Apple’s iOS 5 and iCloud Connect People and Their Photos

Alan Bullock
Jun 8, 2011

On Monday, June 6, Apple unveiled iOS 5, the latest version of its operating system for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch devices, and iCloud, a new set of free cloud services for managing content across up to ten synchronized devices. (My colleague, Shelly Ortelt, blogged about the news here.)

Many of the 200+ new iOS features promise to improve the traditional and connected photo experience for Apple users. Here are some first impressions along with a few observations and questions along the way:

The Camera function will offer faster access (even from a locked state) as well as improved composition, focus, and exposure controls. It will also use the side-mounted volume-up button as a shutter release instead of a screen-tap that could cause camera shake and blurred photos. At the same time, the Photos app will add basic editing functions such as crop, rotate, enhance, and red-eye removal. These are all welcome improvements that will make a number of third-party apps obsolete.

Photo Stream will automatically upload photos to iCloud, Apple’s new online storage and content management service. From there, photos will be synchronized to the user’s other iOS devices and computers (Mac or PC). On iOS devices, the Photo Stream album maintains a “rolling collection” of the 1,000 most recent photos from all associated devices, but that limit does not apply to computers. Photos are stored in iCloud for just 30 days, so other devices must be online within that time period for synchronization to take place.

Photos can be saved from the Photo Stream to each iOS device’s Camera Roll or other local album, but those would apparently not be sync’d between devices. I have not seen mention of the option to designate favorites that would not age out of the 1,000-image stream. (By the way, are we really still using the term “Camera Roll”?)

One unanswered question is whether additional space and/or time will be available for purchase, although the argument could be made that limiting the number of photos will help to prevent storage and performance issues on the iOS devices.

There are some similarities between Apple’s new automatic photo sharing model and Eye‑Fi’s model of automatic transfer to computers, online destinations, and Eye-Fi View cloud storage. If Eye-Fi were to develop a conduit into iCloud, millions of existing digital cameras could join iOS devices in feeding the Photo Stream.

Apple TV will take a more prominent role in the connected photo ecosystem with two particularly interesting new features. A Photo Stream album will, as its name suggests, stream photos from the aforementioned Photo Stream to a connected HDTV. And, while not specifically a photo function, Apple TV will support AirPlay Mirroring, a new iOS 5 feature for iPad 2, streaming whatever is on the iPad screen to a connected HDTV. Assuming the transfer rate is sufficient, this could be a compelling way to consume all kinds of personal and commercial digital content. There are interesting applications in the business world, too, such as presentations.

Devices running iOS 5 will be PC Free, meaning that activation, app downloads, and software updates will all be available directly via wireless connection instead of through iTunes on a computer. Sounds great, but there are unanswered questions, including:

  • How does this square with Apple’s statement that the “master photo library” will reside on the user’s computer, fed from iOS devices through the Photo Stream, including photos that have aged off (or were never in) the 1,000-image Photo Stream?
  • Will alternative photo storage will be available for users who choose to go PC Free?
  • How will direct download of software updates impact users’ 3G data plans, many of which are no longer unlimited? Will updates be available via Wi-Fi only?

Finally, Twitter will be tightly integrated into iOS 5, making it easy to tweet from Safari, Photos, Camera and Maps. This integration will also extend to Contacts, from which friends’ Twitter names can be retrieved for mentions and @replies. Twitter is great, but this begs more questions:

  • It seems uncharacteristic for Apple to so deeply integrate a service that it does not control. Is this enough to start an acquisition rumor?
  • Will tweeted photos go through Twitter’s new Photobucket-powered photo sharing service announced just last week?
  • Will Twitter hooks be available to third-party developers so that they can build easy tweet functions into their apps, too?

The connected imaging ecosystem continues to gain momentum. Although subject to change before the scheduled Fall 2011 release, Apple’s iCloud and iOS 5 announcements offer some exciting new on-ramps and off-ramps for personal photo collections. While some of the new features are already available from third-party apps, Apple has done what Apple does best — brought them together in an easy to understand and easy to use package that will, no doubt, help to grow their business.

The Android world is much more fragmented — handset and tablet manufacturers, carriers, app developers, and even Google all have different views of what the user experience should be. DLNA has tried to implement some standards for connected devices and services, but consumers don’t know what it is or why they should care. Perhaps it’s time for Google to exert some (measured) influence to ensure that open architecture does not result in chaos.

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