Last week, Google revealed “Google Drive,” a cloud storage solution integrated into their complement of applications. Already boasting the #2 Canadian webmail solution (Gmail), #2 mobile operating system in Canada (Android), and 80% of the Canadian search market, Google appears well-poised to penetrate the cloud storage market.
Google Drive’s free account offers users 5 gigabytes of storage for free, 25 GB for $2.49 (U.S.) per month up to 16 Terabytes for $799.00 (U.S.) per month. It compares favorably to established brands in the cloud storage market including market-leader DropBox, Microsoft’s SkyDrive, Box, and Apple’s iCloud, although it isn’t best-in-class by any comparison. Where Drive differentiates itself is as a complement to Google’s other services.
Frequent users of Google Apps will likely be the earliest adopters of Drive. There are enhanced controls for collaboration and Drive keeps 100 edits or 30 days history of the same document on the server (space permitting). Conversely, users working with Microsoft Office files may be off-put by having to convert files back and forth from Google Docs when editing them in the cloud. Though this isn’t a new issue, it is amplified with Drive because of the difficulty to convert to Docs in offline mode (The Mac / PC app installs a local folder on your hard drive, which syncs to the Google servers whenever your computer is online). This could possibly render documents viewable but not available for editing.
Other integrated features include the capability to share documents without having to attach them in Gmail, enhanced accessibility of photo and video files between Drive and the Google Plus social platform, the ability to view over 30 file types without additional software, and (of course) robust search capabilities. Last year when Google discontinued their Desktop product (which provided indexing and Google-like functionality for a local hard drive), it was reportedly to promote migration to cloud computing. It’s not surprising then that search is one of the distinguishing features of Drive as well.
One of the disadvantages for mobile users is Drive’s exclusive availability on Android. Despite the fact that one-third of all Canadians now own a smartphone, Android phones remain #2 in market-share to RIM’s BlackBerry. Because DropBox is available not only for Android but for the BlackBerry, iOS (iPhone) and Microsoft Phone operating systems, it appears to be a better cloud solution for the majority of smart phone users now. Drive can be used via mobile web browser in unsupported operating systems, but the usability of this is far poorer comparable to an organic app. This will likely change as Drive integrates more into the other platforms (they give advance notice of future iPhone and iPod integration on their website).
One of the other disadvantages appears to be Drive’s Terms of Service. It has been reported extensively since its unveiling that the Terms of Service (TOS) could be interpreted to read that Google can exercise intellectual property rights on anything uploaded to its servers. Google has since clarified that this is “legalese” intend to mitigate their risk due to the functionality of cloud computing. An uproar would ensue from Google trying to exercise IP rights in this fashion, but it underpins the delicate trust necessary for computing in the cloud. Many IP Lawyers have weighed in that any legal challenge to Drive’s Terms of Service interpretation would be governed by the laws of the (unknown) country where Drive’s servers are located.
For users of Google’s other services, Drive may be a strong and inexpensive enhancement to their user experience. For users of Dropbox and other cloud drive competitors, Drive probably won’t entice many to migrate.
Google Drive is available at https://drive.google.com. It is currently available on Android mobile devices, but not BlackBerry, iOS or Windows Phone.