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Apple may 'think different' on iCloud's video sync feature

Apple is rumored to be adding video sync to its iCloud service. The question is whether it will feed into Photo Stream, or count against user storage.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
4 min read
Apple's photo sync through iCloud using Photo Stream.
Apple's photo sync through iCloud using Photo Stream Apple

iCloud and video are two words that have not gone together since the service launched last year. But a video synchronization feature rumored to arrive on iCloud next month could change all that.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal earlier today (subscription required), Apple is at work on a feature that lets users sync up videos they've taken with their iOS devices through iCloud. What's unclear is whether that's simply an addition to the existing Photo Stream feature, or something separate.

As it stands, Apple's Photo Stream feature, which was introduced alongside iOS 5 last June, only syncs photos. If you want to see a video you've taken from your iPhone on your iPad, or vice versa, you've got to either sync it to that device with a computer using iTunes, or upload it to a Web sharing service like YouTube or Vimeo. The Journal's report suggests videos would now be ferried over too.

This brings up a question about storage though. Videos are big, especially if you've captured them on either of Apple's most recent iOS devices, the third-generation iPad and iPhone 4S. Both of these shoot in 1080p, and the files that are saved are bigger than ever. If Apple treats videos the same as photos, will that mean you get to keep videos as part of your Photo Stream, with no size limits? That would be generous given how Apple treats other types of files on the service.

Apple's iCloud gives users 5GB for free, though only some files eat into that amount. Things like digital content (be it apps, books, videos, or music) purchased from one of Apple's stores and the Photo Stream don't count against the limit. However, e-mail, stored documents, settings, app data, and iOS device backups (which can include the camera roll's photos and videos) are all counted. When this gets short, users can add on 10GB, 20GB, or 50GB of iCloud storage, for $20, $40, or $100 per year respectively.

By comparison Photo Stream is considered more like a temporary bin for your files. Apple counts photos by volume, not megabyte or gigabyte. You get up to 1,000 photos in your Photo Stream at any given time, and as new ones come in, old ones are flushed out.

But the way users store their media with the service could be changing, according to the Journal. In the same report the outlet says Apple execs have been considering "expanding the number of photos and albums users can store via iCloud to make the service resemble its iPhoto downloadable software," but that cost (presumably in its server infrastructure) has been a consideration. In other words, a move like that would likely increase how much Apple needs to spend on its server infrastructure and upkeep.

One thing that's unclear is how many people are paying for add-on storage through Apple already. During its fiscal second-quarter conference call last month, Apple was asked by Goldman Sachs whether there had been "a big uptick in iTunes Match and paid storage additions," since those features were introduced (iTunes Match is Apple's other paid add-on service that scans and matches a user's music library with tracks in the iTunes catalog to make them available on other iOS devices). Apple's chief financial officer, Peter Oppenheimer, responded by saying that question was missing the point (emphasis mine):

We've now got over 125 million users that have come on to the service since then and they're building up documents and music and other things that they want to store. And so I think storage growth will come more over time. Our real desire here was not about selling more storage. We think Match is a great product, and we recommend that everybody use it. But it's a 'pay for a service.' We just really want to increase the customer delight from the entire ecosystem and platform of our iOS devices and the Mac, and that's why we've done iCloud.

That's a pretty strong indication that Apple won't charge extra if it were to add videos to the Photo Stream feature. The real question is what happens if iOS users actually get to store more of their media on iCloud as opposed to relying on computers and hard drives, or on iCloud's backup feature, which only stores snapshots of a device.

Apple very clearly wants to distance itself from using iCloud as a virtual hard drive, as we can see with the closure of MobileMe's iDisk next month. User-made video hasn't been too far removed from that product.

Looking back, Apple has kept close tabs on how much space user videos take up in its cloud. With MobileMe, and .Mac before it, Apple kept track of not just how much storage a video took up, but also how much bandwidth got slurped up when you shared it with someone else. MobileMe closes up its doors next month, and perhaps that megabyte-counting behavior will go with it.