Is the new Apple iCloud Drive the best Cloud Storage for photographers and photo organizers?

Earlier this week at WWDC 2014, Apple announced a new iOS8 and OS X new release Yosemite.  Most media were excited about Apple taking on Android seriously, but few mentioned a new service that can be really useful for the photo organizer community or the broader photo enthusiast community: iCloud Drive, the revamped cloud offering from Apple, at a new price of $3.99 per month for 200GB of cloud storage.

The market is certainly not short of cloud storage vendors; Dropbox, Box, Google Drive etc provide public cloud storage as a service, and device manufacturers Drobo, QNAP and Synology make network attached storage devices that offer private cloud storage capability…so how does Apple’s new service stack up against the other guys? Let’s take a deeper look.

First, let’s talk about cost.   To calculate your true out-of-pocket cost for storing your photos for 20 years, you need to look beyond just the advertised listing price. A simple fact the online storage company doesn’t want you to know is your photo storage volume keeps growing. Let’s assume you take 4,000 photos a year (5MB per photo), this means your storage grows by 20GB/yr.  Even if you are just starting out and have no photos today, in 20 years, you will need to pay online storage for 20*20=400GB (~$96/yr if you use iCloud Drive)

The comparison table below is based on this assumption and calculates your average annual cost per GB during this 20 year period.

Personal Storage of 200GB Photos
Storage vendor Total cost of 20 year storage Avg cost per GB-year
Apple iCloud Drive 200GB $47.88/year*20=$957.6 $0.24/GB-year
Dropbox 200GB $199/year*20 = $3980 $0.99/GB-year
Google 200GB $48/year*20 = $960 $0.24/GB-year
2TB Private Cloud (Network Attached Storage) – QNAP, Drobo etc $1100 (Device=$300, 2*2TB Hard drive = 200* 4, assume you replace them 4 times,  avg hard drive life span 5 years) $0.028/GB-year

What are the lessons to be learned?

  1. Despite Apple’s claim of being “lower price”,  the new Apple’s iCloud Drive is merely priced to match other big guys like Google. Effectively, there is no price leader in this space.
  2. As the innovator in this space, Dropbox is expensive, in fact 4 times as expensive as the 2nd expensive vendor. In this highly competitive market, Dropbox will be under tremendous pressure to lower its price in the near term, unless they can offer highly differentiated service to justify the higher price.
  3. Private cloud option using the Network Attached Storage (NAS) offers the lowest unit cost.  On average, the public cloud storage is 9x more expensive than the private cloud storage; the catch, however, is you have to spend more upfront for private cloud in order to realize the cost savings.

It is true that you get what you paid for most of the time, but choosing the right cloud storage for your photos involves more than just price. In the next post, we will look at a factor that is probably more important than price: privacy.