iCloud is a free service that stores and syncs your data. Currently, you get 5 GB for free; this doesn’t include iTunes Match (which you pay for separately) and Photo Stream (which is free, but has a hard limit of 1,000 photos). 5 GB is a lot, but it’s not the final word on this matter of data storage. Eventually we will need more; jumping between three different iOS devices, I’ve already blown through 5 GB with backups alone.

Two imminent things will increase the pressure for more iCloud storage:

  1. Retina iPads will in many cases create documents 4 times larger than today. Camera rolls and other app data may grow as well.
  2. If the iPad 3 replaces many people’s PCs as the family photo hub, those photos will have to be stored somewhere outside the iPad itself. The cloud seems like where Apple wants things to reside in the future, so I don’t see them recommending instead that you jack your iPad into an external hard drive.

Ideally, photos should work the way iTunes Match does: the canonical copies are in the cloud, from which you automatically download some number of the latest ones, and also arbitrarily pull down whatever you need. This would be good not just for the specific case of photos, but also as a sign pointing to how other developers should start thinking about their apps’ document-storage behavior.  

Apple’s current solution to meeting users’ growing data needs is to charge for additional space. I’m paying $20 for an extra 10 GB of iCloud on top of the free 5. This feels fair to me, but it might not go over well with the millions of iOS users should it become necessary. Apple could choose to incrementally increase the free, baseline storage for all, upping it to a free 10 GB this year or the next. It’s what Google has done with Gmail, and it’s certainly a solution that’s popular with users.

I wouldn’t mind paying for storage. However, if Apple does this, I hope they keep it simple: just let me pay in one place to get more iCloud instead of having to maintain separate payment plans for iCloud, iTunes Match, Photo Stream, and whatever else they come up with.