“When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind, I don’t consider the bloody ROI.”
That’s Apple CEO Tim Cook, speaking at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in February, after a representative of conservative think tank National Center for Public Policy Research asked a question related to a shareholder proposal that would have Apple disclosing the exact costs of its environmental sustainability programs and industry participation.
Cook would go on to say that the sentiment applied to environmental issues, worker safety and other areas, reported Bryan Chaffin of The Mac Observer. Cook then directly addressed the representative, saying bluntly, “If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock.”
The whole account is actually pretty telling when it comes to the way Cook thinks about how Apple uses its resources — and it’s a bit refreshing, to be honest.
But it got me thinking about other areas where Apple could stand to “not consider the bloody ROI” when it comes to serving their customers. One that jumped to mind immediately was iCloud storage — specifically with relation to photos.
Currently, you get a very meager 5GB for free when you purchase an iOS device. You can then upgrade it (for a fairly hefty sum) all the way up to 50GB for $100.
Back when the shareholder meeting happened, I tweeted that Cook should perhaps ignore whatever return on investment that Apple hoped to get from iCloud storage, and got a pretty strong response. Many good points were made in the comments, including the fact that you can’t even buy enough storage to back up a single 64GB device — and Apple already sells units with as much as 128GB of storage.
But, even more than backups of anything else, this is really about photos. Ask your average iOS user what is taking up the most storage on their device and it’s almost guaranteed to be photos. Apple has spent billions making the iPhone one of the best and most-used pocket cameras in the world — but its storage policies punish the most prolific photographers.
Consistently, when I speak to users about their iOS device woes, it comes down to running out of space for photos and video. And photos differ significantly from other data in that there is an intense emotional and mnemonic attachment to them. These are fragments of life, not just packets of data.
That’s why I think that this year would be a really fine time for Apple to start ignoring the ROI of iCloud storage. Here’s what might be a good move:
- Make everyone’s iPhoto library live in iCloud, period. Having to rely on the hinky, complex behavior of iCloud photo stream and remembering to launch iPhoto on a Mac to back up photos is silly. The moment you shoot a photo it should save it on your device and upload a low-res version to iCloud. And the moment you connect to Wi-Fi it should upload the full-res version, period. All of your photos, in iCloud, done.
- Make iCloud backup free with purchase of a device. Not a certain amount of storage, just ‘enough’ to back up whatever is on your device. Simple.
Now, I am not blind to the fact that cloud storage is not free, not even for Apple. There will be a significant cost factor to implementing these measures. But that’s where ‘ignoring’ the ROI comes in.
But, if any company is capable of making a decision that prioritizes intangibles in the service of customer delight, it’s Apple. And they’ve consistently benefited from those kinds of decisions over the past decade with real, tangible sales and repeat business.
If it’s a matter of money, I think it’s hard to argue that the ongoing costs of server maintenance, power and upkeep are eating into Apple’s still-growing cash piles. And the way I see it, this fits in with moves like making OS X and iWork free for purchasers of Apple hardware. If it’s purely a matter of storage capacity, well they’re building data centers like crazy, so they’ll have enough space soon enough. Even so, serving the first item right now might actually be more feasible than the second item. So, photos now, which are the most important items, and everything else once they have enough capacity.
I’ve been hearing that Apple is working on photo-related announcements for WWDC, and that all of the teams working on Photos, iPhoto and Aperture are finally unified under one group now. Hopefully this means that photos, and iCloud storage, will get some nice face time during the keynote next month. I have no idea if they will for sure, but they should.