How Apple missed the boat on photo sharing

Summary:Apple used to provide end-to-end photo sharing and it was easy. Since then its given up on photos and actually made it harder than ever to share them.

How Apple blew it with photos - Jason O'Grady
Picture: Tavis Coburn for Wired

Sharing photos from iOS is an exercise in frustration. Unless you only share them on Twitter, Facebook or Flickr, that is. The iPhone 5s has one of the greatest cameras in a smartphone, and iPhone users take millions of photos per day, but many of them are stored away in an archive never shared and rarely seen again. 

Photo management is hard. An article by Mat Honan in the January 2014 issue of Wired magazine ("The Quality of Your Smartphone’s Camera Is Only Half the Picture") emphasizes this point: 

The best camera would actually be the one you have with you that takes great shots, then edits, organizes, and shares them for you.

By that standard, the iPhone is half a great camera. It takes wonderful photos, but Apple’s solution for managing those snaps is basically to dump them on a drive—on your computer or in the cloud. While it offers some rudimentary organizing principles (date, location, and face recognition among them), it makes you do all the most onerous parts of selecting and editing. It gives you incredibly limited sharing options, and good luck getting ­people outside of Apple’s ecosystem to see those pics.

Apple dropped its MobileMe Gallery service in June 2012 and replaced it with a confusing array of photo sharing options, including:

  1. Web Journals is only available in iPhoto for iOS ($5, App Store) and features a dizzying workflow sure to confound most users. I'm guessing that few people use Web Journals over the bundled Photos app, because the iPhoto app costs $5.
  2. iCloud Photo Sharing allows you to create a shared stream and invite friends and family to add their photos and video clips. Invited users can access shared streams from any iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, or PC.
  3. iCloud Photo Stream automatically streams/syncs the last 1,000 photos you took on an iPhone or iPad (connected to the same AppleID) between your devices and Mac. 

While a good start, Apple's services above aren't exactly intuitive. Quick, do you know the steps required to create a shared stream from your iPhone? Probably not, because it's a confusing, multi-step process. Far more users take a quick snapshop of their child/pet/meal/whatever and quickly share it directly from the their Photos app using the familiar Share button. 

The problem is that iPhoto's sharing options are extremely limited:

 

The photo sharing options in iOS Photos are quite limited - Jason O'Grady

Honan's article hits the nail right on the head. While iPhones take great photos, iOS' photo sharing options are downright primitive. When you share a photo from the iOS Photos app you have limited options, including:

  • Message
  • Mail
  • iCloud
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Flickr

Instagram, the largest photo sharing service (after Facebook) isn't a default photo sharing option in Photos for iOS. Neither is Google+.

On the other hand, Android 4.4 includes 17 sharing intents out of the box, including the above, plus:

  • Instagram
  • Google+
  • Tumblr

More importantly, Android exposes an API that allows developers to add their app to the share list in Gallery or Photos with ease. If you install apps from SmugMug, PhotoBucket or Pinterest (for example) on your Android device, shortcuts are automatically added to the sharing menus of both the Gallery and Photos apps. 

On iOS you're out of luck.

Pro Tip: If you're a heavy Instagram user you can share directly to it from iPhoto for iOS by touching Share > Apps > Other App... > Choose Photo > touch a photo thumbnail > Next > Open in Instagram, but by this point it would have been much faster to share it directly from the Instagram app.

Which is my point: Apple makes photo sharing much harder than it needs to be. It's also missing out on additional revenue from increased iCloud storage fees by not offering an easy way to store and share photo galleries on iCloud.

It could be by design though, Apple's iCloud woes are well-known and it's plausible that the company didn't want to tackle photo sharing (an admittedly high-volume service) until its other iCloud services were fixed. 

It's a real shame that Apple didn't capitalize on its lead in photo sharing while it was ahead. Instead it killed online photo albums and crippled photo sharing in iOS. Maybe we'll see more photo sharing options in iOS 8 (or even an API?) but I'm not holding my breath, and neither are all the people that have switched to Android.

How do you share your iPhone photos?

Related articles:

Topics: Apple, iOS, iPad, iPhone

About

Jason D. O'Grady developed an affinity for Apple computers after using the original Lisa, and this affinity turned into a bona-fide obsession when he got the original 128 KB Macintosh in 1984. He started writing one of the first Web sites about Apple (O'Grady's PowerPage) in 1995 and is considered to be one of the fathers of blogging.... Full Bio

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