“Free” Photo Storage

Google is giving free, unlimited, full-resolution photo storage to all customers of their Google Pixel phone, and giving unlimited storage of “optimized” photos to everyone. This is an attractive deal, and Google using the storage warnings on iOS in their advertising will resonate with a lot of people. I think this will be a real, long-term threat.

How much storage is a Pixel user going to use, over the life of the phone? It really depends on the user, of course, but since the Pixel is a high-end, expensive phone, I’d expect the people who buy them are going to be heavy photo and video users. I could easily see using a few hundred gigabytes of photos and video over a couple of years. Video is large.

Apple added 4K video and Live Photos to the iPhone, features which more than double the per-item storage requirement. In a world where Apple makes a profit from either users buying higher-capacity devices, or paying for iCloud storage, that’s great for Apple. But it makes it more difficult to compete with Google’s free storage option, since it would simply cost Apple more to store the data generated from the same amount of customer usage.

But why is Google doing this? I don’t believe it’s simply to sell more phones.

Google is making hardware as a way to protect their ad business. Everything Google does can be viewed through this lens. Chrome was a way to keep the browser vendors from using an alternate default search engine. Android was a way to keep Apple from cutting Google out of mobile. Google needs you to be using Google services, and is systematically removing anything that gets in the way of that. You can have Google fiber to your Google Wi-Fi to your Google phones, and Chromebooks. It’s Google all the way down.

But, specifically, why photos? I don’t have any inside info here, but from looking at a few obvious trends, I have a hunch.

Recognizing things in images is becoming easier. The search capability that Google has introduced for Google Photos lets you search for photos that contain whatever terms you want to type in. Your phone knows where you are when you take these photos, so Google can tell a lot about the places you take pictures.

For example, it’s obvious from my photos that I have a dog. Why wouldn’t Google use that signal in their ad-selection algorithm? It makes sense, and it’s feasible, so they will.

There’s so much Google could learn about your home, your style, colour preferences, clothing, furniture, and so much more just by analyzing your photos.

That’s the price for free photo storage.