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iOS 8 wants: Free iCloud backup storage for each and every iOS device

iCloud has been around since iOS 5. It's supposed to be a convenient way to backup data to Apple's servers and restore it to your iPhone or iPad any time you reset, replace, or upgrade your device. iCloud isn't perfect, however, and there are several really annoying things about it I'd love to see Apple address in iOS 8.

The whole point of iCloud backups is to be easy enough for anyone and everyone to use them. They're supposed to just work. However, Apple only provides 5GB of storage space for free. Granted, Apple doesn't count some things, like apps, iTunes media, and Photo Stream against that storage allotment, but 5GB is still far below most peoples' needs, and far less than what Apple's competitors have recently been offering. What's worse, even if you're willing to pay extra the highest you can go is $100 for 50GB. That's despite Apple selling devices that hold 16, 32, 64, and even 128GB of data. You literally cannot even pay to get enough storage to back up a single device much less multiple devices.

Managing it isn't easy either. I've already gone over how duplicate images and videos in Camera Roll and iMessage eat into your local storage. The same is true with iCloud. If you have a lot duplicate photos and videos on your device, you'll have a lot of duplicate photos and videos eating up your iCloud storage as well. Yes, you can turn off Camera Roll backups to save space. Some people might think that's okay because of Photo Stream does something similar and doesn't count against your storage limit. However, Photo Stream doesn't back up video and doesn't keep any photo backed up for more than 30 days, so killing Camera Roll backups is a huge compromise. Worse, iMessage doesn't "back up" at all, so you can't prevent image or video messages from eating up space on iCloud unless you go into the Messages app and manually delete them.

Just like with local duplicates it would be great if Apple could detect identical photos and videos and only store them once on the server. That way no one would have to worry about where media is located or how often, they could just use and enjoy their devices.

There are iCloud-specific issues as well. For example, any time you replace a defective device or upgrade to a new device, it creates a new backup for that device — but leaves the old backup on the server taking up even more space. There are cases where you'll want multiple devices backed up on your account, specifically when you have multiple devices like an iPhone and iPad in your possession. When you get rid of your third replacement iPhone 5 and upgrade to a new iPhone 5s, however, you don't want or need all 4 backups to still be on the server.

You can go into iCloud and delete old backups but it's not an especially obvious process for casual users. What Apple could do is implement something like Time Machine's approach. If storage runs low old and unused backups are simply deleted in the background without anyone having to worry about them.

Instead what often ends up happening is that a new iPhone or iPad owner starts off using iCloud enthusiastically and then, thanks to Camera Roll, iMessage, multiple devices, old backups, or something else, they run out of space and hit a wall. They get an error saying iCloud backups are no longer working and they get frustrated, confused, or simply ignore it.

Apple should provide enough free storage to backup every device you buy. If you get a 32GB iPhone 5S, it would come with 32GB of free iCloud storage for backup. If you get a 64GB iPad Air, it would come with another 64GB of storage for backups. Most people wouldn't use the full amount, but they could absolutely use the better experience and peace of mind that would come with it.

What are your thoughts on the way iOS currently handles iCloud backups and restores? What issues, if any, have you experienced when it comes to running out of space or adding new devices, and how would you like to see Apple handle them in iOS 8?

iMore senior editor from 2011 to 2015.

  • Then they would be storing millions of copies of Candy Crush on their expensive servers.
    You shouldn't need 64GB of server space to back up a 64GB phone. Apple should know what apps we have bought and only backup the data. Restore process would re-install apps and then restore data.
  • They don't back up your app files, they only back up the data for the apps. When you restore, it'll pull the most recent copy of the apps from the App Store, which is what happens now. That makes it far more efficient since it prevents duplication and save space. What the author is saying is that Apple should be de-duplicating your own local data as the same images/videos can be used in multiple apps and right now, iCloud backs up those images separately, not once, even though they're the same file, same size, same hash and so on. In addition, there's no reason that if I bought a new iPhone and iCloud created a separate backup copy (because the pervious backup was for the replaced iPhone) that iCloud backups would take up twice the space. Apple should be able to de-duplicate both backups as a single copy and only back up the differences.
  • I disagree on the backups. I want it separate.. When I restore, I prefer it that way because I hold onto the old device and I DONT want them sharing the same backup.. They do it that way with Macs.. It's also a security issue if you pass on phones since backups are done by phone/equipment. It'd be a bad idea to allow an in for hackers to spoof backups that are supposed to be protected. It's not nearly as hard as she makes it sound to clean up. My mom is not technical.. she ran out of space and all I said was she probably has old backups from her previous phones.. She said oh, and called me back 30 minutes later happy. She found the old backups easy enough and removed them. It's simply they don't make people aware of them when they restore to a new phone. Easily resolved by, 1) giving people an option of deleting the old backup once restored. 2) letting people know when they run out of space, they have old backups that have not been used in week/months... It's an awareness issue really. I personally have 2 iOS devices and have not used more than 1/5th of the space.. but I'm not a photo/video person.. I use apps.. and since they generally don't take up a lot of space I've never had an issue.
  • You do understand what de-duplication means, right? Your reply suggests you don't and it wasn't related to what I said. Nobody said anything about sharing the same backups for multiple devices. De-duplication basically means that if a large block of binary data is exactly the same as another block, only store a single copy of it. To users, it looks like there is two separate large backups, but the storage itself, only one copy is stored. Whatever you modify on the second devices, it'd be backed up incrementally to the first copy. Let's say for an example, if you have a 1GB backup created and you restore it on a separate device before creating a separate backup. If 95% of the second backup is exactly the same bit by bit of the first backup, (a 200mb game save would be the same on both devices if you haven't modified it on the second device), then on iCloud, it would only use 1.05GB, not 2GB. If you play the game and the game save was modified with a 5MB change, iCloud would only store 5MB in the second backup because it'd patch it on the first backup copy and you'll eat up 1.055GB instead of over 2GB of your iCloud data.
  • Agree that something needs to change. Even if only incrementally. At the very least, give me 5GB for EACH device instead of sharing btwn devices.
  • Bingo. That should be a given. Technically I could set up a new one on each device, but that would be a pain in the but. Sent from the iMore App
  • One thing they could easily do is expect everyone to backup to their computer at least occasionally. I plug/charge my phone at least a few times a month with my macbook. They computer could hold a full backup and then the 5 gigs iCloud could backup occasionally. They could make that happen flawlessly and I think that could be in the future. Although Storage on their scale is cheep. It should be free. look at karbonite I would be surprised it apple doesn't provide full storage for every device they sell including the internal drives on mac books and desktops in the next 5 years.
  • Yeah honestly 5gb shared is pretty pathetic when others are giving away so much more for free.
  • I love the idea of expanding your iCloud storage for every device you own. Maybe not the full capacity of the device, but at least something. Most of the time you want the entire families devices on one account, and 5GB is ridiculous if you have more then 4 devices (I have 6). But I refuse to pay for extra iCloud space, so I just backup my devices to my computer, which backups to my time capsule.
  • i thought the same thing, I think Apple should allot the same amount of cloud storage that you purchased of flash storage on the device. if you buy a 16GB device, you get 16GB of iCloud and so on.
  • I agree with most that 5GB is pathetic. I'm paying $40/year for 25GB, just to fit the camera roll and shared photo streams. I don't mind that Apple doesn't automatically delete old backups when a new device is introduced. How do they know whether I'm still using it or not? I'd rather go in and manually delete old backups - the risk is too great to automate this process. That way I can store what I want.
  • So lets look at some simple math. Just in 2013 alone, Apple sold 33.8 million iphones and 14.1 million ipads. Lets just say that all of them were 16gb. This does not count any of the iphones/ipad sold prior, it does not include the itouch devices, and it assumes that everyone only has a 16gb device (when we know that a big chuck are much more). But even with those conservative numbers, Apple would need to provide 766 million GBs of storage. And some are asking for free storage? Nothing is free, so if Apple doesnt charge for the storage, it will be built into the price of the devices
  • Your math is off, you're using a single quarter numbers, not the whole 2013 year. In 2013, Apple sold 150 million iPhones and 72 million iPads. That'd be 3.552 EIB of storage required, or 3.5 billion GB of Storage, which is doable as this isn't even 1% of the internet traffic per month according to Wolfram and Facebook already built a data center designed for such scale when backing up its entire collection of photos from its billion users. Note that Apple would be smart enough to use de-duplication. If 1TB block is the same as another 1TB block, there's no need to store it twice. This'd apply to app files, music, videos and anything that more than one person would have a copy with.
  • Don't forget that bandwidth and storage costs are declining every year and Apple have over $150 billion dollars in cash.
  • Preach on! Yes finally someone says what you think in your head when you see that stupid backup message! Sent from the iMore App
  • Or just backup to your computer and don't worry about the space at all.
  • So you're telling me to go backwards in time and return to iTunes backups? No. Just no. Sent from the iMore App
  • It's the most reliable way.
  • Dear Allyson; We love you and your priceless articles ... but hey .... come ... on! :P OneDrive, DropBox and a few others (EXCEPT google-whatever-drive) are easy and almost free solutions! ;) Alright, I pay for extra storage (25GB total) but with over 200+ Apps / games / Magazines and my data on my iPhone 5S, iPhone 4S and iPad Air, my backup is still under 5GB! I must be doing something right / different ;)
  • Those services can not tie into a device and 'just work'. You are not the mainstream. You are the minority with the know now to do that. Does your mom or aunt know how though? Probably not. And those are the people that hit walls when simplicity fails them. Sent from the iMore App
  • yeah ... I know what you mean. :) But ... we both know "it" will never be enough and no matter how much more space, people always want more .... more! LOL
  • I don't think so. Nerds? Yes. Average people, no. They just want it to work. And in its current state, it's frustrating for a lot of people.
  • I think the first step is Apple fanbois finally accepting that Apple doesn't "just work" all the time, and cloud backup is a real problem for the company. Maybe now that people are waking up, we can pressure Apple to wake the hell up and do something about it. They are easily in last place in my opinion for cloud storage. Hell, with Copy, I now have 1.4TB of free simply from referrals. I don't even know where my referral code is posted on teh internet, but every day I get more and more, it's crazy that Apple won't give more when I pay $500+ per iOS device and over 2K for my computer.
  • These are NOT backup services, please do not treat them as such or you will learn a very bad lesson eventually. These are sync + file storage services, nothing more than that. Almost none of them lets you completely restore the data as a whole set, some offer 30 day restore window for deleted data but that's not a backup at all. If something happens to your data in Dropbox or you accidentally trashed files in your Dropbox/OneDrive/Google Drive and you didn't know until 30 days passed by, you WILL not be able to restore your data as they'll permanently delete them to free up space for other users.
  • Seriously, Apple! Sent from the iMore App
  • 5GB per device is certainly a real minimum. A number of other storage services offer far more for free as an enticement to get people stated using their services.
    I like the idea of equating the ratio of device/iCloud for everybody but honestly think it's not happening. I do believe we should all get at least 10-15 GB free iCloud storage per device, tho. And that includes Macs too.
    And then there's the whole issues of usability, duplicates, feature. Set.... Sent from the iMore App
  • If I buy a 128gb ipad, I'd like 128gb (or even half of that) of icloud. And so on. I'd like to see the same applied to Macs with an option for a full backup. Oops, now that I read your article (I don't often comment first without reading :) I see we're on the same page. I've been wanting this for a long time. It's almost a handicap to buy a higher margin item from Apple.
  • You clearly don't understand. If you have 50GB of music or movies/tv shows or apps, you do NOT need that space on iCloud for backup. NONE OF THAT COUNTS AGAINST YOUR ICLOUD SPACE. The author seems to make this same mistake as well.
  • What's there to not understand? I wouldn't want the icloud storage for music, itunes media, or apps. Still, the principle remains. Apple should reward those who buy their higher end products.
  • Do clothing stores rent closet space for you? Do high end food stores rent you refrigeration space? Does Mercedes rent you a garage or parking place?
  • I never said anything about those things taking space. I alraady know that .. Sent from the iMore App
  • At lest give you 5GB per device! Sent from the iMore App
  • I haven't had any issues with iCloud backups. Everything has been working just fine for me. Now iTunes Match, that is another story. Sent from the iMore App
  • I prefer to backup using iTunes. The backup file becomes part of my Mac's TimeMachine backup set. This way, if I screw up my iPhone, I can use TimeMachine to restore an earlier backup file, then restore my phone - voila - TimeMachine for my iPhone.
  • If iCloud got some serious upgrades, imagine how great it could be if features were added to the share cards that let you add a file to "iCloud Time Machine." On the Mac, it integrates with the standard Time Machine UI. On iOS, apps that support Time Machine would let you essentially have "super undo" and change which version of a file you're working on. The Time Machine backup is tied into the iOS and OS X Autosave function. Any time the document autosaves, it also goes to Time Machine in iCloud.
  • i think you're on to something with Time Machine. Leave 5GB of backup on apple's servers, but buy a Time Capsule, and allow you to remotely use a portion of it for idevice backups and restores. Most people have a good enough internet connection, and i'm quite sure most backups occur at home anyway, so why not?
  • So here is a thought... each apple id gets 5GB iCloud storage... the next device i activate on a new purchase with the same apple id gets the same 5GB of space... how about adding a few gigabytes for each new device bought (actual new device not your craigslist purchase) using that apple id? So say 5GB each new device purchase, over my own purchases i would have 15GB... 3 new phones over 5 years... Loyalty should count for storage (something).
  • For me, just fix the iMessage problem. My wife loves to send pics and vids through iMessage to other family members and there is no way to delete these! They are literally eating away at our iCloud storage and I have 25GB!
  • Two things tell me that this process is broken: 1. Not having enough control and/or visibility over what is backed up and how. As Ally brought up: multiple device back ups and the entire iMessage backup problem.
    2. The amount of storage space doesn't scale to the amount of Apple devices you have. I don't have a problem paying for more space, I already do, but considering that my one iPhone was enough to make me do that before I even got my iPad I get the feeling that it isn't quite enough. Combine those two things and you hit a wall. We sometimes pay a premium to be a part of Apple's experience but that experience is completely broken if the process isn't clean, reliable, and straightforward. iCloud backup fails in that regard.
  • I hope they'll bump this to 10GB soon and it'll become a real TimeMachine backup method for iOS. They advocate the cloud and sell 16GB devices for a premium price ?
    I don't know how Dropbox can still offer only 2GB. Sure, you get additional storage for referring friends (0,5), syncing photos (3) etc. and if you count that you'll double that in no time (over 5GB guaranteed) but others also give you those e.g. OneDrive 7 + 3 = 10 on day one + 0,5 for referrals, Copy 15 at the start + 5 for each new user, Box 10GB minimum. Dropbox is insane, they should have made 5GB a standard long ago.