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Why Apple's Photo Library Is Bad

The Huge Problem With Apple Photos

Have you ever felt frustrated with Apple's systems for backing up your photos? Well, you are not alone. Blogger and developer Marcin Krzyżanowski explains why Apple's photo library could be the root of your photo problems.

If you asked me today, after a few months of using it, how do I feel about Photos and iCloud Photo Library, I have just one answer: I'm pissed off, give me my money back!

I can honestly say that I use full Apple setup. Macbooks, iMac, iPhones, iPad, Apple TV — it's all here. And I expect it to "just work." So where should I keep pictures? Of course, on my Mac like thousands of others.


Until recently, my setup looked like this: iMac on my desk, with external disk attached, where I aggregate all my photos from all of my devices. Not automatically. From time to time I just attach device and download new photos to the iPhoto. It's all there, on my desk, locally. Wouldn't be good if my HDD break, and my Backup would fail. Ohhgggrrr . . . nooo. But it is there (unmanageable by iPhoto anyway).

Then last year, Apple introduced iCloud Photo Library. WOW. I thought that THIS would be the solution to the problem of storing images forever, by using the cloud, since Apple is not a startup that will shut down as soon as Google decides to go shopping.

So I started to use it. Within a few months, all my photos from my device uploaded automatically to the brand new iCloud Photo Library storage. I was able to access my library with the web interface This all looked so exciting and promising.

I decided to buy 200 GB of storage (monthly) and to put all my photos to iCloud, which is advertised like this:

Photos has been engineered from the ground up to help you keep your growing library organized and accessible. Powerful and intuitive editing tools help you perfect your images as well as create beautiful gifts for sharing. And with iCloud Photo Library, a lifetime's worth of photos and videos can be stored in the cloud — so you can access your entire collection from your Mac and iOS devices anytime.

Then reality sets in.

Web access

Usually after I log in to the web interface, I see "Preparing your library."

Why, oh why does it have to wait for me to log in to prepare the library? If I log in to access my photos, and my welcome screen looks like this, it's too late. It's too late!

Next I tried to upload some videos to my library using web interface. Not possible. All I can do is upload JPEG files (no PNG, no RAW, nothing else, only JPEG), and the process was extremely slow (compared to Google Drive's web based upload, for example).

Photos — New Setup

I bought a new computer. Not the slow 12" MacBook, but a decent Macbook. The first setup is a disaster. As soon as I type in my iCloud password, my computer is 100% busy, the fan immediately turns on, and the overall responsiveness is crappy.

This all thanks to the background Photos activity. What is it doing? It's downloading my photos to my hard drive, my tiny hard drive! At this point, I have 6608 photos and 544 videos. It took two or three days just to download it all. Did I say it downloaded it all? No? OK. It is in fact!

Photos have two modes of operation:

  1. "Download Originals to this Mac" — Store original photos and videos on this Mac. Choose this option if you want to access full-resolution versions of your entire library, even when offline
  2. "Optimize Mac Storage" — Store full-resolution photos and videos in iCloud. Originals will also be stored on this Mac if you have enough storage space

I go with the second one, from the beginning. I checked that, and changed at the very beginning (is it typical that by default it is "Download Originals to this Mac"?)

This is what my optimized library of photos looks like:

So you can see I'm almost at 50 GB. At some point I checked how much space is needed to have all of my iCloud Photo Library:

and I felt pissed off for the first time. My locally stored, optimized library is 3 GB shorter than my library in total.

Behaves as Intended

At this point I was sure this was some sort of bug or something had gone wrong. Since I'm a developer, I see bugs like this one all the time. So I filed the issue with Apple using the Bug Reporting tool. After a few days, I received the most unexpected response:

"The issue behaves as intended" they say, because you have a plenty of space on HDD (yet, new machine right?) so we'll fill all of the space with photos. Don't worry, it's all good here. Just wait until your storage runs out of space, then we'll figure something out.

Can you see the trap here? For a large library (or smaller HDD), most of my storage would be overtaken by Photos, with a small amount of free space graciously left for other things, like documents or whatever else I may need on the computer, right? And then when I'm almost out of space, Photos will eventually start optimizing my library. It's too late.

I want to scream out loud: NOOOOOOO. Why can't you care about my local storage, my tiny and expensive local storage, and focus on storing most of my data on iCloud drive?! CLOUD DRIVE.


Sharing is a disaster. Because I have a family, I have Family Sharing setup with my wife. Here's how Apple advertises this specific feature:

"A new way to bring harmony to your family's digital life."

Bullsh*t (sorry, but it really is). Think of sharing photos? Yea . . . try it on your own. For every album, I have to create a separate album just for sharing, then share it with people, but only people who also use Apple devices (because nothing else will really work).

"The whole family can contribute to the family photo album."

. . . so they say, yeah, manual work! Adding photo after photo to every single album, why can't I simply share photos? Do you have photos from a recent trip? OK, I'll upload them to MY Photo Library. Then the next day (when upload has finally finished), I can select them all, create a new album and share it. After a few hours, it's finally been downloaded to my wife's phone. Think about it.

In Conclusion

How is it that so many clever developers landed on something with such a bad design? I don't know how, but they did! This is just one piece of terrible cloud solution Apple has come up with. Let's be serious . . . nobody really uses iCloud Drive to store files. People use "iCloud Photo Library" just because it is enabled by default, nothing more. Apple never knew how to do network services, and in 2015 they are still clearly failing at that.

My conclusion is: sorry Apple, but I am going to look elsewhere for a place to store my photos . . . Actually, Google Drive is looking very promising. I can store all my photos and videos there in a timely manner, and it's very easy sharing, as well as a fast preview right from the web.

Image Source: Shutterstock
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