How much iCloud storage do you need?

Over the weekend, Apple pulled the trigger and extended existing MobileMe subscribers’ 20GB of free iCloud storage for another year.  It was a nice surprise for those that have recently transitioned their accounts over to iCloud only to find that the standard free 5GB of iCloud space does not go very far.  This extension of a transition period is a good thing for iCloud users as we all adjust to life in the iCloud.  Depending on how you choose to use it, iCloud can take up either a lot or a little space.

When MobileMe was a paid service the only content that was automatically stored on your MobileMe account was your email, calendar, Safari bookmarks and notes.  If you wanted to use your MobileMe space to also host your family photos and videos, you had to manually do so by electing to share your content from within iPhoto, iMovie or even iWeb.

But things have changed now that the transition from MobileMe to iCloud is now complete. People who have recently switched will notice that there is now even more data that is automatically stored in your iCloud account than to its predecessor.  Your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch can easily be set up to automatically store all of your app’s data files and your individual device backups in addition to your email, calendar, Safari bookmarks and notes.

Documents and Data

With OS X Mountain Lion, your Mac will also by default start storing your documents in your iCloud account — this allows your files and app data to be shared across all of your devices.  With the enhancements that Apple has made with Galleries on both the OS X and iOS versions of iPhoto, you can once again host your family photos using your iCloud storage.  And as photo resolutions keep getting larger, as well as the resolution of the devices that display them, the question that remains is 5GB — the free entry-level storage size for iCloud — is enough space for an individual to use?

On Macs with Mountain Lion you have the ability to decide on an individual basis what files will and will not be stored on iCloud.  This level of control however has not been extended to iOS, as its only configuration is an “all-in” or “all-out” when it comes to the ability for apps to store their data on iCloud.  Some third-party apps on iOS will let you choose between iCloud and other cloud based storage solutions like DropBox.  With the Apple’s own apps in particular, you will find that you are storing more information via your iCloud account than you have in the past.

Save to iCloud

If you manage your backups wisely, and don’t store too many files on your Mac to your iCloud account, 5GB can successfully manage two iOS devices and a Mac.  If on the other hand you rely upon iCloud backups for all of your devices, and depend on your photos being backed up to your iCloud account, and you have been opting to store more and more files from your Mac on your iCloud account, then 5GB will not get you very far.

Fortunately your Photo Stream, comprised of your most recent 1,000 photos, which only stick around for 30 days, does not count against your iCloud space quota.  This also includes the additional Shared Photo Streams that you create for sharing with your family and friends:  They too do not count against your iCloud storage quota.

Individual App Backups

But what takes up the most space on your iCloud storage will be your iOS device backups.  This is primarily due to the fact that iOS will by default backup your entire Camera Roll to your iCloud storage.  You can however take control of what apps do and what apps do not get backed up by performing the following steps:

  • In your iOS Settings, tap on iCloud and select “Storage and Backup”.
  • If your iCloud Backup setting is turned on for that device, tap on “Manage Storage”.
  • Select the backup file for the device you are currently using.
  • Selectively turn on and off which apps data you want to back up the next time you perform a backup.

Shared Storage

All iCloud storage is shared across all of your devices, iOS and OS X alike.  If you still find that’s not enough space for you, here is how you can check on how much space your stuff is taking up:

  • On OS X, goto System Preferences and select your iCloud preferences.
  • Click on the “Manage” button in the bottom right hand corner to see a list of apps that are storing data on your iCloud account.
  • On iOS, goto the Setting app and select your iCloud settings.
  • Click on the “Storage & Backup” selection, then click on the “Manage Storage” option to see a list of apps that are storing data on your iCloud account.

If you discover, as I have, that 5GB of storage space on iCloud is not enough, you can opt to purchase more.  And for the same price as an individual MobileMe subscription, you can get up to 55GB of space for that same $99 per yr.  I only hope that 55GB will be enough space for my iCloud needs by this time next year.