Two Apps for Browsing Photos by Date

When looking through photos on your iPhone I typically just have a two albums: the Camera Roll and my Photo Stream. Every now and then when I’m glancing through the thousands of shots in my Camera Roll I often wish there was an easy way to view things by date.

I seem to recall that if you sync with iPhoto you can have things sorted into many albums (by month I think), but I have never really used iPhoto1 and would like a nice simple solution. It would be really nice if Apple would allow us to have a way to easily see dates when going through the Camera Roll similar to Time Machine on OSX, but not sure if that is high on their list.

So I took a look at two different iPhone apps, PhotoHistory and PhotoCal – Sorting photos by date. PhotoHistory was just released in January 2012, and PhotoCal was released back in November 2011.

Both let you view photos by date. One of the big differences is the GUI. Click on the images to see a larger view.

On my iPhone 4S I currently have about 1900 photos in my Camera Roll, and the full 1000 photos in my Photo Stream. When starting each app it first has to go through all your photos and build a thumbnail of each. This process takes a bit of time. PhotoHistory was noticeably faster at this and it took about a minute. PhotoCal was probably three minutes. One reason for that was that PhotoCal scans your Photo Stream by default. Once all photos have been imported you could tell it to ignore that album. PhotoHistory initially ignored the Photo Stream, but let you turn it on after the initial import. Both apps ask to use your location before the import begins. I didn’t check to see what happens if you cancel that information.

After the initial import the apps will be much faster the next time they start if you haven’t taken a vast number of new photos.

I’ll go through a few main points for each app.


  • A very polished/dark look.
  • A bit unstable – it crashed a few times. It also feels very sluggish when scrolling through photos.
  • When viewing an individual photo you can email, post to Facebook/Twitter, or copy the image (a 720×960 pixel reduced image!).
  • You can also view the image on a map.
  • In the Album view you see all images from the album sorted by day.
  • In the Month view things are sorted by month.
  • In the Calendar view you can click on a day and it shows a scrolling list of all images (it really crashed a lot in this mode).
  • The app is free (ad-based), but you can remove ads for $0.99.


  • The look is very basic. Some like this, some don’t. I’m a fan. There is room for improvement (the folder icon represents which albums to select, that was a bit confusing).
  • The only viewpoint is the photos with a timeline displayed on the side. It is very simple to zip through time. You simply drag your finger along the timeline which shows years/months.
  • You can click to view any individual image. There are no options to export or send that particular image.
  • I couldn’t find a way to manually refresh the thumbnails after taking more images, so I had to quit the app. If you run a few other apps between taking photos and using this app it will automatically update the thumbnails (the iPhone automatically ‘quit’ the app in the background due to the limited memory on smartphones).
  • The app seemed very stable and snappy. It never crashed.
  • The app currently costs $1.99

The stability of PhotoHistory was nice. One thing that I’d really like would be a “slider knob” on the timeline to show your currently location on that timeline. Having the timeline little more separated from the images would also help out a bit. If I get time (ugh…why aren’t days longer?) I may do a little sketch of what I’d like to see.

Update: here is my idea for improving PhotoHistory. Not sure if all this stuff is possible. Click on image for larger view.

Simple GUI for a timeline app.

The one thing I’d really like in both apps is a way to get to the full resolution photo from one of the preview images. This might be difficult within what is allowed in the iOS programming (not really sure though). I’d really like the option to either jump to the original photo in the Photo App, or export/copy the full resolution image back to the Camera Roll with the current date associated with it.

Due to the lack of being able to get to the original photo I’m not sure if I’ll use either of these apps a lot, but we’ll see what improvements show up in the future. Both are relatively new apps. PhotoHistory feels snappy and is minimalistic, so for just zipping through time I think I prefer that one a bit more.

Both of these iPhone apps are available on iTunes:

PhotoHistory on iTunes [download]
PhotoCal – Sorting photos by date [download]

I’m not sure about what other apps are out there for this sort of thing. If anyone has suggestions feel free to drop me a line or leave a comment. Right now in Photogene2 you can change the thumbnail size. I wonder if that app could add a new “timeline” feature. Hmmm.

1 I do use iPhoto to keep a backup of all my full resolution photos via the Photo Stream, but don’t use it for any editing. I’m primarily a Lightroom user on my computer.

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