Why Does Apple Only Offer 5 GB Storage with iCloud?

Apple’s iCloud is used for several purposes. You may use it for email; you can use it to sync your contacts and calendars; you can store files there, notably for Apple’s iWork apps; and you can use it to back up your iOS devices.

But what if you have several iOS devices, and also use iCloud for email and documents? If you back up your iOS devices to the cloud, you’ll quickly hit the 5 GB limit. I explain how to trim iOS device iCloud backups, but, still, some people will hit that limit quickly.

Apple’s free 5 GB is a good thing; it entices people to use iCloud. But it’s not enough. If they want people to use iCloud, they should make it easier to use. Apple’s prices for storage are quite expensive:


Yes, you can get an extra 10 GB for only $20 a year; that’s enough to back up a couple more devices, but it’s pretty stingy. For $100 a year, you only get 55 GB (the free 5 GB plus another 50). Cloud storage prices are plummeting, and Dropbox, for example, gives you 100 GB for $100 a year, and Dropbox’s storage is much more flexible, since you can access it directly from a Mac.

Apple needs to move to a model where they give you more storage, perhaps 5 GB per device. It’s not that hard to manage; they could give you the storage when you buy the device, and have you register it, and then, say, once a year, have you connect to iCloud with the device to verify that you still own it. Or, if they were smart, they’d just give you a lot more storage free. After all, OS X is free, iOS is free, and the iWork apps are now free as well. Why make it so hard to manage file storage and backups?

(Note: when I bought my Android phone, it came with an extra 50 GB storage on Google Drive for two years; that’s in addition to the default 15 GB.)

By the way, I’ve paid for Apple’s online services since the beginning: iTools, MobileMe and .Mac. I very much regretted the loss of the iDisk – even though it didn’t work very well – but Dropbox has stepped in to to that type of receptacle, useful for sharing large files, the right way. I wouldn’t mind paying Apple for iCloud, if the service were good enough, and if there were enough storage. But let’s wait and see: with their big data centers, I have a feeling they may be planning something for the next big versions of OS X and iOS.

18 thoughts on “Why Does Apple Only Offer 5 GB Storage with iCloud?

  1. Quote “Or, if they were smart, they’d just give you a lot more storage free. After all, OS X is free, iOS is free, and the iWork apps are now free as well.”

    Response: Storage is NOT FREE.

    Storage means buying hard drives and replacing them every 3 years when they break down. Storage means creating server farms which run on electricity from the power company. Storage means burning fossil fuels. Storage means having to buy land and paying property taxes. Apple’s North Carolina Server Farm cost $1 BILLION alone and it will cost billions to run through the years.

    Someone has to pay the bills. Storage is not free.

    DropBox only gives you 2 GB free – while Apple gives you 5 GB.

    Even DropBox doesn’t give away much of its primary product for free. To compete against Apple, DropBox has to charge you half the price as Apple for additional storage.

    Even Apple’s software isn’t truly free. Apple only gives it away for free because it makes the assumption you will repeatedly buy iPhones every 2 years, and Macs every 4-7 years so that the cost of the software will be paid for in hardware sales.

    In fact, by giving away its software for free, Apple lost $300 Million in sales a year. But in return it has over $171 billion in revenue, and over $37 BILLION in profit.

    Additionally, if users did not repeatedly buy Apple’s hardware in return for free software, then Apple would not be giving the software away for free. Case in point: Apple sells Final Cut Pro for $300, Logic Pro for $200, etc.

    • Google gives you 15 GB by default; and, as i say in a note I’ve added above, when I bought an Android phone, I got an extra 50 GB for 2 years.

  2. I think a better question is why does Apple only offer 50gig as the maximum storage? Especially after Apple introduced the 128GB iPad. Most consumers blow the 5 gig on photos that they could backup somewhere else. Those consumers should look at other options like dropbox or flickr. Price wise, Apple will need to revisit it’s pricing strategy now that other storage options are priced less. Apple does have the advantage of having icloud backup everything on your phone, while others just backup your files. On the other hand, icloud can corrupt your backups if you have corrupt system files on your device (a big problem on iOS 7) which renders your backup useless. Plus, you can’t just extract certain things from the backup like pictures or text messages.

    • You don’t back up all the content on an iOS device. Read the article I link to; I explain what gets backed up.

    • I guess it is possible if most people keep more than 1000 photos on their phones? But if they do and don’t also back them up to a computer, it is probably worth the money to have additional storage. Apple doesn’t count your photo stream against you , nor do they count shared albums against you. This gives you virtually unlimited space for photos and movies.

      • I’ve thought about that: Once a week, copy all my photos and videos to a photo stream and Apple will give me photo stream storage in the cloud for free (not counting against my 5GB), BUT all those streams going to sync back to my phone and iDevices and computers and take up valuable space there too, that’s a problem for me (right?).

  3. C’mon, Kirk. Apple’s profit margins on iOS devices are only 40% to 50%. Now you want them to cut their margins on cloud storage, (which are likely higher than even their hardware margins)? With only $150B in the bank, your suggestion could jeopardize their very existence. Seems like a high price to pay just for a better customer experience.

    • Totally right Gavin – these guys just don’t get it – apple is growing this part of their business and in time more storage for less will happen – but this Kirk guy shows his stripes and has a Android Turd phone and so as it goes – he’s cheap! whats stuff for free.

      “if Apple was smart” yeah right Kirkville

      • You’re funny. I use an iPhone, and have for years, but I bought an android phone out of curiosity. I’m highlighting a difference between Apple and other companies.

  4. Apple is always charging more for storage. High Cloud storage prices shouldn’t surprise anyone. Look at their pricing on 256GB and 512GB SSDs in MBPs!

  5. Nice article. I think Apple should annonce something about iCloud storage alongside iOS 8. Can’t imagine having an iPhone, an iPad and a MacBook Pro with only 5GB of iCloud storage for these 3 devices, that’s crazy.

    • You might want to re-watch some of the many Steve-o keynotes from the post-disease era starting in 2003. His biggest enthusiasm wasn’t for new hardware or software. It was for the number of credit card numbers on file, and the number of credit card transactions. That’s where his eyes really lit up and his voice got really excited. Giving a reasonable amount of free iCloud storage doesn’t involve a credit card transaction, so what’s the point? It only produces a better customer experience for the hardware you’ve purchased at a 40%+ profit margin to Apple, so why bother?

  6. My pie-in-the-sky suggestion would be for Apple to include, in the price of every new iDevice, enough cloud storage to completely backup that device. So that a 32GB iPhone would come with 32GB of storage. I suspect that the vast majority of iPhone users do not back up their devices aside from using iCloud. They just assume that the thousands of photos they have on their phones – most of which are irreplaceable – are backed up by iCloud. As we know, only those photos in the Camera Roll are backed up. So when that phone drops off the boat and into the lake, any images not in the Camera Roll are gone forever. Imagine if Apple could advertise (and deliver, of course) the peace of mind that having real cloud storage of ALL your data would bring!

    • Slightly confused: How did the “thousands of photos” get on the phone if they are not in the camera roll? If they came from somewhere else, then they have the photos on whatever computer is syncing with their iPhone (so they aren’t lost unless they deleted after syncing and they’ll be gone the next time they sync). I can only thing of 3 places in the camera roll that photos are stored: 1) Camera roll, 2) Photo streams, 3) iTunes synced folders. The camera roll gets backed up on iCloud backups, photo streams are in the cloud and your iTunes synced folders are on the iTunes sync computer.

  7. My biggest complaint about the backups is the photos. It appears (from some minor testing at my end) that if you back up the photos to the iCloud, it’s (appears that) it’s also backing photos that I’ve synced to the iPhone from a computer. I want my photos backed up to the iCloud (yes, my photos go to the photo stream automagically, but the videos and the multiple photos taken at once don’t automatically go, do they?) but I wish there were a distinction between photos taken and photos synced.

    Perhaps I’m mistaken, but my iPhone backup was huge so I told iTunes to not sync photos (and I was syncing lots), I synced with my computer (so it deleted them) and made an iCloud backup and it appeared to drop a similar amount of storage space.

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