Amazon just added Cloud Drive apps for iOS to accompany the Android versions it released at the end of June. Users can now view files and folders from mobile devices, just like they can from the desktop, putting Amazon’s service more in line with the likes of Dropbox and Google Drive.
It’s all part of an increasingly frenetic land grab to store consumers’ data online—the big names are cutting prices and expanding services to get photos, music, video and more into their respective “clouds” and off people’s devices.
Simple concept, at least in theory. But its execution, and the various ways to carry it out, can be anything but. In Amazon’s case, putting out a variety of half-baked apps don’t help matters.
A Tale Of Two Apps
For users, cloud storage options can reduce reliance on local storage space, freeing up the limited amount you can stash on a phone or tablet. They also offer automatic backups, making it much easier to access those files from anywhere, whether smartphone, tablet, desktop or browsers.
That’s how it generally works. In Amazon’s case, however, the proposition veers into piecemeal territory.
The company offers Amazon Photos apps as an uploader and back-up tool for images. If you want to see other files, you now have new mobile apps that let you open and see common file types, view photos and play music and video. They don’t offer options of their own for mobile uploading, but even as companion apps, they seem incomplete. The new Cloud Drive apps don’t let users edit documents or perform advanced actions, like rename or move.
In other words, the new entries don’t replace the Photos apps; they’re intended to work alongside them, forcing people to use two different apps to use its single Cloud Drive service, with rather limited functionality.
For that privilege, they pay $60 per year for unlimited online storage, though the photos-only option costs quite a bit less, at $12 per annum (or free for Prime members). The latter option includes 5GB of space for videos.
Developers, on the other hand, may have a better experience with Cloud Drive. Last month, the company launched a Software Development Kit (SDK) for the service, letting third-party app makers use it as a back-end—that is, as a holding tank to store users’ files and settings.
At least they can nix the confusion for their own users, even as Amazon’s own foray into consumer cloud storage seems to fragment itself.
Amazon’s not alone. Dropbox, Google, Apple and Microsoft all offer a bewildering number of options—with photo backups the typical starting point—though making direct comparisons isn’t exactly straightforward.
Dropbox helped lead the way in terms of seamless syncing between devices and automatic cloud backups, and while its 2 GB free offering is fairly paltry, 1 TB for $9.99 a month is affordable enough for many. It also has a dedicated app for organizing mobile photos in the form of Carousel.
Google’s cloud storage has evolved in the other direction, beginning as an online office suite and later growing to become a bucket for all types of files. That move coincided with Drive’s increasing focus on mobile devices as well as inside desktop browsers.
Google offers a more generous 15 GB of free space (across all of its services), but matches Dropbox in price with 1 TB for $9.99 a month. The recently launched Google Photos offers unlimited storage for pictures and videos, if you don’t mind some resizing. Google offers a variety of apps to tie into its online services, but they each have more distinct identities—and features—than Amazon’s still not quite-fully-formed consumer cloud.
For its part, Microsoft has yet another play: Under Satya Nadella, the company has been busy trying to push all of its apps on all of the platforms—OneDrive can now do everything Dropbox and Google Drive can, albeit less smoothly, and Office 365 subscribers get unlimited online storage.
As for iCloud, the service for iOS and Mac users is typically Apple in the way it lags behind the competition. For one, cross-platform compatibility—or really, lack thereof—holds no joy for people who have any non-Apple devices in the mix. Given that, iCloud is not really a viable option as an all-in-one cloud storage solution. It’s more expensive too. While it offers 5 GB of storage for free, 1 TB will run you $20 per month.
All of which makes Amazon’s new apps both necessary, and yet, rather underwhelming. If it’s serious about pulling consumers over from other services, the company needs apps like this. But they need to get a lot better very quickly.
Lead photo courtesy of Amazon