So finally Google discontinues its famous unlimited free storage plan on Google Photos effective June 1, 2021. Although Google had announced it a little more than 6 months back, let’s accept it, we always knew it would happen one day. No matter how much we wanted an unlimited free photo backup solution as robust as Google Photos, it was just not financially viable for the company to continue with it forever.
If you have followed Google and its line of products over the last decade, you would know this is not the first time they have done this. The company has a long history of scrapping services that don’t work for it anymore. From Orkut which was massive in India and Brazil back in the day to the highly ambitious Google+. From the very popular Picasa to the experimental Buzz. The list is huge.
But with Google Photos free storage, it was different. They didn’t kill it because it was not working. They did so because it was working.
What was the Free tier on Google Photos?
Unless you were living under a rock until now, you would know Google offers 15 GB of storage across its services that include Gmail, Google Drive and Google Photos. The good part was that Google allowed users to upload unlimited photos and videos in high resolution (16 megapixels and 1080p respectively) to Google Photos that didn’t count towards the 15 GB quota.
All media above the given resolutions were either scaled-down in the unlimited storage plan, or uploaded in their Original quality and counted against the 15 GB free storage quota. This depended on which option the users selected. No prizes for guessing, most of the users preferred the former while accepting a compromise on the media quality (which was hardly noticeable thanks to the advanced compression mechanism in place). We all know the trade-off absolutely was worth it.
Why Google Photos offered free unlimited storage?
This is quite obvious. By offering unlimited storage free of cost, Google attracted a massive user base on the Google Photos platform. This is a time tested business model wherein attractive services are offered free of cost only to be discontinued once the user base grows big. At this point, premium plans are introduced and/or promoted aggressively.
It worked for Google. Today, you will hardly find an Android user not using this service.
According to Google’s announcement last year,
Today, more than 4 trillion photos are stored in Google Photos, and every week 28 billion new photos and videos are uploaded.
Look at those numbers. Google wants all these users to migrate to the paid plans. That brings us to the next section.
Why did Google discontinue the Free tier?
Let’s not fall for the narrative that Google had to pull the plug suddenly only because it couldn’t afford to continue with it anymore. It was anyway bound to happen one day. It was a business decision then to offer this free service. And it is a business decision now to stop it.
Google wants you to subscribe to the Google One service which we shall discuss shortly.
What happens to your backed-up photos?
All the photos/videos you have already backed up before June 1, 2021 are safe and will not be affected by this change in policy. However, you will not be able to upload any further media under the free unlimited high-quality plan.
Every new photo you upload now onward will be counted against your Google account storage quota of 15 GB.
What about Pixel devices?
Current Pixel (up to Pixel 5) users don’t have to worry yet. They will continue to enjoy the benefits of free unlimited storage as before. Although note that only photos and videos uploaded from Pixel devices are eligible for the free plan.
It means, if you’re a Pixel user, you will still not get unlimited free storage on Google Photos on your non-Pixel devices even though they are set up with the same Google account. Of course, nobody stops you from transferring the photos over to your Pixel phone and then backing up.
Future Pixel devices (6 onward) will not get free unlimited storage.
What is Google One?
Google One is a premium cloud storage service offered by Google which effectively expands the storage (15 GB) you already have with your Google account. It is basically a rebranded version of the premium Google Drive service. Pricing starts at $1.99 per month for 100 GB storage (130 INR in India).
Google One can be accessed either through your web browser or the Google One mobile application.
If you’re on a 2 TB or higher plan, you also get access to the VPN by Google One.
Google One lets you add up to 5 family members to your subscription.
What are some free alternatives to Google Photos?
Unfortunately, at the moment we don’t have any free alternative to Google Photos that comes even close. Most cloud storage services offer little space for free which you can expand with a premium subscription. Let us look at some of our options.
Google Photos: Confused? Don’t forget you still have 15 GB of free space with each Google account. That is still more than what most free cloud storage services offer. Google offers a simple tool that can help you manage your storage by identifying photos you can delete It also gives an estimate of how long your free storage can last based on how often you back up media to your Google account.
Once you have exhausted your quota, you can always create a new Google account for more storage.
Amazon Photos: Amazon offers unlimited high-resolution photo storage along with 5 GB video storage to all prime customers in the US. This is the closest it gets to the unlimited free photo storage of Google Photos. Unfortunately, this service is not applicable to customers in India partly because the prime membership at Amazon.in is already very cheap.
Microsoft OneDrive: If you use Microsoft services, you can opt for OneDrive for storing your photos. But it offers a meagre 5 GB of storage on the free plan.
Apple iCloud: If you have an Apple device, you can sign up for iCloud and get 5 GB of free storage. It is a well-optimized storage service.
Dropbox: Although it offers a very low storage space of just 2 GB on the free plan, it is one of the oldest players in the cloud storage space and you can rely on them with your precious photos. And by referring your friends you can expand the storage to as much as 16 GB.
Degoo: This is not one of the most famous cloud services, but definitely the one which provides the largest storage space on the free plan. It offers 100 GB free of cost which you can further expand up to 500 GB by referring your friends.
We shall cover the best alternatives to Google Photos thoroughly in a later post.
Let’s conclude this article by acknowledging the fact that Google Photos is still great and what they offered until now was never heard of before. It enabled us to backup thousands of our photos and videos for 5 years which was awesome. Most of us would have never imagined we could backup so much without spending a dime.
And I sincerely believe if there is one company that has the potential and willpower to offer something similar, it’s Amazon. Fingers crossed!