Apple has warned some long-time users of its iCloud online storage and syncing service that the free 20GB of storage given them two years ago will disappear at the end of September.
The warnings were sent only to customers who had earlier subscribed to iCloud's predecessor, the problem-plagued MobileMe.
During the switch from MobileMe to iCloud -- a process that started in October 2011 and ended in June 2012 -- Apple offered an additional 20GB of storage to MobileMe subscribers, who had paid $99 annually for that amount of space. The 20GB was atop the standard 5GB all iCloud users received, giving former MobileMe customers a total of 25GB.
Last year, Apple pegged Sept. 30, 2012, as the end of the free ride, an extension from an earlier June 30 deadline. Before the cut-off date, however, Apple extended the 20GB deal another 12 months to Sept. 30, 2013.
To keep the 25GB, customers must soon fork over $40 a year.
"When it expires, your iCloud storage will be automatically adjusted to the free 5GB plan," Apple said in its email to customers. "If you exceed your storage plan on September 30, 2013, iCloud Backup, Documents in the Cloud, and iCloud Mail will temporarily stop working. To continue using these iCloud features without interruption, reduce the amount of iCloud storage you are using or purchase a storage plan by September 30, 2013."
Apple also offers 10GB of additional space for $20 annually, and 50GB for $100 per year, for totals of 15GB and 55GB, respectively.
iCloud's prices are much higher than rival storage services. Microsoft, for example, sells an additional 20GB -- atop the 7GB it gives free to every user -- in its SkyDrive service for just $10 annually, or a fourth Apple's price for the same amount. Google provides customers of its Google Drive 15GB free of charge. And DropBox, which offers only 2GB free, charges $99 for 100GB, the same price as Apple levies for half as much space.
Of the major players -- Apple, Google and Microsoft -- the latter's SkyDrive is the least expensive across the board. (But Microsoft has its own problems with SkyDrive; it must rename the service after reaching a settlement with the U.K.-based British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) Group in the wake of a trademark lawsuit loss.)
Apple has been aggressively pushing iCloud, not only to customers but also to developers, as part of an overall strategy to maximize service revenue. For instance, developers of OS X applications that rely on iCloud for file storage must sell their software in Apple's Mac App Store, where Apple is entitled to its 30% cut of all revenue.
The Cupertino, Calif. company has been touting the revenue from its services and app and music stores lately. In the quarter that ended June 30, that division reported revenue of $4 billion, or about 11% of the total.
Apple has also placed restrictions on rivals. In 2012, Apple rejected several iOS apps because they relied on DropBox for storing data and files. To solve the problem, DropBox modified its SDK, or software development kit, so that third-party developers could not steer customers toward a website where they could sign up for the file-sharing service and purchase additional storage.
iCloud is used for storing photographs, email messages, iOS device backups, iWork documents and files generated by a wide range of third-party desktop and mobile apps. The service will be used for password storage -- iCloud Keychain -- for Apple devices this fall when iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks are released.
The online versions of Pages, Numbers and Keynote -- collectively dubbed iWork for iCloud -- will also store their documents in iCloud. The online apps are currently in beta, although that program has been expanded in the last few weeks from developers-only to some members of the general public.
As Apple said in its email and repeated on its support site, if a customer has more than 5GB, backup, file storage and mail will stop working until files have been purged or more space purchased.
Apple has posted instructions for customers who want to check the amount of storage they now consume.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is email@example.com.