Has Apple left it too late to be a leader in cloud storage?

At WWDC, among a litany of other announcements, Apple unleashed iCloud Drive, representing further entry from Cupertino into the cloud storage space. But is it too little, too late?

Sitting as part of iOS 8, Apple is offering up to 5 gigabytes of free storage, with users being charged a princely 59p a month for up to 20GB and £2.40 a month for 200GB. This certainly compares favourably with Microsoft’s OneDrive - £5 per month for 200GB – and niche players such as Box and Dropbox, with prices similar to Google Drive and Amazon Web Services.

But the question remains: with so many players in the market, why Apple? And why now?

With iCloud Drive, Apple in theory has the missing piece of the jigsaw for the full enterprise collaboration suite that Google and Microsoft already has. Yet some of the tech press remains resolutely unconvinced about this move.

In particular, iCloud Drive seems to go against what Apple – or, Steve Jobs – has been aiming at for years. Yes, Apple has iCloud, but it’s not as intuitive on desktop as its competitors.

“With the announcement of iCloudDrive at WWDC 2014, Apple just admitted defeat in its crusade against the traditional file system,” wrote Evan Niu in The Motley Fool. “Apple fans will love iCloud Drive for syncing files between their Apple devices, but Apple likely won’t get Dropbox and Google Drive-faithful to switch,” said Ellis Hamburger in The Verge.  

It’s not an entirely surprising reaction. The niche players saw a gap in the market because the likes of Apple weren’t offering a sufficient solution. And even though Dropbox is run off Amazon storage – hence why their prices are a bit higher than the others – let’s not forget that Apple tried to buy Dropbox under Jobs’ tenure, according to CEO Drew Houston.

Yet after that rebuttal, Jobs reportedly vowed to kill Dropbox. For Jay Taylor, writing for ETF Daily News, this premonition may come true, asking: “If Apple offers an identical service at the same price, then where is Dropbox’s competitive advantage?”

So who should we believe?

Things have moved on rapidly since the early days of cloud storage. It’s no longer so much of a zero sum game, nor is it merely a question of price. AWS, Google and Microsoft took it in turns to slash prices earlier this year, but there was a wider point being made: storage should not be at all expensive in itself, but it’s more about the overall ecosystem integration. Besides, you get what you pay for anyway.

As Interoute CTO Matthew Finnie told CloudTech last month: “If you’re paying two cents in the dollar for a gig of storage, what kind of predictability of service do you think you’re going to get? Let’s be clear – if you can use it for two cents a gig, and you can produce the same output as the guy who’s using storage at seven Euros a gig, well then great!”

So even though Apple is promising aggressive and competitive pricing in future, just make sure you don’t look at that and that alone as a reason to invest.

Yet if any company has a head start in getting an audience, it’s Apple. There are parallels here with Microsoft. Gartner cited that specifically with the Redmond company – its huge consumer base and reputation means it can practically write its own ticket in infrastructure as a service.

It’s already been mooted that those who use Box or Dropbox on their iDevice – and there are many – might not be tempted to move over straight away. Yet this space just got a bit more interesting. Startups such as cloudGOO and OneBigDrive offer users the opportunity to sync all their separate accounts together into one big cloud, making it even more difficult for Apple to have total share.

Box’s on-again off-again IPO looks set to be back on, while Dropbox has no intention of slashing its prices. Evidently both those companies are sure of their share, with Dropbox buying messaging startup Droptalk last week. Yet for the enterprise, Dropbox is “the bane of IT’s existence”, according to Nick Pappas writing for Venture Beat.

And this is where Apple will hope to capitalise. Apple might have left it very late, but there should be enough of an audience there to keep it competitive, if not quite a market leader.

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