Apple May Need to Increase Its iCloud Storage Tiers

5GB? In 2021?

Key Takeaways

  • Apple will lend you iCloud storage space for up to three weeks so you can backup and update your iPhone.
  • The free iCloud tier has been stuck at 5GB since 2011.
  • iCloud storage is essential for backups, photos, and more.
iPhone storage on iOS next to photos app on iPad


Apple will now lend you iCloud backup space, so you can transfer everything to a new phone without having to delete stuff.

When you buy a new iPhone, the easiest way to upgrade is to restore from an iCloud backup. Problem is, with only 5GB of space, many users don’t have a backup. The iOS 15 and watchOS 8 betas fix that, by lending you as much online iCloud storage space as you need, free, for up to three weeks. The idea is you can make a backup, restore it to the new phone, then delete that backup. It’s nice, but it only emphasizes how ridiculously little iCloud storage Apple provides for free.

"Typically, 5GB is not enough for someone to store a reasonable amount of photos and videos in the cloud. Increasing it would make a big difference because more people will experience how beneficial cloud storage can be and get pushed to purchase a paid plan," Harriet Chan, co-founder and software developer for CocoFinder, told Lifewire via email.

5GB? In 2021?

Apple provides all iCloud users (that is, everyone with an Apple ID), with 5GB of online cloud storage. This is used for your iCloud Photo Library, your iCloud Drive, general storage and sync for many apps, and backups. The problem is, 5GB isn’t enough, not nearly. The first hint at how paltry the iCloud free tier is comes from the list of storage upgrades: the cheapest paid tier is 10 times the amount—50GB (for $0.99), then you get 200GB for $2.99, and 2TB for $9.99.

Lack of iCloud storage might be the second most common frustration for iPhone and iPad users, second only to not buying enough local on-device storage (according to this author’s anecdotal experience as the tech person for friends and family).

iCloud storage tiers


Five gigabytes may have been enough when it was introduced with iOS 5, back in 2011, but now, 10 years later, it’s absurd. So why won’t Apple increase this limit?

"I can only theorize, but it's a clear incentive to pay. 5GB is not enough storage for anyone on the planet. You're basically forced to pay," Christen Costa, CEO of Gadget Review, told Lifewire via email.

But is this Apple’s strategy? Is the 5GB iCloud tier only there to make you pay a buck a month for a much more practical (yet still scant) 50GB? Perhaps. Then again, there are plenty of people who will never, ever pay for extra iCloud storage, no matter the benefits. Some just cannot afford it. Others refuse to pay for what they think should be free, and others might already be paying for Dropbox or Google Drive, and don’t want to double up.

"It would make a huge difference. If you [increase it] to 10GB, more people will use it and fewer people will abandon Apple because of storage issues," says Costa.

Typically, 5GB is not enough for someone to store a reasonable amount of photos and videos in the cloud.

Look at it like this. If you’re going to pay for an iCloud upgrade, then you probably already are. If Apple upped the free tier to 50GB, it might lose a dollar a month from its most grudging customers, but all the 200GB and 1TB customers would keep on paying. At the same time, the experience for every other user would be way, way better.

"Improving this storage space would make a difference to most regular users who have to turn to other free cloud storage solutions to meet their storage and backup needs," Katherine Brown, founder of remote monitoring app Spyic, told Lifewire via email. "In the meantime, however, most of these users continue to lose valuable data when they lose their devices or when they crash because of insufficient iCloud storage."

"Losing important documents, having to delete old photos to make space, not being able to upload videos to the cloud are the first that come to mind," agrees Costa.

The biggest barrier to upgrading the level of free iCloud storage might be the sheer scale required. Apple has billions of customers, so even doubling their storage to 10GB would be quite an expense, as well as having a big environmental impact. But really, it looks embarrassing for Apple. It’s time to fix it.

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