Of Drives and Clouds: Surrendering Control in a Low-Storage Era

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Almost a decade ago I went from using an off-brand MP3-player with about a gigabyte of storage to my first iPod. It was an iPod Classic; a solid chunk of technology that packed 80 gigabytes of just about any data you felt like loading onto it.

ipodI, like just about everyone else, proceeded to pack it to the brim with music, pictures, the odd video, anything I could think of. It was almost full within a week and I remember thinking that there couldn’t possibly be any reason for needing more space. It already had everything. Today, I’m struggling to fill my 32GB smartphone that has the ability utilize that space in ways I couldn’t even imagine when I was holding my external hard drive that occasionally played music back in 2007. Video, music, pictures and the software to not only view, but also create and process that media.

In my case, something happened to the way I perceive data in the years since my computer was running hot copying files over to my ever-present MP3: internet connectivity and cloud storage. At first, this wasn’t weird. You suddenly went from having a device that did one or two things only, to a device that takes pictures, sends emails, keeps your calendar at a glance and so on. Having less memory in the same physical size when you have to add in more functionality is a reasonable trade-off, but much of that functionality often requires storage as well.

For many people, cloud storage has moved from the role of backup to primary storage

One event, in particular, made me rethink how I view my data, and what I keep accessible for offline usage. A while back, Microsoft announced that OneDrive cloud storage would be reduced from 15GB to 5GB for the free option, and the previously unlimited storage that came with an Office 365 subscription went down to 1TB. Phone memory hasn’t particularly expanded in the past few years (other than notable exceptions), and coupled with the trend of OEMs steering away from expandable storage in their 2015 line-ups, events like this carry further implications. Especially so when cloud storage has moved from the role of a backup to primary storage for many people.

Recent controversies highlight the fickle nature of having your data in the hands of others.

These are, of course, not the only examples, and many of you have probably already been storage as much data as possible, but recent trends have only done more to really drive home the point that today, you no longer own your data. This is not only true for media content you store in the cloud, but also apps.

As always, one should keep in mind the general rule of thumb that if you’re not paying it, you’re not the consumer, but the product.

Is it a phone? Is it a cloud? It’s a cloud phone!

Some two weeks ago Google announced that in order to improve their “deep linking” capacity, you’d be able to stream apps to access in-app only content, without the need to download the app. Phones are increasingly moving to acting as only as receptors of content. Netflix and Spotify are prime examples of this, but apps and content purchased through the Play Store is only software that you’re licensed to use – we’re consuming services, and that applies to other apps as well.

The newly kickstarted Nextbit Robin takes cloud storage to the next level. Built around the idea of keeping as little as possible on your phone for improved performance, it automatically uploads your data to the cloud when you’re not utilizing it. The aim is “seamless integration” with its servers. The phone itself comes with 32GB of internal storage, plus 100GB on the Nextbit servers. While it’s an interesting concept that has a lot of potential, the skeptic in me would argue that it’s still only 4GB more than a 128GB model that is attainable on other phones (through built-in or expandable storage), but with a potentially huge cost if your contract has limited data. That’s without taking into consideration what might happen to your device should the company go bankrupt if you don’t make sure your data is backed up somewhere other than their servers.

cloudRecent controversies highlight the fickle nature of having your data in the hands of others. Pushbullet reneged on a promise never to lock previously free content behind a paywall because of the need to create some form of revenue, Cerberus demoted previously free “lifetime” licenses that were handed out during a promotion down to a three-year limit. Quickpic got bought up by a company and many users jumped ship rather than risk misplacing their trust.

The bottom line is that many apps require ongoing development and maintenance, and developers can’t always keep their promises or the very essence of what made their software good in the first place intact. After all, how long has it been since you heard someone utter the phrase “it used to be good, but the latest update ruined it”?

It may just be me filling the role of the grumpy old man wanting files stored locally, like some sort of neanderthal.

Perhaps phones acting mainly as receptors is in part why Google has been clamping down on root recently. Content is delivered to your phone, “consumed”, but as little as possible is stored locally. It makes it easier to index in-app information and make it more available to everyone. The trade-off is that you are losing control of an object you carry around most hours of the day.

However, it may just be me filling the role of the grumpy old man, sitting on the porch in his rocking chair, wanting to have his four thousand pictures of marginally pretty sunsets stored locally, like some sort of neanderthal. But perhaps that’s precisely what we should do — hoard as much data as possible and start demanding offline availability of apps and services whenever possible. That was my first impulse eight years ago, and despite much better (and cheaper) internet today, there’s still merit in that need. I used to be of the opinion that 32GB was more than enough for my needs. Next time I’m buying a phone, I’ll be looking for far more.

Do you prefer local storage? How much do you rely on cloud services, and for what? Let us know in the comments!