updated 09:00 am EDT, Wed April 24, 2013
Tips to stop juggling gigabytes and start using the cloud
We live in a world positively soaked in data nowadays. Fortunately, the capacity to store that data has gotten bigger in volume, smaller in physical size, and cheaper per gigabyte as time progresses. Gone are the days where you'd have to lug a Zip disk around (remember those?) or stick your iPod into disk mode. At worst, you're carrying a USB drive with you -- though really, you should be relying on the cloud for by now. The issue is figuring out just what you're going to be keeping up there.
If you're increasingly finding yourself shuffling content on and off of your phone, tablet, or notebook, you're not alone. With apps now regularly growing into the hundreds of megabytes, and with music and photo libraries stretching into the gigabytes, you're likely to find free space on mobile devices to be a vanishing commodity. Moving things to the cloud allows you to stop juggling content and keep everything just an Internet connection away.
Of course, that's a sizable hangup: if you don't have a connection, you don't have access to your content. That's why it's important to figure out what you're going to store remotely and what you need to keep with you.
Arguably, we wouldn't even be in this position if it weren't for music. The iPod got us all used to carrying little computing devices in our pockets, and we all know the story from there. Music, fortunately, is one of those things that's gotten easier to handle, so long as you've got the Internet.
Your first option is to store music in the cloud. This is possibly your best option, because it's the cheapest way to go for substantial quantities of music. This will require taking stock of what your tastes are, and what tunes you can't live without. If you've been a good steward of your music collection, this shouldn't be too hard.
If you've been grading or ranking music in your collection, then make a smart playlist in iTunes that consists only of songs above a certain rating. Alternatively, you can make a "most listened-to" list that populates itself based on play count.
Once you've got one or both of those playlists, sync them to your device. This way, all of your favorite tunes -- the ones you know you'll listen to -- are going to be on-hand at all times. Everything else can stay in the cloud.
Here we'd be remiss if we didn't point out two of the best options you have for cloud music storage: iTunes Match ($25 per year) and Google Music. The latter service gives you the option to store up to 20,000 songs on Google's servers, and to access them from any number of devices. So long as you can log into your Google account, you can access your tunes. It even suggests playlists based on things you've previously listened to. If you're an Android user, there's a free native app for you. Those on iOS have access to a number of third-party Google Music apps in the App Store, but they can also -- like other users -- simply access their music through a web app.
Apple's iTunes Match service has turned out to be a popular option -- the most popular cloud music locker, in fact -- for a number of reasons. It was the first, for example, to feature "scan and match" -- which saves enormous amounts of time by simply scanning your library and matching songs it already knows about in the cloud, saving users having to upload them. Secondly, while Google Music stores 25,000 songs, iTunes will store 25,000 songs plus any you have bought from the iTunes Music Store, a potentially far higher limit. It also works effortlessly with your existing iOS devices, or any machine using iTunes.
Beyond Google Music and iTunes Match, Amazon's Cloud Drive and Player and Dropbox are standards. Having bought Audiogalaxy recently, Dropbox is likely planning a big move into music. Until that materializes, the service still reliably gets the job done with regard to music streaming and storage, albeit a bit less elegantly than music-oriented services like Amazon, Google and Apple's offerings. Dropbox accounts come with 2GB of storage for free, while Amazon's Cloud Drive offers 5GB of free storage and the ability to automatically sync between Cloud Player apps on Android, Windows and Mac machines. Both offer larger locker storage for an annual fee.
When it comes to photos, you have an amazing wealth of options. As with your music, find the photos you just can't live without -- that time you met Bill Murray, that terrific portobello, mozzarella, and tomato lunch you had, your kids -- and keep those on-device. Everything else you can drop into any number of services: Flickr, Dropbox, Google Drive, Picasa, SkyDrive, iCloud's Photo Stream; the list goes on.
If you go with a service like Dropbox, you can even set it to automatically upload your photos from your device to Dropbox's servers. That way you can rest assured that your pics are backed up, no matter what happens to your phone or tablet. Other services like Pogoplug do this, and you can also use Google+ to automatically store photos if you're on an Android device.
Apple's free Photo Stream does a great job of automatically syncing photos between Mac and iOS devices, but for those with a large library of files to store, Flickr Pro ($25 per year) might be a worthy option, since it allows "unlimited" photo and video storage at full resolution as well as opportunities to market photos, keep them private or share online.
Videos are the bane of bandwidth, with one service sometimes accounting for a third of US Internet traffic. In truth, most of your video needs are going to be handled by major providers -- iTunes, Google Play, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu.
Still, if you've got some home movies you can't bear to have outside of arm's reach, you may want to consider posting them to YouTube or Vimeo with a "private" flag or password protection. That way, you and others you select can view and manage them easily from any number of devices. Outside of that possibility, consider the usuals: Dropbox, as always, is a very solid choice but very limited amounts of "free" space, though it has well-designed apps for most platforms, as do Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive.
Those three categories -- music, photos, and videos -- really should cover most of your content storage needs. Apple's iOS has built-in backups for purchases (including apps), and Google Play also remembers what apps you've already downloaded. Learn to balance cloud and physical storage and to manage your music, videos, and photos, though, and you'll likely find that your storage woes have disappeared.