Thursday, October 13, 2011

The iCloud tax for Mac users

Last night, I updated my iPod touch to iOS 5. Lots of people had reported problems, but my update went smoothly, and soon I was going through the setup for some of the new features, such as iMessage, the iPod mapper, and iCloud. As with most Mac updates I've performed over the years, it was relatively painless and actually kind of fun learning about some of the neat new things my iPod was now able to do.

This morning, however, fun got a kick in the nuts. In my email inbox was an iCloud message, which said:

Welcome to iCloud. The Apple ID for your iCloud account is [redacted] and it’s what you’ll use to get your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, and PC set up. Just follow these instructions and you’ll be up and running in no time.

Once iCloud is set up, it stores your content and wirelessly pushes it to all your devices. For example, buy a song with iTunes on your computer, and it will appear on your iPod touch and iPad. When you snap a photo on your iPhone it will automatically be sent to your iPad. You can start creating a Pages document on your iPhone, and put the finishing touches on it from your iPad. There’s no need to dock or sync to your computer. With iCloud, it just works.

We hope you enjoy using iCloud.

Sounds innocent enough, right? But then I clicked through to the iCloud setup page on, and was presented with this:

Hold on. Lion is required, just to use the free 5GB version of iCloud? That's not a trivial upgrade, and it’s not something I wanted to do anyway, until iCloud came around. Even worse, the Lion upgrade costs $30 meaning I’ll be out $60 just to use a single feature (we have have an iMac and an MacBook Pro) (Update: It's $30 for both machines, if you already have Snow Leopard/OS X 10.6 installed, more if you have older versions of OS X installed. Thanks @jlgolson, @nowever, and many commenters below for the tips).

But wait, there's more. Windows users also have access to iCloud. How much does it cost them to start using it?


That’s right, $0 -- at least if you have bought a new Windows PC in the last three years or so. The iCloud setup page for Windows users says, "To enable iCloud on your Windows PC, install the iCloud Control Panel for Windows (Windows Vista Service Pack 2 or Windows 7 required)". That's a bummer if you are still using an old PC with XP or earlier versions of Windows, but for the approximately half of Windows machines that have Vista SP2 or Win 7 installed, iCloud is free to try.

A much smaller percentage of Macs have Lion installed -- around 10%, according to Apple CEO Tim Cook earlier this month, meaning the owners of the other 90% will have to pay up if they want to start using iCloud on their Macs. The pain will be exacerbated by the fact that Lion is ugly and apparently unnecessary (Gizmodo: “I don’t need Lion, and you probably don’t need it either”).

As a founder (see What Is Dropbox and other In 30 Minutes guides)I've been thinking a lot about serving the needs of customers, and one thing that seems painfully obvious is you never abuse the trust of your core. I understand that there are technical and strategic reasons for Apple forcing Mac users to upgrade to Lion if they want to use iCloud, but it creates a negative perception when a core group of customers -- people who own Macs -- has to pay extra to use a feature that another group -- Windows users -- get for free.

Weigh in below. I'd love to hear your thoughts about this.


  1. The Lion upgrade is $29 *per account* not *per machine.* If you have two macs, it's still just $29.

  2. Is it illegal to buy once and install twice? $30

  3. Lion doesn't cost $30 per Mac - it costs $30 for all Macs you own. You don't have to pay $60.

  4. Since the Lion upgrade is purchased through the App store, any Mac's that you have enabled with your account can upgrade to Lion once you purchase . You do not need to purchase the upgrade for each of your personal Mac's.

  5. It's only $29 to get Lion. Pay once, you can download/install on every machine you control. Just log into the same App Store account with each. Perfectly legal and how it was intended.

  6. Perhaps there is something in the iCloud feature road map where they want to do things that will not be possible pre 10.7?

  7. Small correction. Upgrading to lion costs $30 for up to 5 macs per household?
    I know because we have 3 macs in my house and all are upgraded to lion.

    I recommend lion btw.

    Yes the Microsoft thing seems unfair but I think they get less functionality. Not sure

  8. Hi Ian,

    The $30 Lion upgrade covers installation on all of your personal Macs, this is part of the rather generous personal use license. I wrote about this when Lion was first announced, it makes the upgrade quite affordable for multi-Mac households.

    It's also covered in Apple's Lion press release:

    "The Lion upgrade can be installed on all your authorized personal Macs."

    This should apply to your situation if both of the Macs are yours.

    Also, there has been speculation that Apple would release a 10.6.9 update to include iCloud for Snow Leopard users. MacRumors found this earlier in the year.

    Anyway, I can appreciate your frustration, but personally I think Lion is a worthwhile upgrade for a myriad of reasons, and iCloud is icing on the cake.

    - Matt

  9. I'm sorry but I am a new Apple switcher and I don't find this to be any different than past Apple behavior. Also, in the same way that not everyone needs Lion, not everyone needs or cares about iCloud.

    Also, as a former Windows user, to complain about $60 to upgrade for 2 computers is hilarious. The current Windows 7 upgrade price for 1 computer is $109 on Newegg.

    I understand your frustration, but remember Apple products are about the experience as well as function, and this means forced upgrades like this from time to time.

  10. In the past you had to pay for Mobile Me for pretty much almost the same functionality as I'm not sure you have a point. And even without upgrading to Lion, iCloud will still work across your iOS devices. This is a nice way to get some clicks to your blog though.

  11. I agree. Although, I believe that Apple stated at one point that Snow Leopard users would be able to use iCloud. Perhaps with all the other releases they've done lately they couldn't get this completed for the launch. I will be upset if they don't ever fulfill the Snow Leopard promise. I have several legacy programs that FORCE ME not to upgrade to Lion.

  12. It seems like you are hinging your problem on the fact that you don't have Lion, and shouldn't for I correct? Well the issue IS that both technologies were developed in tandem with each other. Many of the features that iCloud "gives" to it's core stem from data hooks built into Lion, not SL.

    Let's look at this from another angle. you are a cofounder of something correct? Well how much is 1 hour of your time worth? How much did you spend on this post. My guess: you spent more money on this post than on what it costs to bring your Apple computer up-to-date.

  13. Windows doesn't have iCal, iPhoto, Aperture, and the Mac Address Book. Those are what you're really using iCloud for. With Windows you are restricted to using the web based interfaces for iCloud.

  14. It's a huge bummer. Some of us would not mind upgrading to Lion, but we have perfectly good working MacBooks that do not allows us to do so. My MacBook has the "intel core duo" instead of the "intel 2 core duo," so an upgrade to Lion is not possible. I have Snow Leopard on my Mac, an iphone, Apple TV, and an ipad 2. For me, a full functioning iCloud is useless and not possible; but my wife who has an iphone and Windows 7 machine, it's great! Seems weird.

  15. I really find this article to be misleading. Apple is not forcing you to use iCloud in any capacity. Not only that, but making a statement like "Windows users get it for free" is ridiculous at best. First off, Windows iCloud Control Panel application provides a VERY minimal iCloud experience when compared to what you get with Lion. In addition, you state that Apple is requiring you to upgrade to get new features of the new OS. Apply that same logic on the Windows side of your comments. I have a Windows XP computer... can I use iCloud? No! Oh wait, now I have to upgrade to a newer version of Windows. The cost to me? Over $100 easily for Windows 7. Lion will only cost you $29 and provides some very nice features. Will you use all of them? Probably not, but upgrades are upgrades and people tend to keep moving forward.

    Bottom line, you do not HAVE to use iCloud for ANYTHING. If you want to use new and great functionality, then you need to upgrade to the latest supported platform. Heck, you weren't *forced* to upgrade to iOS 5 either... you made that choice.

  16. Either way, a Mac or Windows user has to be on the most recent version of the OS. I don't see this as an issue.

  17. Is $30 really that bad for an OS upgrade? Especially one that can be purchased once and installed on all of your machines? Windows is much more expensive.

    I've been using Lion for a few weeks now and I don't find it "ugly" or "unnecessary." Also, Gizmodo probably isn't the first place I'd go to read unbiased writing about Apple.

  18. Windows users have to pay, they just pay through the pain of using Apple products on Windows (remember, the "glass of ice water in hell" comment by Steve Jobs).

    Seriously though, it seem reasonable to me for Apple to require use of its most current OS version with one of its newest features. While $30.00 is not insignificant, its a reasonable price to pay for being current. I agree don't agree that Lion is "ugly" and whether it is "necessary" is more of a personal decision or judgment.

    Mac users and Windows users are simply in different positions when it comes to using Apple products.

  19. What features of icloud are you talking about? I setup icloud and I'm using itune 1.5 on snow Leopard. Just connect you device and select it to turn on the icloud backup feature. Then on the phone go to setting and turn each icloud features as needed. Am I missing something here.

  20. Your statement that iCloud costs Windows users $0 is in conflict with your next statement that XP users are not supported and that half of all users are XP users. Thus your statement should read "half of all Windows users pay nothing while the others must pay at least the minimum cost to upgrading to Windows 7, which is $56 (for Windows Home Professional). Which is $26 more than the cost of upgrading to Lion.

  21. Apple doesn't amend their "old" platforms. Not even with minor features.

    It's part of a company that looks forward and rarely back. And that always means inconvenience for a number of users. It happens all the time. See PPC support, for example.

    I strongly believe a little pain here and there benefit the platform and users in the long run. (I still run a Windows XP machine at work, because it was the most painless thing for the IT department. So literally no progress in 10 years.)

  22. Thanks to everyone for pointing out the error in the cost for Snow Leopard users. Note that it is more if you are using an older version of OSX, as you have to upgrade to Snow Leopard first before moving to Lion.

    T-Fed: As I pointed out in the blog post, At least half of the owners of Windows machines won't have to upgrade their OS if their owners want to try iCloud, whereas the owners of around 90% of Macs will. But you are right in the sense that the pain for XP users will be greater owing to the higher cost of Windows 7 compared to OS X upgrade costs.

  23. So how do I sync my iPhone 4 to my MBPro running Snow Leopard when MobileMe finally dies? Most of my machines have moved to Lion but I was planning on keeping a couple of my MBs on Snow Leopard. My wife will not be happy when her calendars and address book no longer sync wirelessly. What am I missing?

  24. Tim Cook said Lion was on 10% of Macs within two weeks of release, not total to date. That number is likely much higher now.

  25. Not only that, Apple currently states that Calendar sharing will not be supported on iCloud. After hanging with MobileMe for years when finally my partner and I could sync calendars 'bi directionally', now we go 'back in time'. #discouraging #justdoesntwork

  26. re: % of Macs w/ Lion installed... Tim Cook said Lion had hit 10% of the Mac installed base in its first TWO WEEKS alone. And 1M units sold its first day (July 20th). Last week he also said Mac install base was now 60M users, so we know 1M 1st day, around 5M more over days 2-14. If sales slowed to 20% of that rate in subsequent 10 weeks, that's still 30% of Mac users that have already upgraded to Lion in its 1st 3 months.

  27. I would find iCloud a real help in keeping my calendar, contacts and reminders in sync, something that most phones do OTA with Windows. And I will stay on Apple products because the pros outweight the cons. But upgrading to Lion means my Adobe Suite is going to be buggy so I'm stuck with SL for a while at most and will have to spend not just on Lion but a new CS6 that works with it.

    A lot of us are on Macs in the creative industry and have been for long. I agree with the post, core users are being disregarded. It would be very easy for Apple to extend iCloud functionality to a new update of SL and I can't help but feel Apple is trying to push Lion sales regardless of the price. I don't believe iCloud only works with Lion because it was developped in tandem and the technology is too different, it's just OTA sync. Let's just hope the team of talented guys at Apple have not rolled out an icloud-enabled SL update purely because they were too busy with the launch of Lion, iOS 5 and Steve's departure.

  28. It's funny as hell to hear people go on about upgrades IN THE MIDDLE OF THE GREATEST FINANCIAL DISASTER IN A HUNDRED YRS. ;p Apple is a rich man hanging out with streetfolk in streetclothing. But you will never change what his mind is really thinking about people he attempts to fool into believing he is one of them, living in the same time. ;)

  29. "That's a bummer if you are still using an old PC with XP or earlier versions of Windows"

    Or not:

    The lack of XP support is an artificial limitation that Apple implemented in the installer. Took 5 minutes with 7-zip and Orca MSI Editor to remove it.

  30. I can't upgrade to Lion, because I work in rural areas and the Apple external modem is absolutely necessary in some places. It is 32 bit and will not run on Lion. I also have the Adobe CS Suite I use pretty often and can't afford to lose that right now.

  31. I don't want lion because I will then have to update protools, but by not getting lion I loose my Mobile me. Why can't Apple keep mobileme operating for people who don't want the icloud thing?

  32. I have no $ problem with getting Lion (for all the great features, 30 $ seems very affordable). What I CANNOT afford is losing Rosetta. I have too many great and fully functioning software that depend on this feature.

    My conclusions:
    - I say no to Lion
    - I say no to iCloud and will let my MobileMe account disappear on June 30, 2012
    - I will use the google or dropbox services
    - Too bad I will have to update my email address ( in MANY accounts all around the place. I have to do this very early before June.

  33. With MobileMe being killed and my G4 Mac unable to run SnowLeopard, let alone Lion, this kills my MobileMe account, losing everything I have paid for for many years.

  34. actually.. its WORSE then this.
    I'm a PC guy, and I'm converting back to Mac. I just got a used iMac 14" its awesome, except.... i don't have iPhone.
    my iPad and iPhone each have photostream access, but my imac is left out, YET.. my pc!!!!! happily access my photostream? WTF? Your saying i have to drop another $14 bucks to buy iphoto for Lion to see my photostream?? my friggin crappy PC sees them for FREE!!! C'mon Apple.


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