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?