Hey, future iCloud guy at Apple, Photo Stream needs the iTunes Match treatment

Dear Mr. or Ms. Future iCloud Apple person,

Congratulations on your future role. You are stepping into shoes that no one really wants. Apple has had huge success with devices and software (specifically operating systems), but its forays into the Internet have been pretty weak so far.

Well, except for that whole iTunes thing.

For whatever reason, I woke up today thinking about all the ways in which iCloud’s Photo Stream is lacking. So, it’s interesting that news of Apple looking for cloud talent was at the top of my newsfeed this morning.

Photo Stream

Photo Stream in its current form works exactly as advertised and isn’t worthless. While I don’t know anyone that was really asking for something like Photo Stream, I felt the general consensus after the iCloud keynote was, “Oh… okay. Um, sure, we’ll take that for free…?” And, for the soccer moms and Scoutleader dads that are now buying Apple’s mobile tech, maybe it’s exactly what they want.

But for me, the hassles often outweigh the times I use it as advertised. Currently, when I take a picture with my iPhone 4, that picture is pushed to iCloud, then back down to my iPad and my iPhoto Library. The thinking here is, “take pictures anywhere, view them anywhere seconds later.” This is nice in theory, but severely lacking in execution.

The Problems

Yes, I often want to access a picture I just took with my iPhone from my iPad. But, rarely do I want screencaps, photos I send in text messages (such as the shirtless pics Mr. Schnell so often requests as part of my ‘performance review’), both the normal *and* HDR photo, etc. My Photo Stream is mostly full of pictures I’ll never want to see after today. Pull up Photo Stream on your new, company-provided iPhone, Mr. or Ms. iCloud tweaker person, and you’ll see what I see.

Don’t want a bunch of LOLcats pics you saved from your iPhone copied onto your 3G iPad? Too bad, they’ve already eaten into your data plan. Pull a Tobias and “accidentally” send a picture of your Charlie Browns to the national intelligence community? Well, you also sent it to your kid’s iPod touch, your mother’s Apple TV, and anyone else subscribed to your Photo Stream.

Want to edit your Photo Stream? Too bad. Sure, you can “reset” it, deleting all your pictures from iCloud’s servers. Similarly, want to turn Photo Stream off momentarily on your iPhone? It will delete all your Photo Stream pictures, redownloading them when you turn Photo Stream back on. AND… this Photo Stream on my iPhone that has all the same pictures that are in my camera roll… are they taking up twice the space? Not to mention the fact that iCloud has pushed them to my phone over my AT&T 3G connection, eating into my data cap?

It’s almost worth it to not use Photo Stream at all, and manually push everything to Flikr or something, even if I have to pay for a pro account in order to maintain the resolution of the original pictures.

The Solution? REALLY reset Photo Stream

An iCloud-based service I have been very happy with over the last few days is iTunes Match. For a paltry $25/year, iTunes scours my library, matches what it can and uploads (most of) the rest of my music, giving me “device liberation” — I no longer need a hub for my iTunes, really. This has freed up a lot of local disk space and device storage for me.

In addition, iTunes has uploaded my playlist data (including smart playlists), making it accessible to all my devices. What’s more, my iCloud-based iTunes Library streams to my Macs, meaning my Air is never burdened with a lot of music I won’t listen to while keeping those musical treasures within reach wherever I go.

The analogy now is simpler than the setup: My photos should be like my music, and my albums should be like my playlists.

The Possibilities

Make an album in iPhoto or Aperture on my Mac? I could have cloud access to that album, downloading single photos or the entire album with a single tap. Curate a bunch of photos from my iPhone into an album? That album is much more valuable to me than the raw Photo Stream; push that album to iCloud. This iPad album of pictures I edited with Photoforge2 would make a great screensaver for my Apple TV. Screencaps and Twitpics do not. Let people subscribe to an album.

I realize that Photo Stream is doing something unprecedented with an amount of data and bandwidth being used that I can’t even begin to fathom, and I’m glad it’s not my headache to have to deal with. And I’m not complaining about Photo Stream (a feature provided at no additional cost to me) so much as wishing it would mature. It feels very beta and lacks features that even MobileMe’s Gallery (albeit a paid service) has had for years.

I can easily see that albums pushed to the cloud and left there (as opposed to Photo Stream pics which vaporize on day 30) would eat up a ton more space and resources. So I’m not necessarily suggesting replacing Photo Stream, though I don’t really find its current pluses to be outweighing its minuses.

Instead, I’m suggesting iPhoto in the Cloud. No need to add in another complicated payment mechanism. Just make the storage part of our iCloud storage. We’ll buy more space should we need it.

Documents in the Cloud shows promise (I’m currently loving it with Sketchbook Pro). iTunes Match really, REALLY delivers, in my opinion (like when it matches songs that aren’t even labeled correctly). iCloud’s Calendar and Contacts syncing has been great so far, a small evolution from MobileMe’s functionality. And Photo Stream seemed like a cool bonus, but it kinda feels like iCloud’s weird step-nephew right now.

And on the first day of your new gig, it may not seem like a number one priority, but don’t ignore it. With the iPhone 4 as the most popular camera on Flikr (the iPhone 4S is already 2nd!), clearly the iPhone camera is doing a lot of work, and people really want to effectively share their photos with others and store them online for themselves. We’re already doing it online, and it’s a bit of a headache. No one place is great for sharing (like Instagram), storing (like Dropbox), and exhibiting (like Flickr).

Be encouraged!

You have a lot of work ahead of you as everyone tries to figure out the cloud space. You’ll be trying to make lots of people happy — engineers, retailers, media moguls, independent artists, tech nerds, reluctant Luddites, grandmothers, suppliers, enterprise consultants…

But I promise you can do it. Just focus on Apple’s strengths.

Don’t worry so much about web apps at the moment. For social, rely on iOS’s built-in Twitter access for now. Bring the OS sensibilities of OS X and iOS to the Cloud, and make sure Jonny and Phil keep cranking out the best products to utilize the power you’ll be channeling to us all. Tim will help you scale it. Whoever you are, you’re the new kid on a truly amazing block. And they picked you, which means they believe in you. So, we will, too.


Photo Credits: OSXDaily.com, Here’s the Thing, cress on Photobucket

Paul Skidmore is an independent filmmaker in Tennessee. When not producing/directing films through parabolos, he helps out other professional and independent productions by using the latest mobile and digital techniques to streamline production workflows and free the artists to create.… Full Bio