According to a recent report published by Strategy Analytics, Apple’s iCloud is moving ahead of competitors Dropbox, Google, and Amazon in the battle for cloud storage. However, these types of reports could be oversimplifying the cloud storage marketplace, and serve as an indication that we take time to understand the differences.
According to the Strategy Analytics report, over a quarter (27%) of Americans polled said they had used iCloud, Dropbox (17%), Amazon Cloud Drive (15%), and, in last place, Google Drive (10%). Half of respondents (55%) had never used a cloud storage service, but 33% had first used one within the past week, which is an interesting data point (See Figure).
The problem with these types of reports is that they look generally at all retail cloud storage services, and do not consider how they are typically leveraged by end users or platforms or applications they are bound to. Indeed, in order to make heads or tails out of the cloud storage market, you need to understand how the multibillion-dollar technology market is segmented, and that should be around both use and audience.
iCloud, while clearly a cloud storage service of sorts, is leveraged by the millions of Apple device users largely as a data synchronization and data resiliency service. iCloud is typically leveraged to sync music and videos between Apple devices, as well as back up our devices in case of theft, destruction, or device-to-new device migration. It’s part of the platform’s infrastructure more so than an add-on service, such as Dropbox.
“Let’s take a break from that back and forth for a moment and consider a few numbers not included in the Strategy Analytics report, but which reflect the Mac Maker’s increasing influence:
- Last month, Apple marked 1 billion downloads of iTunes U course content.
- Also last month, the iTunes Store celebrated 25 billion songs sold.
- Finally, in January, CEO Tim Cook said Apple had sold a half billion iOS devices.”
A fairer comparison would be the same services offered by Google/Android, or other devices that offer synchronization and storage services built into the platform. Perhaps other storage services that are bound to a category of mobile devices, and are part of the infrastructure of using those devices.
Dropbox is not at all like iCloud. While Dropbox is a cloud storage and synchronization service, it focuses on the OS-level file system sharing between any number of platforms including Microsoft, Apple, Google, etc., and is not bound or built into any one mobile or desktop platform.
Those who leverage Dropbox have to make an effort to find it and install it. They must have a basic understanding of how it works. Moreover, Dropbox is not bound to any specific application, such as iTunes and iCloud. In short, it’s just a shared and synchronized file system, and should be compared with others in its category such as Box.net, SugarSync, and about a half a dozen other file system-level cloud storage and synchronization providers.
The confusion around this space is understandable for a few reasons:
- First, retail cloud storage systems are very different, providing very different services. Thus, they are not mutually exclusive, and many users may leverage several of these cloud storage systems for very different purposes. For instance, I leverage iCloud, Dropbox, and Google Drive. All are very different use cases and thus reasons why I leverage each of them.
- Second, we’ve not done a good job in creating sub-categories around the many types of retail cloud storage providers. I suspect that, as time progresses, we’ll name and track these providers within their own categories. For now, in many instances they will be tossed together for analysis, creating even more confusion.
However, we can certainly state that cloud storage systems such as iCloud and Dropbox are very different types of services, serving very different needs. While there are always some overlapping patterns, it’s time we begin to separate them so we can make some informed decisions around the quickly emerging and crowded cloud storage space.