Monday, June 2, 2014

Transitions and Questions: iCloud Drive, Compared

I’ve paid $20 a year for the past two years for iCloud storage. I have a 32 GB 5th-gen iPod touch and a 32 GB iPad 2, and between backup space and iCloud documents (including a lot of Keynote presentations for school), I would laugh at 5 GB of free space. Many have noted how ridiculous it is to sell 128 GB iPads when only 5 GB of backup space is free.

Today, Apple introduced Mac OSX Yosemite, which among its rather high number of new features, includes an expansion of the old app-silo iCloud to the new iCloud Drive. The new plan has higher storage capacities and lower prices throughout.

Old (Current) iCloud Pricing Model:

Free 5 GB, plus:

$20 / 15 GB = $1.33 per GB
$40 / 25 GB = $1.60 per GB
$100 / 55 GB = $1.82 per GB

As you can see, each Tier is more expensive per gigabyte than the last. If you pay Apple less money, you get a better deal. Talkin’ fancy, there’s a financial disincentive for more engagement. Not only do you pay more money ($40 > $20), but you’re paying at a higher rate, making the cost hurt even more. Given two extremes, Apple hewed much closer to “Buzz off, I don’t want your money” than “Give me all your dough.” I cannot fathom why the rate goes up as the price goes up, unless Apple wanted to stop people from giving them money–given the iCloud congestion we often hear about As Apple prides themselves on being a profitable company, I’m not surprised they decided to try and make more money in the new model:

New iCloud Drive Pricing Model:

Free 5 GB, plus:

$(0.99 × 12) / 20 GB = $0.59 per GB
$(3.99 × 12) / 200 GB = $0.24 per GB

Things are less expensive across the board—the new most expensive-per-gigabyte plan is less than half the price than the old least expensive-per-gigabyte plan. What’s more, each tier is now less expensive per gigabyte than the last, a financial incentive to buying more space, just like those three-gallon jars of mayonnaise at Sam’s or Costco. It’s also scaled by month, not year, like most in-app purchases, and like Beats Music they recently acquired.

Now, we don’t yet know the pricing of all tiers. We’re told that tiers will go up to 1 TB. If the tiers don’t get any less expensive per gigabyte (which I would recommend against), 1 TB would cost $20 per month and $120 a year (or $19.99 in Apple pricing)

(1024 GB × $0.24) / 12 = $20

Alternately, if Apple wanted to price-match Google on the 1 TB plan (shown below), it would cost $10 a year:

(1024 GB × $0.12) / 12 = $10

Either way, it’s cheaper by an astounding level compared to old iCloud pricing.

The Competition

Because iCloud Drive, unlike iCloud is a more direct analog to other online file-storage services, two built by Apple’s direct competitors, it’s useful to compere them: Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, and the independent favorite Dropbox. Certainly they won’t integrate as seamlessly with Apple devices as iCloud Drive will, much like Google Drive on Android and Chrome devices and OneDrive on Windows devices.

Google Drive

Free 15 GB, plus:

($1.99 × 12) / 100 GB = $0.24 per GB
($9.99 × 12) / 1024 GB = $0.12 per GB
($99.99 × 12) / 10240 GB = $0.12 per GB

At $0.24 per gigabyte, Apple’s new second-tier plan matches Google’s first-tier plan exactly. Of course, Google gives 15 GB free from the start, three times as much as Apple’s 5 GB free plan, so once you start paying, $11.88 a year to Apple gives you 25 GB, but the lowest you can pay Google is $23.88 a year for 115 GB.

I included a tier above what Apple offers to show that the progression after that point is flat—that is, there’s no financial incentive per gigabyte to buying in bulk. Going by the earlier language of financial incentive and disincentive, Google gives you an incentive to upgrade your account from 100 GB to 1 TB, but they don’t incentivize it further. Reading the numbers, they want you to get 1 TB, but they could care less about getting 10 TB.

Microsoft OneDrive

7 GB free (expandable to 15 GB through referrals and bonuses)

$25 / 50 GB = $0.50 per GB
$50 / 100 GB = $0.50 per GB
$100 / 200 GB = $0.50 per GB

Flat progression: all $0.50 per gigabyte. OneDrive is cheaper per unit than the most expensive (lowest-tier) new iCloud Drive and any Dropbox plan, but it’s far more expensive than all other iCloud Drive plans and certainly than Google Drive. They, along with Dropbox (below) don’t seem to want to incentivize higher-tier plans. I guess they only want you to buy as much as you need, neutral to incentive-based rates. This is the one service I have no personal experience with, so I don’t have much to say. Their pricing isn’t as bad as Dropbox, but not as good as Google Drive, either.


2 GB free (expandable to 18 GB through the referrals and bonuses they’re famous for)

$99 / 100 GB = $1 per GB
$199 / 200 GB = $1 per GB
$499 / 500 GB = $1 per GB

Flat progression: all $1 per gigabyte. Dropbox is older and more popular (200m users, to Google Drive’s 150m), so perhaps they have coasted for a while–they last updated their price per gigabyte almost two years ago. They’ve got the install base now, and there’s nothing to stop users from doubling up (note: I use Dropbox and Google Drive regularly), but I can’t see a reason to pay for Dropbox over another service. Most 3rd party apps support Google Drive now, after all.

For those who look at Google and think Apple’s gouging their customers—and I’m not disagreeing outright—look at Dropbox’s pricing plan. Ever since Google lowered their Drive storage recently, people have been saying that they’re too expensive. Now, they’re almost twice as expensive as Apple’s most expensive per-gigabyte plan. The writing’s on the wall, and I anticipate a change in Dropbox sooner rather than later, just to stay afloat. Finally, note the minimum charges you’ll pay for all services: $25 for a year of 50 GB OneDrive, $9.99 for a month of 100 GB Dropbox, $1.99 for a month of 100 GB Google Drive, or $0.99 for a month of 20 GB iCloud Drive. Once you decide you want to pay some money for some storage, Apple doesn’t make it most worth your while, but it lowers the bar about as low as it can go.

Conclusions and Questions Going Forward

As I’m currently paying $20 for 15 GB of iCloud, of course I’m going to opt to pay less money for more storage. I don’t know if I’ll pay for 200 GB, though, barring some amazing change (see #4 below). But, as with many things in life, one answer provokes many new questions:

  1. How much will the iCloud Drive tiers be above 200 GB, and how many of them will there be? Will there be any tier between 20 and 200 GB?
  2. How much will other services change before the Fall release of iCloud Drive—DropBox and OneDrive in particular?
  3. How well will iCloud Drive work on Windows and the Web? (For a crazy thought, will we ever have third-party iCloud apps?)
  4. What does this mean for Time Machine? Will we be allowed to use Time Machine to an iCloud Drive? Will higher-tier iCloud Drive plans obviate the need for Time Machine? Could you put your entire computer (or at least the entire home directory) on iCloud Drive?
  5. Will there be any discount from monthly to yearly? If not, how long does iTunes Match stay exclusively a yearly subscription?


  1. Dropbox is still mostly forgettable, despite the improvement
  2. OneDrive is now very interesting compared with Google. Parity or better.
  3. Ignore Box unless your workplace uses it
  4. iCloud Drive is only available on Apple products. Online does not count. It's far too expensive, and downright old-fashioned when it's free. Should we be happy it works at all, or should they try to wow us on the price to overcome bad PR?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

On Wistfulness: Final Fantasy VI for iOS

Final Fantasy VI has just arrived on the iOS App Store, and I'm thrilled. There's been a lot of hubbub over the graphical changes, and, playing it on my 5th generation iPod touch, I can see a few problems already–namely that the sprite colors have too much low-contrast pastel, the “high-res” graphics are still pixelly on retina screens that were introduced four and a half years ago with the barely-supported iPhone 4, and, most egregious, the graphics seem noticeably stretched on my wider 4-inch screen from what I've seen in screenshots (especially when the background graphics don't seem stretched at all). The last problem will probably be fixed in a coming release, my other two observations just the price of expediency and taste.

There's been a lot of complaining that the graphics are upscaled at all, but really, that doesn't bother me. I'd have loved to see retina-level graphics based on the original character art, but I know that the sprites I'm used to were only based on the original art, not downscaled from them. That's not how pixel art works. I've been playing a lot of Cave Story+ lately, and I feel a similar vibe: the new graphics are higher-resolution from the original, but still pixelly enough to try to satisfy “old school” purists. Of course, those people can never be satisfied, but I'm not complaining. The original release had bugs and the PS and GBA rereleases had bugs, and our notion of perfect art is clouded with nostalgia, that most dangerous of drugs.

But they didn't mess with the music. They didn't mess with the music. Back in 1997 or 1998 I imported the soundtrack from Japan. I love it. It remains one of the best pieces of game music to this day because it is both beautiful and appropriate to the world. Most video-game music is one or the other. I love Keiichi Suzuki)'s Earthbound soundtrack too, but I don't know if I'd use the word “beautiful” to describe it. Yoshitaka Amano's art is the star of the show, but Nobuo Uematsu's score is its soul.

At the heart of Final Fantasy VI is the opera scene. It's poignant, but it's really great because the entire game is an opera. There is a large cast of characters, each with their own motivation. Strong characters with strong personalities and strong motivations go throughout. Much has been written that Kefka, the main villain, acts more like a protagonist than many of the playable characters. Even characters without personalities have backgrounds (Gogo), and characters without backgrounds have personalities (Mog). The stories are epic, not in that bland, overdone “we have to save the world” variety, but “we have to save each other.” The story is epic not in the way that Final Fantasy, say, is epic, but in the way that the Ring Cycle is epic, the way that the Iliad and Odyssey and Aeneid are epic. Even the townspeople, easy to underrepresent as cardboard cutouts, change from moment to moment as the world changes politically, ecologically, and geographically around them. The music is operatic from the notes of the chorale prelude and opening background scene. Then a windy silence, as we overlook a hill, then the opening credits, with a fuller overture of the main theme, Terra's personal theme, and the overworld theme. You can't skip past this section or speed through it, ostensibly so you can appreciate the nice people who made the game, but also so you must soak up every bit of the score as the three soldiers trek slowly through the blizzard. The blizzard is the game.

The main emotion of Final Fantasy VI is wistfulness, as seen in its perfect score, but also in its story. The world is destroyed. Evil is defeated, but lives are still changed, in many cases ruined. People gain redemption and struggle for hope, but it is a ruined world they struggle in, and the memory of a world forever lost is what gives them hope for the future. The world is never remade, just improved. The cataclysm is never undone, merely mitigated. When characters die, we feel for them, but others fight on, make lives for themselves, and care for the next generations.

I can tell why so many people complain about the sprites. The game is amazing, and playing through it the first time changed how its players saw the genre and the medium. The wistfulness that the game employs is close to nostalgia, but what we once felt is gone. Those of us that played it as teenagers or young adults back on the SNES were changed by it. Those that first played on the PlayStation or GameBoy Advance or in emulation feel a pull back to that earlier time, but those of us who played it back in the mid 90s feel something greater–its original North American release was 20 years ago this year, and we are all different people now, with jobs and spouses and kids. We might not be as idealistic as we were in our teens, and the world has changed around us. Yet, transported back to that time, we shouldn't long for those romantic days gone by, but embrace the new world we live in. The World of Balance is a memory, but not all hope is lost.