Thinks Different

August 20 2013

Photos.app and Photo Stream Confusion

I recently came home to Connecticut after living all summer in California. While home, my family decided to show me pictures of their vacation. While the vacation photos were wonderful, let me tell you how much of a headache it was to show them. My family took all their photos on an iPhone. They knew that the iPad was able to show the pictures, and wanted to use that because it would not make sense to huddle around a little 3.5 in. screen and go through the camera roll. They took out their iPad, which should just have all the photos since the same iCloud account is used on both devices. My mom opened up Photos.app on her iPad and kept scrolling through all the photos and didn't see the vacation photos. While I knew they would be in the Photo Stream tab, I wanted to see how my parents would approach this problem. After a while of that, they just about had enough and were going to take out their iPhone. At that point, I had enough and stepped in. I had to explain the complicated topic of iCloud and syncing. While doing so, I realised that this issue I have with Photo Stream isn't just a small issue that I saw with it. It is a *huge* issue that's preventing people from doing such a fundamental task on their iPad. Why were we about to crowd around a tiny screen, when a several hundred dollar device with a gorgeous 9.7 in. screen was laying idly on the kitchen counter? iPad is incredible and it's more than capable of displaying my family's vacation photos. However, it was just too complicated to figure out.

After telling them to use the Photo Stream tab, we began looking at all the photos. We then came across a photo that was poorly lit. My mom tapped on "Edit" and did an automatic adjustment on the photo. The photo became a bit brighter and easier to see. Then she tapped "Save". The photo reverted to how it was just a moment ago. What happened? Photos in Photo Stream can't be edited, but they can be saved to the camera roll. If we wanted to see that edited photo, we would have to go back, find the edited photo, then return back to Photo Stream to continue scrolling through the rest of the vacation photos. Now we have four copies of that photo. We have a copy sitting in the Camera Roll on my mom's iPhone, a duplicate copy in Photo Stream, an edited version sitting in the Camera Roll on my mom's iPad, and a copy of the edited version at the very end of the Photo Stream. This is unacceptable and becomes even worse when doing this for more than a couple photos. To them, this should simply be *one* photo, and their devices should all just be a window into seeing all their photos, regardless of which device they were taken on, and where they edited the photo.

After seeing all the photos, they wanted to share it with other family members that weren't home so they could see them, too. It's too much of a hassle to describe how confusing that was to explain, so I'll just move on to how I would like to solve a lot of these issues.

My proposed solution

The way Photos.app and Photo Stream works really needs to be fixed. Photos.app should have four tabs: Photos, Albums, Faces, and Places.

In Photos, this is where all photos taken on any device with the same iCloud account go. Here they are intelligently sorted and grouped by time, and place, similar to how it works on iOS 7.

In Albums, you get a list of albums. Albums are hand-picked groupings of photos. There is no longer a difference between an album and Shared Photo Stream. All albums are technically Shared Photo Streams. Whether or not you want to share it with other people, is up to the user. Having them all technically "Shared" has the advantage of syncing all albums across devices.

Faces is just what you expect: collections of photos grouped based on who is in them. This will work similar to how it does on iPhoto for OS X.

Places is also just what you expect: photos organized by where they were taken. It shows a map with groups of photos in different areas that they were taken. Pinch to zoom in on an area to get more fine-grained control of the groupings of photos. This will work similar to how it does now.


Don't even get my started on trying to get some of these photos printed and framed.

Yes, I know it would've been easier to just AirPlay a slideshow from the iPhone to the Apple TV in the living room, but it's not a solution to the issues mentioned above.