My Photo Stream is shutting down… should you worry?

Apple has long tried to support creative uses for the Mac, and one of those is photography. They also have tried to treat the iPhone as a serious tool for taking photos, but it has been a process of making good software to support photographers.

I remember back in the late 1990s that MacOS 7 and MacOS 8 did not come with any software for downloading photographs from my digital camera. Instead, I had to install software from the camera manufacturer (which oftentimes looked like an awful Windows port) or I had to find 3rd party shareware to work with my digital photos. It was kind of exciting when Mac OS X 10.1 from 2001 included a utility called Image Capture that could be used to download photos from your digital camera.

Less than a year later, Apple introduced the iPhoto program to help build interest in Mac OS X by providing a good tool for organizing and editing your photos. Some of its core technology was leveraged from Image Capture to continue making it very easy to import photos from a digital camera. I think it was a good effort, and I know many people who built their photography skills with the help of iPhoto. Apple even took a stab at a professional photographer’s tool that they called Aperture, but unfortunately, they abandoned it after a few years.

When the iPhone came out in 2007, it was not a very high quality camera compared to my dedicated digital camera, but it sure was way more convenient since I always had it with me. I could still use either Image Capture or iPhoto to import my photos from the iPhone, but it became a drudgery to always have to stop what I was doing and plug in my phone to my computer using a USB cable in order to save the photos.

Apple was worried about people losing their phones to theft or damage but it still took four years until iCloud was released in 2011 to address the wireless sync problem. iCloud included a cloud-based backup system for the iPhones called iCloud Backup. They tried to do the right thing and backup your undownloaded photographs, but those photographs could bloat the size of your cloud backups, sometimes causing problems. 

iCloud also included a solution for wirelessly downloading photos called Photo Stream, but it had limitations. The idea was that as you took photos with your iPhone and then returned home where you had Wi-Fi, the phone would try to upload up-to-the-last 1,000 photographs from up-to-the last 30 days to a temporary holding spot on your iCloud account. If you left your Mac running during that time, it would try to download those photos. It specifically did not support videos, and if your phone and computer were separated for more than 30 days  and/or if you took more than 1,000 photos, you were guaranteed to miss some of the photos. It was really not perfect.

Three years later, Apple scrapped iPhoto and wrote a new program for macOS Yosemite 10.10 called Photos— this used the same name and even the same icon as the iPhone/iPad Photos program. The idea was to have a unified application that offered the same editing capabilities on all platforms, and to center the experience around a cloud-based library that Apple called iCloud Photo Library. 

Apple was finally able to realize its dream that you would see one single collection of photos that would always automatically stay in sync on all your devices. You could Edit or even erase a photo on any of your devices and know that those changes would show up on all the others.  



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