How Apple missed the boat on photo sharing

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.

TOPICS: Apple, iOS, iPhone, iPad
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, iPhone, iPad

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  • Sorry, what's this hard to share thing about?

    In Instragram, you take a picture, it is shared.... In any app, you click on the little pic thingy, and you can either take a picture, or use a picture. I'm not getting how this is... hard?

    I don't think anyone tries to do this from the photo app, or even thinks to, if that's what this is about.
    • Hard

      He didn't read the MANUAL, so it is hard....
    • "if that's what this is about"

      Of course it is, but then you already knew that.

      I don't use an iPhone, so I can't speak about the relative merits of the Apple camera app, or the one with Instagram, but on my Android phone, I much prefer the built-in camera software.

      Then again, I'm with Gary below.
      • I refuse to use Facebook or Instagram

        So the inbuilt camera app is useful on Android, but you can share to anything you want with that (even if you want a Face(devil)book account......
    • Agreed

      Social applications mean the infrastructure for sharing is provided and all the native photo app has to do is integrate with the social services' app.

      Besides, I've shared photos with e-mail and Messages/Texting and did not find the process onerous.

      Problem solved.
  • Does it matter?

    Does anyone over the age of 25 really care about the ability to share a few hundred pictures with eveyone they know? My crowd has grown up and we are, frankly, too busy with life to spend spare time taking and sending pictures. We no longer snap photos of our dessert at dinner to prove to all what a great time we are having. This "weakness" in iOS may have some relevance for the 17 year olds on prom dates, byt for the rest of us, iOS will do...
    • Narrow view

      Not everyone is you. Some of use have far-flung relatives, and friends who like to get photos of our goings on. I also like being able to watch the nieces and nephews and their children, and grandchildren (yes, I am a 71 year old man) grow up, and enjoy their lives. Don't try to force everyone into your narrow life experience.
    • Well

      56 years old and I share photos. I don't photograph food, unless it's ironic. I photograph moments and share the better ones.

      We come, we go. Some rebel against the oppressive fact of eventual oblivion by making a record, to say I was here, I did this. If you and your crowd have embraced fully the concept of being ephemera, very good. It is a brutally honest stance to take. I'll keep taking and sharing photos. It's fun. It really doesn't subtract any thing from my life, which is a zero sum prospect any way.
    • You nailed it!

      No shit eh?
    • does it matter?

      Does it matter? 63 is over 25. Enough over 25 to have grandchildren & be retired. Haven't you ever seen those license plates that read:"let me tell you about my grandchildren"?
      I've owned iPhones (3G, 4G, & 5) but now have a Galaxy S III. I liked all the iPhones, but frankly, I'm spoiled by the Galaxy's integration & automation with G+. Never the less, there are times you may need to import the pictures you took with your android to Aperture 3 on your iMac for heavy-duty editing due to tricky lighting conditions where they were taken and you unfortunately forgot your Canon. The authors are right about the sharing choices, my mac running Mavericks doesn't offer G+, but.....I didn't find it difficult at all to create a photo stream and sharing it with family members regardless of whether they had Apple products - some did and some didn't, but they all got to see the pictures. In fact, one even commented how easy it was. Also, there may be greater security/privacy with iCloud sharing than G+ even with circles and certainly better than FB, though I think a lot of these security issues that people encounter are due to user carelessness.
  • Say WHAT?

    I regularly share photos on my iPhone to Facebook, and I can send them by iMessage (or SMS), and email, and via DropBox, and by Airdrop (which you ignore). Seems to me that you have something to say that you are using this article to get across, rather than coming out an saying it. Bottom line, sharing photos is NOT hard on iOS 7, not at all.
    • Shhhhhh .....

      He's trying to cause a ruckus amonst the ignorant .....
  • Why would I want to use ANY dedicated photo sharing app?

    Email: Easy. Fast. Unrestricted.
    Facebook: Easy. Fast. Unrestricted.
    Twitter: Easy. Fast. Unrestricted.
    I don't use any other app for sharing photos and neither do almost all of the people I personally know who share photos. It's email or nothing for most of them and Facebook for the rest. I have YET to use Instagram any any of its forms. I'm just not interested.
  • It depends on who you know.

    All my family have iPhones and by extension iCloud accounts. I'm the only one with an Instagram or Flickr account though. So we share photos via shared PhotoStreams.

    My parents, in their 60s, find it easy and intuitive. They live quite far away from both myself and my sister. My sister, who also lives several 100 miles away, became a mum for the first time just before Christmas and has a shared stream about my niece.

    It's easy, allows comments and likes, isn't automatically open to the public (like Facebook can be if you're not careful with your settings) and as far as I'm aware you can have as many shared streams as you like. Think of them as albums, and each one is available to only certain people.

    Sometimes you can have too much choice (and yes anti-Apple folks, you can pick me apart on that sentence). What's the point of 17 photo sharing services if nobody you know is on most of them, or indeed any of them? Apple has a relatively elegant and easy to use option. Want to use Instagram? There's an app for that.
  • Let me clarify...

    Some people aren't getting my point, so let me clear things up.

    On iOS you can't easily share photos from the Photos app beyond FB and Twitter. For example, you can't share photos to Instagram, Google+ or 23snaps. Worse, there's no APIs for developers to tap into, so if there's a specialized photo service that you use, you can't share out of the iOS Photos app to it.

    I'm not advocating sharing pictures of food, nor am I an Instagram zealot. I have small kids and prefer a private photo service called 23snaps (designed for parents).

    On Android it's simple to share photos to any service on the planet, on iOS, it's Apple's way or the highway.

    Hopefully that clears things up a bit :)

    - Jason
    Jason D. O'Grady
    • That's exactly the point, Jason:

      Who WANTS to?
  • Photo Sharing

    Forget iOS ... Apple's killed photo sharing among Home Sharing users - except for Apple TV.

    Used to be that you could browse on over to another Mac in the the same Home Sharing group - with Mavericks Apple seems to have removed that capability.

    Apple sure has been shooting itself in the foot lately.
  • Problem solved

    Of the 4,000 crap self portraits your going to shoot over the next few months, PRINT a few dozen of them, pop them in a nice fake leather bound 4x6 album, add a handwritten note and mail it to grandma, or put it on a book shelf and pull it out when a real live friend drops by. I know I know, the concept is incredibly radical and demands you be a lot more creative and put some effort into making image choices that might actually interest someone. Long term benefits are immense – while your circle of digital friends are draining batteries trying to link all their crap shots to the latest greatest content stealing social fad, your friends and family, kids and their kids can snuggle on the couch for decades and share the photo memories you made on paper. Real solutions for an unreal world!