iCloud's free tier hasn't improved since 2011 - 5GB just isn't enough anymore

iCloud logo
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple's iCloud service passed its 10th birthday in 2021, and syncing photos and messages between my iPhone, iPad by now, makes me feel as if the service has been around as long as the original iPod.

I remember when the iPhone 4S debuted with iOS 5 and iCloud in 2011, and being able to take a photo, then see it on my iPad 2 soon after felt like magic. You could argue that we've had the same method for email for years, as your messages have synced between your devices for much longer than Apple's service.

But while we've seen huge advances in iPhones and iPads, even a chip transition of the Macs from Intel to Apple Silicon, iCloud's free tier has remained the same, offering just 5GB.

When you consider iPhones that can record in full 4K video, with one minute taking up 440MB, you'll already be needing to pay for a higher tier of iCloud storage once you record for ten minutes. With this in mind, this is what I'd like to see for the free tier going forward.

Match the tiers with iPad storage

Displaying the tiers of iCloud storage

(Image credit: TechRadar)

We need to look at how the paid tiers have changed over the years, while the 5GB free tier has remained the same. These three tiers arrived with iCloud in 2011:

  • 10GB
  • 20GB
  • 50GB

2015 saw some changes to this:

  • 200GB
  • 1TB
  • 2TB

In 2020, we saw the latest change to the tiers:

  • 50GB
  • 200GB
  • 2TB

Across these changes, free with 5GB has remained the same. I've always been paying for the highest tier due to the number of photos and videos I both store and take on my devices, alongside keeping hundreds of files that were once on a OneDrive account, Microsoft's cloud storage service.

While the jump between 200GB and 2TB is baffling to me in how far apart they are, it's something I've come to accept, and it's the 2TB tier that I'm paying for each month.

But 5GB for a free tier is ridiculous in 2022. When I used to work at a phone store in a previous life, as soon as I discovered that there were so many photos that one customer had on their iPhone, I'd help set up an iCloud plan, mainly because they were adamant that they needed their photos to be on their new iPhone.

Setting this up would mean that the photos would be stored in the cloud, and a weekly backup of their iPhone content would be possible without facing the 5GB wall.

64GB free storage for all

But it's time for a change. This is what I'd like to see in the future for all the tiers:

  • Free: 64GB
  • 500GB
  • 1TB
  • 2TB
  • 5TB

The free tier should match the lowest amount of storage that's available on Apple's products - in this case it's the iPhone SE (2022) and the iPad Air (2022), both offering 64GB as an option.

It's not great to see these as storage options in 2022 regardless, but increasing the free tier could help with this. Backups would be possible with these devices, and you could store a good amount of photos and videos.

Our Deputy Phones Editor, Tom Bedford spoke to me about how he still constantly sees the 'iCloud storage is getting full' on the free tier he has with his iPad, and he's primarily a Windows and Android user.

5GB in 2022 makes no sense anymore - let's see a tier that matches the lowest storage option on Apple's devices, to help remove any anxiety about needing to free up iCloud space to create a successful backup.

And as a bonus, the paid tiers should see more choice - start at a tier for the users like me who have multiple Apple devices, to those who are content creators for the 5TB tier, who want to store hundreds of gigabytes on their iCloud Drive.

In this scenario, everyone wins. Apple can afford to allow users on a free tier of 64GB storage, especially with its services growing in revenue every year. iCloud has become a useful service for many, but mainly on the paid tier, and that needs to change so that it can benefit all of its users.

Daryl Baxter
Software & Downloads Writer

Daryl had been freelancing for 3 years before joining TechRadar, now reporting on everything software-related. In his spare time he's written a book, 'The Making of Tomb Raider', alongside podcasting and usually found playing games old and new on his PC and MacBook Pro. If you have a story about an updated app, one that's about to launch, or just anything Software-related, drop him a line.