Dan Ness, Principal Analyst, MetaFacts, April 13, 2017
The terms “free” and “unlimited” continue to entice consumers and employees alike, in offers of faster bandwidth to larger data storage. The promise of enormous, convenient, and always-available storage space is helping Google, Apple, and Microsoft attract and retain customers within their fold. It’s also helping Amazon and the many other dedicated Cloud storage/sharing services, even while many offerings may be risking consumer and corporate security and privacy.
Cloud storage and sharing services have tapped into core needs, reaching a high share of American adult consumers and employees. We Americans like our stuff, and we love convenience. As surely as we pile clutter into garages and self-storage facilities, we accumulate countless zettabytes of images, music, movies, pre-binged TV episodes, documents, among other files. We also want to know our stuff is safe and can be easily retrieved whenever and wherever we want it.
Employed adults are especially strong users of cloud storage and sharing services. Sixty-nine percent of employees actively use cloud storage/sharing services, and their use is not restricted to personal files and documents. Almost half (47%) of employees back up work files/documents online and 43% use cloud storage/sharing services for work files. Employees love the convenience of ready access, even while their employers may have policies and guidelines to protect and restrict the use of corporate files on personal devices or offsite.
Employers have mixed feelings about consumer-class Cloud Storage/Sharing services, while employees have charged ahead. About 15 years ago, I was moderating some focus groups with IT Managers. We were measuring their responses to a unique device to back up files on their employee’s mobile PCs. It was almost funny to hear their inner conflicts. At first, the IT managers strongly stated that user files were essential to their employer and job, so must be backed up. They shared horror stories of execs having lost critical files, often at early morning hours in distant locations. Later in the discussion, however, these same IT managers claimed they didn’t have the time or budget to create backups of anything not on their managed servers. In a classic case of cognitive dissonance, they failed to recognize a strong need in their organization, or see any reasonable solution.
Operating system domination
Dominating technology markets requires an ever-expanding footprint. No longer limited to having one’s customers use the same brand or operating systems family across one device type, tech market dominance requires customers to adopt ecosystems and offerings spanning devices, software, services, media.
Cloud storage/sharing is proving to be one way to build dominance. There is a strong association between the number of devices with a given operating system family and the primary operating system of the device primarily used for cloud storage/sharing activities.
Connected adults using an Apple OS device (iOS, macOS) as their primary cloud storage/charing device use the largest number of Apple devices. With an average (mean) number of 2.9, this is more than three times the number of these user’s number of Windows devices and nearly six times as many Google devices used for any activities.
There’s a similarly positive, although weaker, relationship between Windows and Google devices. Users mostly choosing a Google OS (Android, Chrome) device for cloud storage/sharing activities have a higher average number of Google devices than Windows or Apple devices. Users primarily using Windows OS devices for cloud storage/sharing use more Windows than Google or Apple devices.
Across all types of consumers – employed or not – 58% of connected adults use any of their devices for cloud storage/sharing services. Home PCs are the most popular device, used for these services by 39% of connected adults.
Smartphones and tablets are the 2nd and 3rd most-used devices. Cloud storage/sharing services help users get access to files on devices which don’t have any removable memory, including access to a USB flash drive or hard disk, and an effective substitute for files attached to emails.
The broadest users, those who use the largest number of cloud storage/sharing activities, use the services at nearly the same levels across each of their many devices. Nearly twice as many use their home PC for 4 or more cloud storage/sharing activities than only use 1-3 activities, 25% to 13%, respectively. Similarly, the broadest users are the majority of users for those using smartphones, tablets, or work PCs.
Of the most common cloud storage/sharing activities, backing up personal files is the most widely used activity. Forty-three percent of connected adults regularly do this.
It’s hard to beat the convenience of an Internet-connected backup. Removable hard drives and USB flash drives are also easy to use, yet can be misplaced, fail, or not be at hand when wanted. Each of these offers the benefit of physical security, unlike data that is stored offsite. However, most non-technical users don’t feel the need for heightened security and rely on the security methods of their cloud storage companies.
Cloud services also offer unlimited size, depending on the service and subscription. This makes it easier for users to enjoy the services as convenient places to access their files from their various devices and locations.
Although many Cloud Storage/Sharing services are consumer-class, and may not be sanctioned by the user’s employer, using them for work files is a widespread activity. Backing up work files/documents online is regularly done by one-third (34%) of connected adults, and in turn by 69% of employed or self-employed adults.
Activities by device
Home PCs have the highest share of users across all types of cloud storage/sharing activities. Smartphones being used for cloud storage/sharing of personal files, at 18% of connected adults, is only slightly behind the number who use Home PCs for this. The same activity is the leading one for tablets. For users of work PCs, the top activities are for work files and documents, and less so for personal ones.
Key users of cloud storage/sharing activities
There are 74 million most-active cloud storage/sharing users, who regularly do 4 or more activities. They have some unique characteristics.
Employees in several industries stand out with usage rates of double or nearly-double the national usage rate of 34% of connected adults. Within the construction industry, usage includes 72% of connected adults working in this industry. This makes sense when you consider that each step from design through construction can benefit from quick mobile access to plans, images, and materials.
Three key employee roles stand out as being especially strong in their usage levels. IT/IS, executives, and specialists all have 60% or more of their numbers actively using a broad set of these activities.
Demographically, younger males (age 25-44) have usage rates of 62% or higher. Older millennials of any gender also have high usage – 59%.
In contrast, there are several segments where there are a small number of hardy users, outnumbered by their contemporaries. For example, among older adults and retirees, while there are very active users, their usage levels range from 4% for the Silent+Greatest Generation (age 71+) to Baby Boomers (age 52-61) at 14%.
Human needs do not change quickly. Technology offerings change much faster, in efforts to meet those needs. I don’t expect consumers to suddenly tidy up their collections of unwanted files. Similarly, I don’t expect employees to suddenly fall into compliance with their employer’s guidelines and restrictions for cloud storage/sharing services.
Instead, I expect consumers to continue to amass their collections of digital items, chasing ever-larger spaces. This, in turn, will continue to pressure demand for ever-faster transfer speeds and data plans to be able to maintain ready access to their collections.
Despite privacy and employer compliance and security concerns, the majority of consumers and employees will continue to expand their usage and reliance on cloud storage/sharing services. Independent pure play services such as Box and Dropbox are likely to feel the squeeze of market concentration that comes as major players broaden their offerings to deepen their customer footprint. The pressure will come from many directions – device manufacturers, software developers, ISPs, telcos, and media conglomerates. While these variously compete or cooperate to gain control over consumer’s files and data, consumers themselves will continue their amassing and accumulation.
The days of personal data are growing fewer. That which is offline and stored locally is destined for the junk heap, or at least the garage or storage facility.
These results are based on the MetaFacts TUP/Technology User Profile 2016 survey, its 34th wave, with 7,334 respondents (US).
TUPdates feature analysis of current or essential technology topics. The research results showcase the TUP/Technology User Profile study, MetaFacts’ survey of a representative sample of online adults profiling the full market’s use of technology products and services. The current wave of TUP is TUP/Technology User Profile 2020, which is TUP’s 38th annual. TUPdates may also include results from previous waves of TUP.
Current subscribers may use the comprehensive TUP datasets to obtain even more results or tailor these results to fit their chosen segments, services, or products. As subscribers choose, they may use the TUP inquiry service, online interactive tools, or analysis previously published by MetaFacts.
On request, interested research professionals can receive complimentary updates through our periodic newsletter. These include MetaFAQs – brief answers to frequently asked questions about technology users – or TUPdates – analysis of current and essential technology industry topics. To subscribe, contact MetaFacts.