iOS 11 wish list: Free iCloud backups

Once upon a time iPhone was utterly dependent on iTunes on the PC. It synced everything, it managed everything, and it kept everything backed up. Then came iCloud, which cut the tether and promised us a future post-PC. Flash forward to now and we have iPhones that come with up to 256 GB of on-board storage. While iCloud now offers up to 2 TB of storage, the free tier still tops out at 5 GB. What if iOS 11 could change that?

Comparing Apples to Googles

Google recently made headlines with their new Pixel Phone by Google which, aside from its unabashedly iPhone-like looks, comes with free, full-resolution backup for all photos. Google, in general, has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to free storage, be it for Gmail back in the day, Drive for years, or Photos now.

Apple, on the other hand, introduced iCloud with 5 GB of free storage and, despite cutting prices and upping capacity of the paid tiers over the years, has stayed with 5 GB.

There are some things that iCloud includes "for free", notably iTunes Store and App Store content since Apple is already storing those on their servers and simply has to let you re-download them when and as needed. Most everything else, though, you have to pay for.

You have to pay for Google too, of course, you're just paying in data instead of money.

As I've covered numerous times, for most people paying with money is tangible. You see the cash leaving your wallet or the numbers growing on your credit card statement or shrinking on your bank account balance. Paying with data, though, feels "free". You don't see your intimate pictures and messages drifting up out of your device and onto servers sitting miles and miles away.

Google wants your data to help train its artificial intelligence, machine learning, and computer vision system, and they'll pay you with storage capacity to get it.

Apple doesn't want your data, claims they don't need it to train AI, ML, and CV, so it charges you money for the storage capacity.

But what if Apple didn't? What if they were willing to pay you with storage capacity, just to give you a better experience?

A few dollars here and there...

I always wince when I hear pundits say "Apple should just..." and then rattle off a list of things they'd love Apple to toss into the box or bill of goods. It's always justified by the supposed low cost of each of the freebies, but they're seldom, if ever, added up and then multiplied across hundreds of millions of devices. For a company like Apple, the dimmest bulbs in Wall Street monitor every sub-cent of margins. In other words, there's no such thing as nominal cost at iPhone scale.

Yet Apple spends its budget on iPhone all the time. Chamfered edges aren't purely cosmetic, but they reflect Apple's attitude of doing what's difficult — and expensive — all in the name of a better product.

There's precedent on the software side as well. Once upon a time, iWork apps were paid. It would cost you double-digit dollars to get Keynote, Numbers, and Pages on iOS. Then, one day, Apple made them free for every new iPhone and iPad owner.

You might think apps don't have the same recurring costs as storage, but when you include ongoing development, especially new cloud-based features like collaboration, they do.

Apple used to charge for Mac software updates as well — even iOS updates for iPod touch — and then the company realized there was greater value to be had in giving them away, even if it cost them.

Setting backups free

Photo backup is nice. Device backup is the real prize, though. Right now, if someone really wants all their data backed up, they more than likely have to run back to iTunes on Windows or Mac. That's especially true for Apple's best customers, who likely have multiple iPhones and iPads.

That's not good for us, and it's not good for Apple.

By giving everyone who buys an iPhone or iPad enough free iCloud storage to backup that device, Apple finally cuts that iTunes tether and fully moves us into the post-PC world.

It also makes sure anyone new to iPhone or iPad doesn't see it as a partial, annoying service that pops up out-of-capacity errors every time it tries to backup. Instead, they don't see it at all. It just works. And the experience it creates is one of a peace-of-mind.

No one ever has to worry about backing up a device or, more importantly for Apple, moving to their next iPhone or iPad.

Your wish list?

Would free backups make a big difference to you? What else would you like to see in iOS 11

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • I only have my iPhone. Currently I have 2.2 gb of my free 5 gb available. I Store all my photos and videos in Box and Dropbox. Free unlimited back up for the one device would be nice. But I still would prefer a storage solution for photos like Box.
  • There is a free unlimited photo solution. Google Photos.
  • Free iCloud back ups with iOS 11? Ain't gonna happen, this is Apple we're talking about, all about money, money, money. Glad I'm leaving this greedy company and switching to a real company in Samsung with an S7 Edge. Sent from the iMore App
  • Yeah, that's right. Samsung are purely altruistic and don't want to make any money whatsoever. This makes perfect sense now that they've priced their s7 at the same price as Apple's similarly spec'd iPhones. A "real company" you say? You mean the same company who have recently excelled at testing the quality and durability of their latest Note Fire 7 device before release? Please save and an Edge for me?!
  • I think he's a troll,, sometimes he's a fanboy of android and sometimes Apple fanboy Sent from the iMore App
  • Apple does one thing good and that's marketing. There are so many things apple only brings to the newest iPhone. Like live photos or retina flash. Or back in the days siri.... Apple live money
  • You think other companies aren't about money? That's so naive. You do don't business for fun, you do it for money. Every company wants money no matter how explicit they are about it. Sent from the iMore App
  • OS and apps development costs are in fact factored in the device cost because they're for a limited period of time, Apple said this when they went free, they've included the costs of development into the device's R&D costs. There's a reason for this, once the device is not supported anymore, Apple no longer spends any money on developing for them. Your iPhone 4 isn't getting iOS 10 anymore, so the development cost isn't there anymore to support it. However, cloud storage are not factored in because Apple has to pay for all the bandwidth costs, server farms, electricity and so on. They're reoccurring costs forever, it does not decrease much the longer you have it. Have you seen your ISP drop prices the more bandwidth capacity they add to their network? Nope, it doesn't work like that. In addition, because everyone's data is encrypted, Apple cannot easily perform de-duplication on them. Many of the "unlimited" storage can be done because you can turn 20TB of data into 1TB if they have enough common data. You only store 1TB but offering 20TB to users. Apple cannot do this yet, so they must store 5GB for each hundreds of millions of users. Increasing it to 10GB will incur a massive cost for them if everyone takes advantage of it. That's why Apple is okay with doing iTunes Match in Cloud, iTunes libraries and so on, they're only storing one copy of the music, so instead of storing 2GB of music for each user, they're only need to store it once.
  • Being able to attach more than one file at a time to an email would be nice. ( or can you and I missed the article on that) And for god sakes if you select add a field in contacts, jump to that field after its selected so you don't have to scroll up to add a job title!
  • +1000!! Sent from the iMore App
  • I would love free backups. I have an iPhone and iPad and I am always up against the 5GB limit. I don't use Apple for photo backups so those get backed up elsewhere. If they aren't willing to give us free back up on iCloud, how about the ability to backup on my MAC with iTunes via WiFi sync or maybe being able to upload the backup to the storage of my choosing (i.e. network drive, dropbox, Google etc). All without having to plug the phone into my computer.
  • you can do wifi sync to your Mac (and assume Windows). But iTunes needs to be running, and it is backed up to iTunes, and you could, in theory, create a script to copy it to the sync folder for what ever service you choose, and see that on your corresponding iOS app, but that would still, in the event of a need to restore, require connection to a Mac.
  • IOS should have a better cloud system. IPhone 32 GB should have 32GB free storage. But one thing is for sure that the iPad need more love. My iPad pro is ok but would be better with a file system or better when It would be able to run a real OS and not a iPhone OS...
  • It's not iPhone OS anymore, it's iOS, an OS made for touch-screen devices. It can't run macOS because that would require redesigning the whole operating system and then getting the developers to redesign all their apps too, it would be a nightmare. The main thing that I'd want for the iPad Pro is to have the Pro apps (Logic Pro, Final Cut Pro), but yeah file system access would be nice, though I can't see it happening
  • Why should Apple even provide 'free' backups of anything... of a large amount.. ? Most companies don't do it And bandwidth is not free.. Apple does 5 Gig free but 5 Gig is nothing, compares to what is on offer.... If backups are for free, then who pays the bandwidth? Will Apple charge your mobile carrier instead and it will be included in the price of your next bill?
  • By comparison though, Google and Microsoft offer 15gb free and their cash piles aren't as big nor are they increasing at such an incremental rate as Apple's. Posted via the iMore App
  • You have a point with Microsoft, but actually not with Google. i don't believe. They can do this, because u are the product, they have more money in adverting.
  • You have a point with Microsoft, but actually not with Google.. Google can do this, because u are the product, they have more money in adverting.
  • I wonder how many people have an iOS device as their ONLY computing device. This makes backing up the data even more paramount.
    When my eldest daughter got an iPhone she did not have a laptop or other computer (she has of course for a MBP since, which makes the iPhone an Apple gateway drug !).
    Backups in my opinion should be free - you only need to upload changed files:
    - system configurations, not full OS File system.
    - an installed app catalogue
    - app configurations, and app data (thats probably going to be the big bit) I pay for the 50gb option. At 80p / month thats a no brainer for 4 apple devices.
  • Bringing Themes to iOS instead of introducing new wallpaper for any iOS release each time.
    Adding Dark Mode theme to the settings and other apps.
  • I'm not sure how well themes would work, Apple wouldn't want people downloading cheap-looking themes, although that being said you can do that with the custom keyboards now. I think Dark Mode will come with an OLED iPhone which could be the next one. The Apple Watch has an OLED screen, and as such has a dark UI
  • I wish they'd bring back Music and Swipe To Unlock from iOS9. iOS 10 utterly and completely ruins unlocking or easily listening to music. There's no way to play all songs by an artist anymore! Plus too much wasted space....... Apple finally gave us a larger screen, and now they're wasting so many pixels it's like having a small screen all over again, except this time it's bigger and harder to use. I love my iPhone but iOS 10 is horrendous.
  • I don't see how iOS 10 ruined unlocking, it just changed the way it works. I don't understand why people get so angry over little changes, it's not like Facebook where they completely move everything around each year and then suddenly you find yourself having to re-learn how to use Facebook. I'm pretty sure you can still play all songs by an artist, I'm not using iOS 10 at the moment but I highly doubt that option is gone, it'll just be done in a different way. Saying "iOS 10 is horrendous", is a complete exaggeration, there's so many great improvements in iOS 10
  • I've asked for this for a couple of years now. I call it "My Morning Update" but name doesn't really matter. Essentially you pick a list of information you'd like Siri to be able to automatically look up and tell you whenever you request it. For me I'd have top 2-3 stories from CNN & BBC, Atlanta Braves news, weather and coming calendar events for today. You could also request Siri tells you how many new emails you have and who they are from. Siri could read this information to you while you get ready for work or on your commute to work.
  • Dark Mode is the priority above anything else. Never was a fan of the changes ever since Cook took the helm.
  • Apple needs to improve the value of being in the ecosystem. More base iCloud storage is a start. Also, buying some well known apps like Fantastical and including them as a replacement for the native calendar app. Buy the best and reward your loyal users with the best apps out there. There is no reason to keep barely functional native apps.
  • To say the native apps are "barely functional" is a bit of an exaggeration. I know plenty of people that use the native calendar app, it has the features that most people need. I'd like to see the ability to set default apps as something that's not the native ones though
  • My iOS 11 wish list Multi Screen and PIP like on iPad
    Spotlight in Control Center so I can search from anywhere on iPhone or iPad.
    Customizable Control Center with full 3d touch support.
    Swipe up from bottom right side brings up Control Center.
    Swipe up bottom left side brings up widgets.
    Widgets that actually let you take quick actions and not a glorified app launcher.
    Customizable home screen. Move icons anywhere, change size, shape, etc.
    Customizeable lock screen
    More app and springboard animations besides zooming in and out.
    Theme store - fronts, layouts, etc
    Better iCloud storage options.
  • I'm guessing you're a former Android user like me. :) Not a bad list, but I think in control center, it's a crime that long pressing the bluetooth button doesn't bring up settings, for example. Same with Wifi. And isn't it time to add alias support in the mail app?
  • 3D Touch does this for wifi and Bluetooth. Guessing that is Apple's solution.
  • Sometimes on in a area where I have multiple connection to WiFi and Bluetooth. I would like to 3d touch on the WiFi and Bluetooth icon in CC to make sure I connect to the right connection. I have to always go settings to fix this issue and it's annoying.
  • I used a friend Android for a short period. Pixel was gonna be my first own Android but lack of features for its price. Might do S7 edge and keeping my 6s Plus for backup. I've own every iPhone since 3g. From iphone 3g to iphone 6s Plus. Not getting iPhone 7 / 7 Plus because of iOS 10. I don't like the look and feel of 10. Message App amazing everything else ugly and useless to me. iOS 10 doesn't doing anything to enhance my experience or use. Currently using iPhone 6s Plus (jailbroken) on IOS 9.3.3