Google Photos was launched in May 2015 with a motive to retire Google+ Photos and with a promise to give unlimited storage for photos upto 16 Megapixel and videos upto a 1080p resolution. I take photos from my iPhone, it limits the photo quality to 12MP which means, full resolution photos from my phone will get free cloud storage forever. And like all other Google products, they did mention that they’ll be using my photos to improve their AI for face-recognition and search. As long as my ugly pictures weren’t made public, I am fine with that. Along with me, by May 2017, half a billion users joined the bandwagon and got addicted. With their powerful AI, Google Photos easily solved a great problem of arranging, filtering and searching the photos and now its impossible to get away from it.

Storing the pictures was never a problem. It was to make sense of them.

Google recently announced an update in their storage policy stating Starting June 1, 2021, any new photos and videos you upload will count toward the free 15 GB of storage that comes with every Google Account or the additional storage you’ve purchased as a Google One member. And with this our beloved service is no longer free. Like everyone else, I was disappointed. Not because I am a non-paying user and have to pay now but because they initially promised it to be free and are now asking me to pay for it. This seems like betrayal. A comment from a friend sums it up

I was already paying for it. But now I am less pissed at Apple not giving free storage for photos. - Jagrat Desai

Being a software engineer, I respect the work of other developers and pay for many services and subscriptions on the internet. But will I pay for the Google One subscription? First, let’s see if a service like this is worth paying for!

On their blog, Google also mentioned that more than 4 trillion photos are stored in Google Photos, and every week 28 billion new photos and videos are uploaded.

A 12MP photo clicked on my phone takes up 2MB of storage space and I have Live Photos enabled which takes upto 7MB. Nowadays, almost everyone has a smartphone with a great camera which captures a high resolution image. Let’s assume, on an average every new photo uploaded on Google Photos from today will take 3MB of storage space.

The estimated storage needed for 28 billion new photos uploaded every week will be:

Weekly Monthly(4 weeks) Yearly(52 weeks)
28 billion * 3MB ≅ 84,000TB 4 * 84,000TB ≅ 336,000TB 52 * 84,000TB ≅ 4,368,000TB

And lets assume on an average each of the previous 4 trillion photos takes 1MB of storage space on the disk. The total disk space used is approximately

4 trillion * 1MB ≅ 4,000,000TB

And considering an organisation like Google where uptime and availability of resources is promised, this data must be replicated at least once so just double the calculations. This is a massive amount of storage space and we haven’t considered videos yet. Imagine running a marathan, 42kms, yes thats the distance you’ll have to run if you put 4,000,000 HDDs with 1TB capacity in a row. Extreme computing power is needed just to keep a service running at this scale and storage is probably one of the cheapest part of it, don’t get me started on the cost of high performance CPUs and GPUs driving that amazing AI.

Now that we know what Google Photos is, should you and I pay for it?

With all the calculations above, its clear that a service like this isn’t cheap and if a giant like Google had to change their pricing strategy then I don’t think any other company can afford to give it away for free. With similar examples like YouTube, Medium, Amazon it is evident that the free services are going away or getting worse in experience. Photos are important for a lot of people and for them it totally makes sense to pay for it. I am just a casual photographer but I do have about 150GB photos+videos stored there. Even if I think about migrating to any other service, the effort of downloading and reuploading this data isn’t worth it. However, the fact that Google does all the magic on their servers by using my data concerns me. I let them use my data because in turn they let me use their storage space. Seems like a valid transaction. But now they are asking for an additional input from my side and the transaction doesn’t seem valid anymore. If I pay they’ll offer me additional tech support, I don’t need their tech support I know tech and I figure out most of the issues on my own, so no thanks! Unless they have additional things to offer me and validate the transaction I would avoid paying for this.

Paying for iCloud makes more sense?

Indeed! Apple respects user’s privacy, its the foundation of all their offerings. In contrast to Google Photos, Apple does the magical computation by running those machine learning algorithms on the device itself. Your data is private and no one can look into it. I get the added advantage of the beautiful Photos app on macOS. The transaction also seems valid because its give and take, unlike give(x2) and take. For now, I have stopped the automatic backup from my phone and I’ll probably keep the existing photos on Google and migrate some of them to iCloud over time.

Some people might want to self host their data and avoid using all the cloud providers. If you are going to do so, there are amazing free tools like Plex and PhotoView that can help you get most of what Apple and Google offer. But setting up and maintaining a server of this kind will have its own implications. I’ll leave that upto you!