A few weeks ago, I witnessed a grown woman nearly start to cry after she realized she had lost a year’s worth of photos from her iPhone. “Did you back them up?” Her friends asked as they gathered around her to try and comfort her.
Ever since the iPhone became our defacto camera, walking around with our most precious photographic memories in our pockets has become somewhat of a risky proposition. Thankfully, a slew of third-party iOS apps have made it easy to backup and store our photo collections. We have cloud storage heavyweight Dropbox and its photo-specific iOS app offshoot Carousel. Most big web services have similar photo-storing apps, including Facebook’s Moments, Google Photos, Yahoo’s Flickr, Microsoft OneDrive, and Amazon Cloud Photos. And photo startups, like Shoebox and Everalbum, want to store our memories, too.
Unfortunately, if those memories are in the form of Live Photos, none of the aforementioned third-party iOS apps will save them. The only way to back them up is using iCloud Photo Library. That’s right: I have yet to find one third-party photo storage app that supports Live Photos, the moving JPEGs that the new iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus take by capturing the 1.5 seconds before and after you press the shutter. Live Photos can only be viewed on devices running the latest iOS 9 or on Macs running OS X El Capitan. And when you back them up to any photo service, all you get is a regular flat photo.
When you try to backup a Live Photos to Dropbox or Google Photos, for example, the still JPEG gets uploaded, but you can’t deep press it to have it come back to life. And if you save the image back to your iPhone’s camera roll, all of its Live Photo magic will have been stripped away. So in order to back up your Live Photos (and all their Harry Potter-like wizardry) to the cloud, you have no choice but to enable iCloud Photo Library.
The impact on you: Could Live Photos, the most-loved new feature on the iPhone 6s, be Apple’s way of getting more people to enable iCloud Photo Library, pay for storage or start using the Photos Mac app? Who knows. But here’s hoping Dropbox, Google, or even Flickr start supporting Live Photos before I go over my free 5GB iCloud storage limit. Otherwise, I might just have to go back to taking those basic, boring, good-old dead photos.
iCloud Photo Library is not picture perfect
Ok, so I have to start using iCloud Photo Library. That’s all fine, except it sucks having your photos and video in one service (Dropbox, Flickr) and your Live Photos in another. Plus, iCloud doesn’t necessarily have the best reputation when it comes to keeping private photos private.
Then there’s the fact that iCloud Photo Library doesn’t really back up photos, it simply ”syncs” them across devices. If you delete or edit a photo on your iPhone, that pic will also be deleted from the Photos app on your Mac, for example. This means that you will still be freaking out every time your toddler nephew starts playing around with your iPad, out of fear that he might accidentally delete a photo. Don’t you have it backed up? Some distant relative will certainly ask, and then you’ll have to explain the weird logic behind iCloud Photo Library.
Sure, you can “optimize” the photos on your device to save space, and deleted photo from the past month can be restored from the Recently Deleted album. But to me, this iCloud syncing kind of defeats the whole point of photo storage: freeing up space on your iPhone so you can store more memories and have the old ones safely tucked away in a vault somewhere in the cloud. That’s one of the key features behind Dropbox’s Carousel app. It’s called “Free Up iPhone Space.” When Apple launched Live Photos, however, Dropbox had to modify the feature “to prevent deletion of Live Photos.” Oops.
Most importantly, iCloud storage is not free. Apple gives you the first 5GB for free, and each Live Photo that I’ve taken so far takes up about 3MB of space. Even if you haven't already used your free 5GB for iCloud backups, that free storage will run out after taking fewer than 1,700 Live Photos. And I live with a cat, so I will undoubtedly need to more Live Photos storage in my lifetime. After I reach my 5GB limit, I’ll have to start paying for iCloud storage ($1 a month for 50GB) or simply say goodbye to all my Live Photos.
I guess I could also manually backup Live Photos to the Photos app on my Mac, but that’s just storing them locally, not on the cloud. So every time I want to show friends a Live Photo of my cat eating a flower, I’ll have to lug my around my MacBook. Not something I’d called mobile-friendly.