Google Photos just announced that as of June 1, 2021, it is killing the unlimited free storage feature. A feature that had really set it apart from the competition. And a big reason why most people say "just use Google Photos" to back up their photos.
In its announcement today, Google said that original and high quality images will now count against your storage. Original has always counted it against it, unless you had a phone that had a special offer that gave it to you for free. But Google Photos allowed you to have unlimited high quality photos stored in your account. That's about to change next June though.
Google knew that this was coming though. Since users now upload 4.3 million GB to Gmail, Drive and Photos per day. Obviously, it's costly to store all of that content for Google, and thus it is passing down the costs to the consumers.
There's a flaw in Google saying it'll take three years to use the free 15GB of storage
Every Google users gets 15GB of storage that they can use for Gmail, Drive and Photos. But that's 15GB total, it's actually meant to equal about 5GB per service. And if you send or receive a lot of emails (and archive instead of delete), then that 15GB is going to go a lot faster than three years.
Google says around 80% of people will be able to use the 15GB of storage for three years before needing to upgrade. But what about after those three years? And you upgrade to the 100GB plan for $2/month. Yeah that's not a big cost, that's less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks. But you'll likely need to upgrade again a few years later, and the cycle continues.
It's going to be tough to tell customers that they now have to pay for something that used to be free.
Thankfully, Google has been improving Google One lately. Adding the Google VPN to its 2TB and higher plans. Fingers crossed that they follow Apple's lead and will bundle some of its other subscription services into Google One – like YouTube Music Premium for one.
Why was unlimited storage Google Photos best feature?
Unlimited storage really set Google Photos apart from the competition. Mainly because it meant that you could take as many photos as you wanted, and save them all to the cloud. Never having to worry about running out of storage. Since Google was optimizing them to use less storage.
As a phone reviewer (and I know this is a niche thing), I upload a lot of stuff to Google Photos. Screenshots for reviews, photo samples, video samples, and much more. Which means that this storage is going to go really quickly for me. And I'll need to be more particular about deleting stuff afterwards.
Other services, like iCloud Photos, everything counts against your limit, and they don't even try to optimize your photos. So at least Google is optimizing them to use less storage? And that's where Google stood apart, with unlimited storage. I have tens of thousands of photos and videos in Google Photos, which likely take up close to a terabyte already. Once this change takes place next June, I'll have to make sure I delete duplicate photos, and blurry ones.
Gone are the days of just uploading everything to Google Photos and being able to go back through your memories to see what you did this time last year, or three years ago.
Google Photos does have some other really cool features that we all love. Like its animations and collages that it will make automatically for you. There's also some new features that launched with the Pixel 5 this year, where it can make any photo of a person, into a portrait mode shot. With some nice bokeh. But those were mostly just nice additions to Google Photos and its unlimited storage.
It was inevitable, but still hurts
According to Google, its users are uploading 4.3 million GB of data to Gmail, Drive and Photos every day. That's a ton of data (but per user, it's very little, remember Photos has over a billion users). And that kind of data is not cheap to host. Google is a cloud storage company, but they do have to draw the line somewhere.
Google has slowly but surely gotten away from offering everything for free and off-setting the costs with ads. And it really started years ago with Google Drive, when they started offering storage plans. And then continued with Google One a couple years ago. Where it combined all three services together for storage.
A company has to make money, and we understand that, but this one really hurts Google. Photos is probably the service (outside of Gmail) that I use the most, and will probably cost me the most.
What alternatives are available?
Alternatives to Google Photos are pretty slim. iCloud Photos is really not an option for Android users, since there's no app for Android. There is Amazon Photos, which has similar pricing. It only offers two plans that are paid, which is 100GB for $1.99/month or 1TB for $6.99 per month. For what it's worth, Google Photos does not offer 1TB, it goes from 200GB to 2TB. However if you are a Prime member, then Amazon Photos is unlimited, with 5GB of video storage available.
Other options include Dropbox and Box. Which are actually file-storage apps, but there are photo auto-upload features available for both. Pricing is also very similar. Dropbox offers a paltry 2GB for free, and you can upgrade to 2TB for $9.99 per month. Box is a bit more confusing. You get 10GB for free. But you can only upgrade to 100GB for $10/month. However, it's business accounts offer unlimited storage starting at $15/month.
In short, the alternatives for Google Photos aren't good. And honestly, when this change happens next year, a lot of people are likely to go back to storing their photos on physical hardware like SSDs that they might have laying around.