Google lured billions of consumers to its digital services by offering copious free cloud storage. Now it’s beginning to make us pay.
The Alphabet unit has whittled down some free storage offers in recent months, while prodding more users toward a new paid cloud subscription called Google One. That’s happening as the amount of data people stash online continues to soar.
[referenced url=”https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2018/05/google-one-everything-you-need-to-know/” thumb=”https://www.lifehacker.com.au/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2018/05/google-one-logo-410×231.jpg” title=”What Is ‘Google One’ And Do You Need It?” excerpt=”Google is revamping its online storage offerings with a new-look, new-name product dubbed Google One. How much will it cost and what’s going to happen to existing Google Drive customers? Here’s what you need to know!”]
When people hit those caps, they realise they have little choice but to start paying, or risk losing access to emails, photos and personal documents. The cost isn’t excessive for most consumers, but at the scale Google operates, this could generate billions of dollars in extra revenue each year for the company. Google didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.
A big driver of the shift is Gmail. Google shook up the email business when Gmail launched in 2004 with much more free storage than rivals were providing at the time. It boosted the storage cap every couple of years, but in 2013 it stopped. People’s inboxes kept filling up. And now that some of Google’s other free storage offers are shrinking, consumers are beginning to get nasty surprises.
“I was merrily using the account and one day I noticed I hadn’t received any email since the day before,” said Rod Adams, a nuclear energy analyst and retired naval officer. After using Gmail since 2006, he’d finally hit his 15GB cap and Google had cut him off. Switching away from Gmail wasn’t an easy option because many of his social and business contacts reach him that way.
“I just said ‘OK, been free for a long time, now I’m paying,’” Adams said.
Google has also ended or limited other promotions recently that gave people free cloud storage and helped them avoid Gmail crises. Google’s Pixel smartphone, originally launched in 2016, came with free unlimited photo storage via the company’s Photos service. The latest Pixel 4 handset still has free photo storage, but large files are now compressed, reducing the quality. For example storing HD video does not count against the data limit, but storing 4K video does.
More than 11,500 people in a week signed an online petition to bring back the full, free Pixel Photos deal. Evgeny Rezunenko, the petition organiser, called Google’s change a “hypocritical and cash grabbing move.”
“Let us remind Google that part of the reason of people choosing Pixel phones over other manufacturers sporting a similar hefty price tag was indeed this service,” he wrote.
Smartphones dramatically increased the number of photos people take; one estimate put the total for 2017 at 1.2 trillion. Those images quickly fill up storage space on handsets, so tech companies, including Apple, Amazon.com and Google, offered cloud storage as an alternative. Now those online memories are piling up, some of these companies are charging users to keep them.
Apple has been doing this for several years, building its iCloud storage service into a lucrative recurring revenue stream. When iPhone users get notifications that their devices are full and they should either delete photos and other files or pay more for cloud storage, people often choose the cloud option.
Google lets Photos users on iPhone and Android upload unlimited images in “high quality” (images larger than 16MP in size or videos in higher than Full HD are compressed), but storing more detailed images counts against a user’s storage space.
In May Google unveiled Google One, a replacement for its Drive cloud storage service. There’s a free 15 GB tier, and in Australia it costs $2.49 per month or $24.99 per year for a 100 GB allowance and up from there. This includes several types of files previously stashed in Google Drive, plus emails, photos and videos.
If users have a lot of high-quality videos and images stored they have the ability to compress them so they no longer count against the storage limit, but there’s no such option for files or emails.
Gmail, Drive and Google Photos have more than 1 billion users each. As the company whittles away free storage offers and prompts more people to pay, that creates a potentially huge new revenue stream for the company.
If 10 per cent of Gmail users sign up for the monthly 100GB Google One subscription at its $US1.99 price, that would generate almost $US2.4 billion ($3.5 billion) a year in annual, recurring sales for the company.
Adams, the Gmail user, is one of the people contributing to this growing Google business. He says a few dollars a month is a relatively small price to pay to avoid losing his main point of digital contact with the world.
“It’s worked this long,” Adams said. “I didn’t want to bother changing the address.”