Apple starts selling lower-cost iCloud storage, adds iCloud Drive to beta website

Apple on Wednesday flipped the switch on its new iCloud storage plan prices.

Apple on Wednesday flipped the switch on its new iCloud storage plan prices, and added iCloud Drive to a beta version of the icloud.com website.

In some cases, the company also refunded money to customers who had signed up for now-defunct plans.

The new prices appeared Wednesday when users of current versions of iOS and OS X reached the pertinent places in Settings. The day before, Apple had published the price list but had not changed what customers could purchase.

Apple has retained the puny 5GB of free storage -- a third as much as rival Microsoft gives users of its OneDrive service for free -- eliminated the older 10GB and 50GB plans, dropped the price of the 20GB deal to $0.99 per month, and added new 200GB, 500GB and 1TB plans for $3.99, $9.99 and $19.99 per month, respectively.

Those fees represent annual charges of $11.88 (20GB), $47.88 (200GB), $119.88 (500GB) and $239.88 (1TB).

Customers who had an existing storage plan will receive refunds and be migrated to a new plan, in some cases ones that Apple doesn't actually offer to others. Apple started notifying those customers via email on Wednesday.

"Your plan has been upgraded from 25 GB of total storage at $40.00 a year to 25 GB at just $11.99 a year," an email received by a Computerworld staffer read. "You will receive a prorated refund ... which is based on the price reduction and the remaining months on your subscription. This annually priced storage plan is only available to current iCloud storage plan subscribers."

Also on Wednesday, Apple added an "iCloud Drive" icon to the beta of its iCloud website, the starting point for viewing online calendars and contacts, and launching the online editions of the iWork trilogy of Pages, Numbers and Keynote.

When Apple unveiled the new pricing in June, iCloud Drive got most of the attention. Seen by some as a return of iDisk, the online file hosting service discontinued in mid-2012, iCloud Drive will let iOS 8 and Yosemite users store files in the ether a la Dropbox; allow system-wide access to documents on iOS, liberating those once held in app-specific silos; and store all photographs and videos automatically for sharing and access from any Apple device.

iCloud Drive will also be open to Windows users, who can drag files from Windows 7 or later to a folder for cloud-based storage.

Because of the expanded functionality of iCloud through iCloud Drive, it's not unreasonable to expect that users will exhaust their 5GB free allotment faster than before. That's a boon to Apple, of course.

Apple's prices for additional storage are neither the highest nor the lowest among cloud services. But while Apple's not giving away meaningful amounts of space, analysts have interpreted the pricing, and iCloud Drive, as simply another tactic in Apple's ecosystem strategy.

"Apple doesn't make hardware to be successful in [say] messaging [apps]; it makes a messaging product to be successful in hardware," said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research, in a June interview after Apple unveiled iCloud Drive. "Apple isn't fighting the messaging [or cloud] war. To the extent it's fighting a war at all, it's fighting an ecosystem war, and so far it's winning."

iCloud Drive requires iOS 8 -- which will ship next week -- or OS X Yosemite, likely to release Oct. 22. The beta of icloud.com with iCloud Drive can be accessed via a browser, even from, say, OS X Mavericks.

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