.

        Dear mikhailt, I’ve seen more people using Windows Vista than OSX, and also seen more flies eating shit, so what’s your point? Please, just leave Apple and go to Google, nothing will stop you.

      • rafalb177 says:

        Absolutely. Apple sell hardware and software along with it, Google sells your private data and creates more and more ways to snatch it from people.

  6. Today i have some math and here is results:

    iCloud have “forever” shared photostreams. One shared photostream can have maximum 5000 photos. One user can have up to 100 shared photostreams. If we (1 photo with size 2Mb * 5000 * 100) / 1024 = 976Gb. Can we say that actually Apple give 1 Tb per one iCloud account?!

  7. ziongpham says:

    I’m more worried about reliability off iCloud.

  8. Apple lacks the ability to create a truly cloud experience with iCloud. I own a Mac Pro, iPad Air, iPhone 5s and a MacBook Pro and I used Microsoft OneDrive to sync all my files to my devices. I have 150GB of OneDrive storage space all free. They need to get this right.

  9. I use the free service. I don’t feel like paying for such minimal storage.
    I CANNOT use iMovie Trailers or iMovie Theater (can’t remember what it is called) as with HD videos that would cost me quite a bit. I suppose Apple really wants iMovie to just be “trailers” or mini-clips but I like to make 20-30 minute movies…in HD…yikes.

    I feel the new data centers are more for the AppleTV and streaming music/movies/etc. it would be nice for Apple to set a new standard with Cloud storage like they did with the cost of the OS and with the FREE apps they now include.

    and when you have multiple devices it would be nice for each to have a certain cloud amount if the DON’T do a FREE Cloud.

  10. Kunal Dagli says:

    “This isn’t entirely fair to Apple, since Google counts everything against our storage limit and Apple gives us some freebies: the last 1,000 photos in Photostream, and any content purchased from iTunes.”

    Google offers unlimited free photo storage (at 2048x2048px) and any content you buy from Google Play, to my knowledge, doesn’t count against your storage limit.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      Sure, but that’s only a 4MP image. None of today’s smartphone cameras have resolution that low.

      • Google resizes the image for you, you simply sync your phone to Google+. If you want larger, then you upload a separate file that goes against your storage. But honestly, there’s no reason to have EVERY single phone pic you take at max resolution. 2048 on the long side is larger than anything you’d ever need if only viewing it online and printing smaller than 8×10.

      • Ben Lovejoy says:

        I think that would echo the mistake I made in the very first days of digital cameras. I had a Sony Maverick that stored photos on 3.5-inch floppy disk! Native resolution was 640×480, but it was kind of fuzzy and looked much better resized to 320×240 which looked fine when laptops were 800×600. A couple of years later, I wished I’d kept the originals …

        Fast forward a couple of years, and 2048×2048 is going to look equally silly.

  11. E-x-a-c-t-l-y. Good points raised about the unreliability, lack of space and the attitude Apple has towards cloud storage. Meanwhile, I think Apple could be revamping its cloud services as well as the storage limit… So let’s wait till ‘the Right time’.

  12. “providing seamless backup and syncing between devices”
    I don’t find it seamless especially in calendar. All my operating systems are up to date but events are not syncing.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      If they’re not syncing at all, make sure you’re looking at the same calendar on all devices. It’s easy these days to end up with multiple calendars and be looking at different ones on different devices, especially if you started out with the Google Calendar. Don’t ask me how I know …

  13. I think Apple made a massive miscalculation when they changed from .Mac to MobileMe and then iCloud. I get they were trying to make it appear it was not longer a desktop centric product, but what was lost in these transitions has made the whole suite of products useless to me.

    iDisk is a big one. I love iDisk and used it a lot. I liked being able to manage my files on my own. Domain hosting was lost. Family Plans went away. And they cut the number of email aliases from 5 to 3. I miss the suite of services being paid for and getting premium service and support, too.

    Also, I have 2 iPads and an iPhone. I run through storage very quickly

    I’ve actually started pulling away from iCloud. If all of my iTunes purchases weren’t tied to that account, I would never use is again. I forward the email to Google, I use Google Drive and pay for 1TB, I use Google Docs because I never know when Apple is going to pull another feature from the app that I use. I try to never use stuff that saves to the cloud because it is inconsistent.

    Apple not only needs to get serious about storage, it needs to get serious about controls and features. Hell, it needs to get serious about the whole iCloud suite – not just stuffing in feature buzz words. They need to look at how it was in 2007 and see how premium features add value, not just keeping up with Google.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      Yes, I too miss iDisk. I understand it’s all part of Apple’s determination to hide the file-system, and I understand the thinking behind that, but some of us like file-systems …

      • The problem is that they still haven’t shown how to manage files… without a file system.
        And looking at how much time has passed since the introduction of iCloud, I’m not sure they know what they want to do about that.
        I think that they shouldn’t try to eliminate the file system, just make it a lot easier to use, and I’m waiting for a real super-simple file browser in the next iOS.

      • Ben Lovejoy says:

        I don’t see Apple doing a U-turn on this one, sadly

      • I agree with Alex’s next comment. It doesn’t seem like Apple knows how they’re going to replace the file system. It seems like they’re throwing it against the wall and hoping something will stick for them to move forward with. News flash, it’s not sticking, market share is falling because people like file systems. Until they give us something better, they are really hurting themselves with this crap.

      • J.latham says:

        I think Tags will be the answer. I see a single repository of information without a folder structure but Tags organized by the kind of data.
        Having the ability to put multiple Tags on a single item, such as “work” & “important”, and simply searching by Tags would be a perfect replacement in my mind. Then just show results by the kind of data such as image, audio, spreadsheet, etc. in order of if they are usable by the application your in. Then open this up for 3rd party apps such as Photoshop & Sketch.
        Of course things like app data would be hidden in this type of situation so you don’t have people removing their crucial stuff “on accident”.

    • danbridgland says:

      I too have ventured into other cloud offerings. I will happily say I’ve left Gmail behind me and can’t say I’ve looked back.

      Photo storage makes up the largest chunk of my iCloud storage, as I commented in Ben’s post last year, sadly I’m still on the hunt for a photo sync service as good as iCloud backup. Having tried Dropbox, Box, Flickr – they’ve all failed to sync at some point, ikely because they’re not natively permitted to run in the background. Even iOS 7 background apps die or freeze from time to time, how are you to know when you need to restart them? iCloud does work well in this respect, it’s hard to beat as a backup.

  14. My take on this is:

    – use of Apple’s devices *requires* use of iCloud
    – therefore all (reasonable) uses of iCloud should come *free* with the purchase of the device.

    For instance, the iPhone 64GB costs over $900 in Canada. If I buy one of these every year what is the justification for making me buy storage in the cloud as an “extra”? Is it a premium service or not? If it isn’t, why would I buy a premium phone, with a sub-premium service?

    Even if the free iCloud storage fits my needs for that phone, how stupid/crazy/ridiculous is it, that if I further spend another $700 a year on my yearly iPad, that the free storage isn’t enough to even back up both devices?

    It’s absolutely insane that someone spending $1500 or more a year on premium products, is then tagged for an extra $50 for storage in the cloud. Every single Apple device that I purchase, should have enough cloud associated with it for free, to make it work. Simple.

    • puggsly says:

      First, I agree that Apple needs to up the storage of iCloud and I think it is time to jump to 50GB not 15GB. That said, 5GB may actually backup your current devices, but you might have to adjust your usage. Backups of everything except photos is very small, and if you make iCloud albums you have virtually unlimited photo storage on iCloud (as well as your last 1000).

      But storage in the cloud is only one place Tim Cook is missing the boat. Over 4 years ago Apple introduced the iPad at 16/32/64GB configurations. The graphics were 1024×768 and code was 32bit. There were very few built in applications and most were very small. Today graphics are 4X and we are using 64bit code. Apple gives away 2.5GB of additional apps and they still sell a 16GB version of the iPad? I’m sorry to say but this is not the insanely great user experience Jobs expected.

    • Exactly! Only then you could say “it just works”. Average user of a premium Apple device should not have to deal with micro managing backup storage and so on. It should JUST WORK. Storage space should be hidden the same way file system is hidden – average user should NEVER worrie about that.

  15. Give us one TB free for each or at least 500 GB to store our documents.
    Let people pay for more.

  16. cghancock01 says:

    I wholeheartedly agree.

  17. I thought Google didn’t count stuff created in Drive against our space? At this point, Apple is so far behind the cloud curve they should give up and let the big boys do it. Stick to hardware and focus on trying to make iOS more interesting for the next generation of users. Right now, it looks more like Jitterbug than anything my little cousins would ever be interested in using.

    • I dont think they are behind because of lack of technology, they were doing cloud storage perfectly with iDisk but abandoned it when they thought they would land Dropbox. I think they just dont see the money in it.

      I do agree that they should be giving at least 15GB free, and I would say that it should be true per device to be able to store photos/backups/documents.

  18. If Apple wants to get serious about storage, which they should if they want to remain relevant in teh next decade, they should give 500GB per device bought, FOREVER. As storage gets cheaper, giving me an additional 500GB every time I support them by buying more hardware, I’d be increasing my total and giving me a reason to stay with them. As it is now, I have zero reason to stay outside of pretty hardware. As soon as a comparable piece of Android hardware with a great camera comes out, I’ll jump ship and nothing will be an issue in the move since everything I have is on Google and Copy.

  19. I don’t think Apple needs to increase their free storage amount for everyone. Rather for those loyal people who have bought into the ecosystem – they should get 5gb per device. So someone with an iPhone, iPad and a Mac should have 15gbs of storage.

  20. Oflife says:

    Spot on. As a designer of very complex software (with a focus on UX), and long time Apple user, and more recently, user of other cloud solutions, Apple got it the cloud all wrong from the start, so will have to re-engineer their whole system (and along with it, OS X and iOS) else it will look like they are trying to play the cloud card because they want to, but end up with all sorts of problems that companies formed out of the cloud (Google!) don’t and won’t suffer from. (As an example, the Apple address book has and continues to be horrifically buggy, locally and across the cloud.) This could be Apple’s undoing, as a prominent VC also said the other day. Most people who purchase Apple gear are not ‘geeky’ enough to know these things hence they continue to buy their gear. Try doing anything complex on iCloud, and the limitations are exposed immediately. Not to mention the whole way the photo storing (if any) system works in difficult to comprehend, poor value and unreliable.

  21. Remy Konings says:

    Although they are indeed very late. There are many rumors that have plans for something ells, such as a filesystem based on tags. Looking at the latest changes to Mavericks. It could be very plausible that they are creating this kind of storage.

    Certainly if you look at the patents that they collected. For example the patent which suggest that users would have 200 gb of storage for a device. (picture) and the IamOrganized patents that you bought a few years ago. (picture) Summerising all of these, it think it’s actual plaussible that they can reinvite a filesystem based on tags! It would be great and exciting!

    [IMG]http://i62.tinypic.com/jk803d.jpg[/IMG]

    [IMG]http://i62.tinypic.com/e9xjtg.jpg[/IMG]

    • I also love the idea although it’s gonna be a long way until people will get used to using tags over a file system. Nevertheless you could easily see them making tags smart so files tagged in a certain way will automatically upload to iCloud.

  22. icloud has a lot of potential, but right now it is honestly the most limited.

    As an Android user and imac user I prefer Google’s cloud service even their ecosystem is far more flexible as it is accessible across all platforms, you can now even access media content from the play store on any apple or windows device wether its a computer tablet or smartphone.

  23. Veritas Est, Ben.

    Like you, I’m also paying Apple for 55 gigs (around 80€ a year) and I am now obligate to just backup only my iPhone 5 (64gb) because now there isn’t enough room to backup my other 32 gb iPhone 4 and my two iPad’s.

    And that’s normal because in my phone I have as much as 6000 pictures and several gigabytes of videos without counting the hundred of apps that I have installed.

    And that’s really a Shame considering that in the low range of the offer, also the Ol’ Microsoft is giving much more real estate for free (10 gigs versus miserable 5 of Apple)…

    Greetings from Spain.
    David S. Matrecano.

  24. mkwroble says:

    Another great article Ben! I’d add to your mentioning of iTunes Match: I pay also for this service, but have had to hold back music due to the 25,000 song limit. The same cost over on Amazon Cloud Player nets you 250,000 songs. Apple should be leading here as well, but they aren’t.

  25. Ian Case says:

    It would make more sense to offer you 5GB PER DEVICE of storage, rather than 5GB per account free. If you have an iPhone and an iPad, the regular backups take up that 5GB VERY quickly.

  26. Not to mention iCloud mail via the web browser…Every time i try to “search” for an email in my mailbox via the browser, i feel like i’m taking down Apple’s data center with how hard it works. Even with it working as hard as it does, i would say about 85% of the time i just get “An error occured” and i have to refresh the browser and/or log back in. It’s a mess…

  27. Not to get too far off topic but I would simply like my iCloud unread mail count to sync across devices without having to open the mail app and refresh… I’m constantly reading my email on the iPhone only to have “new” emails on my iPad that have already been read.

    Anyone know why Apple still can’t make give us this next-gen feature? #sarcasm

  28. 9to5savio says:

    Agree with what you wrote, but you really left out an important detail:

    iTunes Match gives cloud access to up to 25,000 songs which is easily over 200 GB worth of cloud storage. And Apple Streams ANY movie you purchase through iTunes. So depending on your music and movie collections, you could easily have over 1TB of cloud storage available through Apple for $24/month.

    THAT is not a hobby. That is serious storage. Its just more fragmented than Google’s approach. But its also more seamless.

  29. How long is it gonna be until cloud storage is being commoditized? Soon enough cloud storage is going to be free with any product or service. Look at Flickr’s 1TB!

    Apple could make a real selling point to it’s whole ecosystem to let you back up your full hard drive in the cloud so you never have to think about whether files are there or not. Where you would rather specify which files will stay local only (for security reasons or whatever). What an upgrade in usability that would be even for Documents in the Cloud!

    Until then, Apple should make use of their tagging system in OS X to sync files letting you define smart tags that will sync to iCloud automatically. Dropbox will have a hard time competing with that as they force you to either give up your file organization system or create duplicate files on your hard drive.