This story is part of Apple Event, our full coverage of the latest news from Apple headquarters.
Following September’s Apple event — packed, in typical fashion, with new hardware like the iPad Air and a low-cost Apple Watch SE to go along with its top-of-the-line Apple Watch Series 6 (but, sadly, no new iPhone) — it’s the lowly iCloud photo and backup service that may have the biggest impact on your relationship with the company, through the newly announced Apple One subscription bundle.
Apple One bundles together a number of the key services the company has rolled out over the last two years, including Apple Music, Apple TV Plus, Apple Arcade and, for the highest tier, Apple News Plus and the newly announced Fitness Plus. Surprisingly, iCloud storage, which barely gets a mention at these kinds of events, served as the anchor for these bundles.
For the $14.95 (£14.95, AU$19.95) a month “Individual” tier, you get Apple Music, Apple TV Plus, Apple Arcade and 50 gigabytes of storage. The $19.95 (£19.95, AU$25.95) “Family” plan gets you the same services plus 200GB. The $29.95 (£29.95, AU$39.95) “Premier” plan throws in Fitness Plus and News Plus and 2 terabytes of storage. As typical with Apple plans, the slim amount of storage in the smaller plans essentially forces power users to go with the Premier option.
Cloud storage, which lets you store photos, videos and other items online that then can be accessed from multiple devices, is an increasingly important service at a time when file sizes for things like 4K video or high-resolution photos are getting too large for our physical hard drives. It’s another example of how many aspects of our lives, from the shows we watch to the goods we buy, have moved online.
The irony is that even as cloud storage has grown increasingly important in our lives, you wouldn’t suspect this shift when you watch tech companies talk about the latest and greatest bells and whistles. Though they all offer ways to store and share your photos, the likes of Google, Facebook and, yes, Apple, have largely ignored cloud storage and instead focused on flashier developments in areas like augmented reality or artificial intelligence.
But at Apple’s “Time Flies” event, Lori Malm, director of services for Apple, noted that these plans all centered on iCloud storage.
Indeed, cloud services is a huge market. Back in 2016, Eddy Cue, head of software and services for Apple, disclosed on a podcast with Jon Gruber that the company had 782 million iCloud users, although he noted that included multiple devices. Most of them were likely free accounts (Apple has never disclosed the number of paying subscribers), but even if a fraction of those users were on accounts, that’s a massive business.
In comparison, Apple said last year it had 60 million subscribers. The company hasn’t disclosed Apple TV Plus subscribers, although analysts say many are still on free trials. The company hasn’t offered numbers on Apple Arcade or Apple News Plus either, although News Plus reportedly struggled to find an audience early on.
Bundling everything together may be a way to get more people interested in the individual services. But iCloud storage could be the ingredient that really hooks people in, thanks to its large user base and the fact that it serves a need that anyone who’s run out of storage on their iPhone can understand. (Access to Apple TV Plus originals or a number of video games that you’ve never heard of is a more dubious proposition.)
“In some cases, Apple One will also encourage people to take an additional subscription beyond Apple Music to less-popular services such as Arcade and News Plus,” said Ben Wood an analyst at CCS Insight.
If Apple One is somewhat akin to Amazon’s Prime bundle of services, iCloud storage would essentially be the equivalent of free shipping.
The bundle represents the first change since Apple dropped the price of its 2TB plan to $9.99 a month. The plan is almost a no-brainer considering the lower-tier plans (50GB for 99 cents and 200GB for $2.99) aren’t sufficient for heavy users or families. In comparison, Google Photos lets you store “high-quality” versions for free, but requires you to pay for Google Drive storage to store original photos. As part of Prime, Amazon offers unlimited photo storage and 5GB for video.
But what Apple has going for it is the ability to automatically sync those files in the background.
I was skeptical about the need for iCloud until last year, when a thief stole my iPhone while I was in Barcelona to cover the Mobile World Congress trade show. In the end, I was able to get access back to my work files, but I had lost many photos of my family because I hadn’t backed the device up in a few months. I use Google Photos, but because I hadn’t opened the app in a little while, a few months of photos never backed up.
I immediately snapped up the $9.99 2TB plan and gave my family access. All of a sudden, my wife and my mother stopped complaining about running out of storage space. At that point, I could never go back to an iCloud-less life.
Throw in Apple Music, Apple TV Plus, Apple Arcade and Apple News Plus for a discounted additional fee, and I may be more ready than ever to sink myself into the company’s universe of services.