The Great Photos Heist

Right now Google is in the process of pulling off one of the greatest technology heists in recent memory. They’re using the global juggernaut that is the Rio Olympics—with the mind bogglingly large number of eyes that are following it on TV screens around the world—as an opportunity to advertise Google Photos.

That may seem like an odd choice, until you realise that the reason for the advertising campaign lies elsewhere: iOS.

Many iOS users own devices with limited storage space, either through lack of housekeeping or the inherent limitations of the device they have chosen to buy. These users have a daily battle with alerts that tell them they are out of storage space and they no longer have room to store any photos.

Up in the Cloud

Google has been clever enough to market their Photos app as a solution to this all too common problem. It has a new feature called Free Up Space that can backup your photos to the cloud and then, automagically, remove your photos and video from your device to, well, free up space. Cool.

The deal is almost as good as it sounds, as you only get unlimited cloud storage for your photos if you’re OK with Google compressing them (perhaps with something like JPEGmini). If you want to store the unmodified originals then they impose a limit. I think that’s fair.

This feature will sound sweet to anybody who has ever seen the nag that they’re out of storage. I’d hazard a guess that that’s pretty much most people with a 16GB or smaller iOS device and any sort of passion for photography, WhatsApp, Snapchat, selfies, or whatever else.

How do you like them Apples?

So now that we’ve understood the problem, and the proposed solution, it’s time to think about what Apple could do about it. Of course their solution will be reactive, with iOS 10 already in beta and Google Photos going strong, but a native solution would be more than welcome.

Currently Apple give every user 5GB of storage. Whilst that’s a decent amount of space for some types of files, it’s just not enough for large files like digital photos and videos.

It’s also worth remembering that most users will already be close to capacity if they’ve activated iCloud Backup. These backups could use up most, or even all, of your 5GB and leave little or no room for anything else.

Turn Back Time

The enhancement request I would file — where I still working at Apple — would be to increase the storage each user gets, make it so that backups do not take up any storage space and of course switch on iCloud Photos by default so free space is regained.

But why stop there? Apple could implement a sort of Time Machine feature for iOS, with the option to restore the whole device or individual apps, with or without their data. That would be very cool.