iCloud Photo Stream: What’s Right, What’s Wrong?

Apple introduced iCloud when they released the latest operating system (iOS 5) for your iOS device(s). This lets you keep many things automatically synced between all your devices by having it all sitting on a remote computer, or in other words, the cloud.(1)

From Apple: “With iCloud, when you take a photo on one device, it automatically appears on all your other devices. No syncing. No sending. Your photos are just there. Everywhere you want them.”

iCloud Transfer
With iCloud photos end up on all your devices.

When I snap a shot the photo gets uploaded to the cloud. This only works when you have a wifi connection sync Apple didn’t want your entire data plan being used when you upload hundreds of photos every month. Your other devices will occasionally check the iCloud to see what is new. At that point they will download the latest pictures to your device.

So far, so good. I love the sound of that. Being able to snap with my iPhone and then do the editing on my iPad with the photos from the Photo Stream album is great. Or getting them right on my computer. However, there are limitations in the current system. Here are my good and bad thoughts, along with what I hope will get changed in the future.

The Good

  • Full resolution photos get uploaded to iCloud.
  • Full resolution photos will be downloaded onto your computer if it is using the iCloud option.
  • You can view your photos on all your iOS devices and computers.

The Bad

  • You can’t get full resolution photos from the iCloud down to your iOS device.
  • You are limited to 1000 photos. Older photos start getting deleted when this happens.
  • At this time there is no way to delete photos from the iCloud other than a complete wipe.
  • There is no way for you to view any of the photos via the web. The iCloud site has no interface to the photos.
  • There is no way for other people to view photos that are in your iCloud. You need to be logged in with your Apple ID to see the photos.
  • The sequence of photos in the Photo Stream doesn’t always match the order they were taken.

Suggested Changes

The biggest problem (in my opinion) is that photos are reduced in resolution when transferring from iCloud to your iOS device. From what I’ve seen the biggest photo that will make it is 1920 pixels on the largest side. This is significantly reduced from the iPhone 4S native resolution of 3264×2448 pixels. This is no problem when just viewing photos on a mobile device, but miserable if you plan to edit the photo on your iPad. Losing the resolution is not good if you ever plan to print the photo or display it on a higher resolution monitor due to loss of pixels/information.

Apple should allow full resolution images to be brought to iOS devices. Currently if you are viewing an image that is in the Photo Stream you can choose “Save” to get that low resolution photo onto your camera roll. Apple could add a “Download” option to the popup selection that would get the full resolution image onto your camera roll.

I can understand the limit of 1000 photos. Apple doesn’t want to use too much bandwidth getting hi-res images on all your devices, and they don’t want to cause storage problems on iOS devices. I can understand both problems. But having images start to vanish after awhile is bothersome. One solution would be if Apple could keep a monthly archive of your images sitting on your iCloud. They could have a web interface to let you download and delete these archives. The number of these that would be stored is controlled by how much iCloud space you have (Apple already allows you to buy more than the free 5 Gig that every user gets).

There needs to be a way to delete photos from the iCloud. I’m sure I’m not the only person that accidentally click on the shutter every now and then. Having total junk in my Photo Stream is annoying. I’ve heard on rumor sites that in the next iOS update there will be an option to delete images from the Photo Stream.

I’m really wondering what Apple plans to do with sharing of photos. Right now you can view photos on your iOS device and share them via twitter or email. None of your remote friends/family can view the photos without having your Apple ID. It seems that Apple should incorporate some sort of sharing feature so your friends/families could easily view your photos, or at least those you choose to be public. But perhaps they aren’t going to go down the same road that they did with MobileMe albums. Apple might just realize that other social sites have a firm grip on the market (at least right now — does anyone remember GeoCities?).

Some photos in the Photo Stream end up in a different sequence even on the same device where the photos were snapped. I’m not sure what information is being used to sort the images in the two different views but I’d like to see this glitch fixed. The first time I noticed this is when I was doing HDR shots and saving the originals (in Pro HDR). I noticed that the Photo Stream would not have the dark/light/final in the same order as on my camera roll.

To transfer photos between my iPhone and iPad I’ll continue to use Photo Transfer App. I find it to be the best of the transfer apps and I’ve never had any problems with it. I’d really like it if Apple would give photographers an option so the hi-res shots can make it from one device to another at some point in the future. Keeping my fingers crossed.

There is also a chance that a 3rd party developer will come up with a nice simple way to get the full resolution photo from the iCloud to a device. Perhaps it could be added to Photo Transfer App, or maybe something entirely new such as the Stream Show app.

Here is one tip for those using iPhoto on a Mac. I’d suggest disabling the Automatic Upload feature. If this is turned on and you import hundreds of shots from a camera card, all these photos would begin uploading to the iCloud. I’m also not sure exactly what would happen with RAW photos from my DSLR.

iPhoto Preferences

You might find these links useful if you need more information.

Apple iCloud Overview
Apple iCloud Photo Stream Overview
Apple Photo Stream FAQ (very useful)


1I found a nice description of the cloud in this article. The opening paragraphs are well written.

The easiest way to understand the cloud is to think of it as a utility, like electricity. When you plug a device into a wall outlet, electricity flows. You didn’t generate the electricity yourself. In fact, you probably have no idea where the electricity was generated. It’s just there when you want it. All you care about is that your device works.

Cloud computing works on the same principle. Through an internet connection (the equivalent of an electrical outlet), you can access whatever applications, files, or data you have opted to store in the cloud–anytime, anywhere, from any device. How it gets to you and where it’s stored are not your concern (well, for most people they’re not).

The potential benefits of this approach are enormous. To stick with the electricity analogy, if your IT department is still pre-cloud, it’s running the equivalent of its own generator. And with that comes a load of responsibility: Generators break, they run out of fuel, they need to be serviced, and–if demand for power increases–new ones need to be bought and brought online.

3 Replies to “iCloud Photo Stream: What’s Right, What’s Wrong?”

  1. One of these issues, the inability to delete individual Photo Stream images, is eliminated in iOS 5.1. Further, deletions on an iOS device get synced across all others (but not for Mac or PC, which retain the images once downloaded).

Leave a Reply