Apple finally fixed photography on iOS. Or rather, it’s fixed organizing your photos, wherever they might be. The iPhone is already a great camera. The problem was everything that happened after you tapped the shutter.
Now, in iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, you’ll never have to worry about organizing your photos again — they’ll be everywhere, all the time. And best of all? It looks like you’re never going to need iPhoto again, on the Mac or on your iPad.
While changing the way Apple lets you organize your photos sounds like the dullest part of the photography-related updates to iOS and OS X, it’s the best bit. Previously, when you took a picture on your iPhone it would live right there on the iPhone, and possibly in your iCloud Photo Stream until you took 1,0000 more photos and it got knocked off the end. If you used iPhoto or Aperture on the Mac, full-res copies of the originals would be saved there, and low-res pictures would be sent to any other iDevice you owned.
This was a pain. First, you’d need iPhoto just to keep your pictures safe. Second, while iPhoto on the Mac is a great place to make albums and the like, these changes wouldn’t be reflected on your iDevices.
And third, if you edited a photo, you’d have to save the result back to your camera roll, making yet another copy.
iCloud Photo Library
iCloud Photo Library fixes all this. It’s a single library for all your photos, and you can view it on your iPhone, iPad and on your Mac (the new OS X Photos app will ship next year). Full-res versions are kept in iCloud (including RAW files), and any edits are immediately mirrored to other devices.
Also, any albums you make will also be mirrored to your other devices, so you can organize on the Mac and see the albums on the iPhone (or on the web – this might not sound like much but it means your non-Apple-owning friends can be brought into the loop).
iCloud Photo Library looks almost the same as the photo app you have now, with the addition of a little magnifying glass icon up in the corner. This lets you search your photos on location, time taken or album name. It also offers smart suggestions — “Nearby” and “One Year Ago” — and supports search terms like “2008,” “December,” “Spain” and so on.
The results are organized into sections based on the type of search. For instance, if you search on “December,” the results are split into daily events. Search on a country (Israel in my example), and the results are broken down by town. And within the search you can always tap on a place name to see the pictures on a map, just like in iOS 7.
Good for all your pictures
The fact that iCloud Photo Library supports RAW files is neat, but what that means is even neater: Pictures you take with a regular camera will become a part of your library, and synced between devices. And because third-party apps will be able to write to your photo albums, you really might want to keep all your photos on your iPad.
It’s worth mentioning the new iCloud prices here, newly lowered to fit the increased storage you’ll need. The free tier is still 5GB, 20GB will be a buck a month, and 200GB will be just $4 per month, which is insane. That’s more than enough for all my photos, ever.
Death of iPhoto
I’m running the first version of iOS 8 beta on my iPad mini, so anything here is subject to change, but once you switch on iCloud Photo Library, the first time you launch the Photos app it imports everything from your iPhoto Library, and if you try to launch iPhoto you can’t. You get this message instead:
Which looks like the end for iPhoto. No matter, though, because the editing tools in the Photos app are now much more powerful, and – this is the really cool part – other apps can inject their own filters right into the photos app.
Capture and Editing
In yesterday’s demo at WWDC, Cray-Fed (Craig Federighi) showed how the fantastic Waterlogue app could make its filters available right inside the Photos app. This is clearly huge. It’s not only convenient, but it also means that your photos album won’t be littered with different versions of the same picture. As far as I can tell, these filters are nondestructive (just like the built-in ones, they don’t touch the original file) and the edits are stored in your main library.
And of course, these edits propagate to all your other devices.
It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that apps could also edit photos’ metadata, letting you geotag pictures taken with a camera and imported with the camera connection kit right there on your iPad.
New editing tools – just like Snapseed
Federighi also demoed new photo-editing features in his keynote address. The big changes are the crop and straighten tool (which adds an auto-straighten when you first engage it), and the Color and Light tools. Color and Light work by swiping up and down the image to auto-adjust the color and the lighting semi-automatically.
iOS analyzes the image and decides how to process it, and your swipes tell it how much to tweak the image. The app is tweaking exposure, brightness, contrast, saturation and other parameters behind the scenes. But that’s not all. If you swipe left and right, you can access these individual controls, then swipe up and down to change them. It’s just like using Google’s Snapseed app, only non-destructive and built-in.
The camera app also has some changes. There’s now a self-timer built in (at last), and a time-lapse function. The time-lapse is pretty neat. It’s located next to the other options for Photo, Square and Video, and one tap starts the camera snapping a frame at short intervals. When you hit the stop button, the result is saved as a MOV file in your camera roll. You can use the front or back cameras, but the iPhone/iPad needs to stay running while it is capturing.
The self-timer is activated up by the HDR switch, and offers three- or 10-second countdowns.
Sharing is also better in iOS 8. First, you can now customize the export options in the built-in sharing sheet. This lets you turn off Facebook sharing so you never have to see it again, but the interface for doing this also shows how third-party apps will be able to integrate right into the sharing sheet. Federighi showed the Pinterest integration, and you can bet everyone from Evernote to Drafts app will have plugins for this feature.
Family Sharing is – like the new sharing features above – a system-wide feature, but it’s great for photos. You can opt in your family members and then enjoy a shared photo stream with everybody’s images all in one place. You already can do this in iOS 7 by setting up a Shared Photo Stream, but still. Who doesn’t like seeing family pics?
Sharing sheet in Messages
Finally, sharing photos in Messages is now easier. If you’re in the Messages app and hit the camera button to add pictures, you get this new option.
Along the top of the photo picker is a “contact strip” showing thumbs of your most recent pictures. Just scroll through and tap to select one. It’s very handy.
The first beta is pretty clunky, but the basics are here and they look good. I love iCloud Photo Library, and I think the integration of third-party filters right into the Photos app will be awesome. And I can’t wait to pay for the 200GB iCloud storage option and just let iCloud take care of all my pictures for me. No more finagling Flickr or dickering with Dropbox to get a full online library – it’ll all be there on my iPad, iPhone and Mac.
Combine this with the powerful editing features now inside the Photos app, and maybe Apple has solved digital photo storage once and for all.