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The iPhone 6S aggravates missing photo archive features in iCloud

By September 11, 2015Blog, News

Apple recently announced the latest iPhone model, the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S+. I have closely followed the news, not only because I have written about Apple for years, but also because I am preparing a new book, titled iPhone 6 & 6S In 30 Minutes which covers all iPhone 6 models running iOS 9.

A lot of the media attention around the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus has concerned the powerful new cameras, the ability to shoot 4K video, and Live Photos. These look like amazing features, but as others have pointed out, they come with a high price: They will quickly use up the iPhone’s storage (particularly the 16GB model). I will take this observation a step further: The powerful iPhone 6S camera aggravates a huge design flaw in Apple’s iCloud service — the inability to archive photos and videos on iCloud Photo Library.

iphone6s icloud photo library archive photos backupLet me explain. If you have activated iCloud Photo Library on your iPhone 6 or iPhone 6S, All Photos will show thumbnails of all digital photos and videos created on the iPhone that have not been deleted. It also includes thumbnails of photos from any other device connected to the same iCloud account and synced to iCloud Photo Library.

When you delete a photo or video taken on your iPhone, it is also removed from iCloud Photo Library. It is not archived. This is true even if you have a paid iCloud account with tons of online storage. This is a major problem for anyone who takes lots of photos and videos, and then needs to delete them from the phone to make room for more — once you delete them from the phone, they are gone for good!

Apple support forums are filled with iPhone owners who want to clear some space on their phones, but still save copies of the photos and videos (see Can I use iCloud to store photos I want to delete from my iPhone 5s?). There is no solution on the forums, and when I contacted Apple support the only suggestion they had was to optimize storage on the iPhone, as described on this page:

If you turn on Optimize (device) Storage, iCloud Photo Library will automatically manage the size of your library on your device, so you can make the most of your device’s storage and access more photos than ever. All of your original, full-resolution photos and videos are stored in iCloud while device-size versions are kept on your device. You can download the original photos and videos over Wi-Fi or cellular when you need them. If you turn on Download Originals, iCloud Photo Library will keep your original, full-resolution photos and videos in iCloud and on your device. Download Originals is the default setting for iOS devices with the free 5 GB storage plan and for all Mac devices.

Optimize Storage is an iCloud band-aid that doesn’t scale. This option takes all of the high-resolution photos and videos — even the ones you created just last week — and places them on iCloud’s servers. It leads to other problems. Namely, if you tap a thumbnail to download a high-resolution photo or video from iCloud onto your iPhone, the photo or video may take a long time to load -— or may not load at all — depending on the speed of your Wi-Fi or carrier connection. I found this out the hard way when trying to show a two-minute HD video of a recent vacation experience on my iPhone 6 to visiting family members over a standard home Wi-Fi setup. It was taking too long to load, so I was forced to abandon the attempt.

What if you don’t use iCloud Photo Library, and opt for plain-jane iCloud photo storage? In this case, you will revert to the old Camera Roll view, which consists of photos and videos created by the iPhone’s camera and still stored on the device. Eventually they will have to be deleted and/or manually backed up to a desktop computer.

As you can imagine, things will only get worse for owners of the iPhone 6S and 6S+, who will be taking higher-resolution photos and videos. Until Apple’s iCloud group figures out a solution to the problem for all iPhone owners, the best alternative is Dropbox’s Camera Uploads feature, which automatically uploads and backs up all photos and videos taken on your smartphone to a dedicated folder on the user’s Dropbox account. Even if you delete a photo or video on the iPhone, you will still have a copy on Dropbox as long as a Dropbox sync has taken place and there is enough space on the account (free accounts have a limited amount of storage). I have covered this in the latest edition of Dropbox In 30 Minutes for anyone who is interested. Google Drive recently began offering a similar feature, but I have not tried it yet. It boggles the mind why Apple has yet to introduce such a feature for iCloud — Dropbox Camera Uploads was introduced in 2011, so it’s not like it’s a new concept.

Have you had the same photo and video backup problem using iCloud Photo Library on your iPhone 6 or iPhone 6S? How have you dealt with the problem?

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