Photos in iOS 8: Explained

The built-in Photos got its makeover last year as part of Apple's overall iOS 7 mobile redesign. This year iOS 8 is bringing Photos a much-needed functionality boost. In addition to new sharing and filter extensions, Photos is also getting a new sync solution courtesy of iCloud Photo Library, as well a bevy of new, non-destructive editing tools, and a new, smarter search system. So, how does it al work?

Photo Flashbacks

The original Photos app on the original iPhone was game changing. The ability to not only swipe though all your photos but pinch and zoom in and out of them became one of the go-to demos for everyone who wanted to show anyone else just what made the iPhone worth the money they'd paid for it. For a while, however, that was all the Photos app did.

Then, slowly but surely Apple began adding features, including the ability to make and manage albums on-device, to rotate, auto-enhance, filter, remove redeye, and crop, and to keep up to 1000 photos backed up online for up to 30 days with iCloud's Photo Stream, and create Shared Photo Streams for your family and friends.

Yet despite gaining more features, Photos could never be mistaken for fully featured. Editing remained simplistic and online backup downright stingy. Until iOS 8...

All your photos everywhere

With Photos on iOS 8 Apple is replacing Photo Stream "backup" with iCloud Photo Library (shared Photo Streams will still be available as a social feature). Built on Apple's new CloudKit framework, iCloud Photo Library won't just store 1000 pictures for up to 30 days, it'll store all your pictures — and all your videos — for as long as you want, up to as much storage as you're willing to pay for. (See below.)

All photos and videos are stored at their full resolution and in their original formats, including RAW. Whether that means new Camera API or apps will eventually allow for RAW files to preserved right off the iPhone or iPad, or it's merely referring to RAW files being pulled off cameras using the iPad camera connections kit, either way all your media will be kept with its full potential intact.

iCloud Photo Library also includes syncing the organizational structure of any and all albums you make, and the differential files for any edits you've made to the originals, to all of your devices — iPhone, iPad, Mac, and even Windows via the web.

So, if you take a picture with your iPhone, it'll quickly appear on your iPad as well. If you edit a photo on your iPad, those edits will quickly be applied to the version on your Mac as well. If you favorite a photo on your Mac, you'll be able to pull it up on a browser on a Windows PC and see it right there in the favorites album.

There's a bigger advantage as well.

Nearline storage

iOS devices are currently limited to between 8GB to 128GB of storage. Many people have 16-32GB devices. In an age of 8mp photos and 1080p video, that fills up fast. So, keeping photos and videos all locally on the device is a problem because you'll run out of space, and sooner rather than later. It's especially bad if you're anxiously trying to capture a special moment only to be told there's no space left and then having to quickly, under stress, figure out which older moments you're willing to sacrifice.

Purely offloading all photos and videos to the cloud isn't a perfect solution either. If they're all stored online and you end up with a slow, limited, or non-existant internet connection, you lose immediate access to any photos or videos not stored locally on your device. That's also a problem.

Apple's solution is to cache a manageable portion of photos and videos on your device and keep the rest of them safely up on the cloud. Recently added and viewed photos and videos are the most likely be cached locally, and potentially in scaled-to-device sizes to make the most efficient use of storage.

There might be some situations where a photo or video you haven't viewed in a while isn't available in full resolution when you're offline, but for most people most of the time, it will be far, far better than either losing content due to the 1000 photos/30 day limit, or running out of local storage on the iPhone or iPad.

The cost of the cloud

The bad news there is that Apple is holding the free line at 5GB, which is ludicrously low. The slightly better news is that Apple is dropping the price for increased storage from the current $40 a year for 20GB to $12 a year for 20GB, and from a mind-boggling $100 a year for 50GB to $48 a year for 200GB. Where previously 50GB was the hard limit, there will now also be tiers going up to 1TB, though Apple hasn't disclosed pricing for those yet.

Overall it still isn't what Google or Microsoft may be offering in terms of free or cheap storage, and probably not what Apple could really afford to give to solve the problem of photo backup, but it's way, way better than what came before.

All our hearts

There's never been a way to rate photos or videos inside the Photos app. However, with iOS 8 you can now favorite them. Beneath every photo or video there's a heart icon and if you tap it, that photo or video becomes a favorite and will automatically appear in the new favorites folder.

Since, thanks to iCloud photo library, favorites are synced between devices, any photo or video you mark as a favorite on one device will have that status synced to all devices, and will appear in the favorites folder on all devices.

It's a great way to make sure the photos that matter most to you are easier to find.

Search made smarter

With great volume comes great responsibility. In other words, if you store a ton of photos and videos you need to provide people with a better way to find a particular photo or video when they want to. Apple's going to try and do that with smart suggestions.

In iOS 8 when you begin a search the screen gets pre-populated with several default options like nearby, one year ago, favorites, and home. Tap on any one of those and you'll see photos and videos geotagged close to your current location, taken a year ago from the current date, those you've hit the heart button on, and those geotagged to where you live.

You'll also see a list of any recent searches you've made in case you want to run the same one again.

If none of those are what you want, you can start typing a new search and Photos will start to match it based on months of the year, city and other geographic names, and the names of your albums.

Editing made smarter

Currently in Photos you can rotate in 90 degree increments, you can remove redeye and auto-enhance, you can apply built-in filters, and you can crop to standard or free-form ratios. In Photos for iOS 8... well, the editing becomes detailed. For example, you can rotate to any angle in any direction. Better still, Photos can identify things like the horizon line and automatically straighten your photos for you.

There's still a magic wand tool, so if you want one-touch auto-enhancement, you can have it. But you can also edit now based on light, color, or black and white. For example, if a photo is too dark or too washed out, you can pick the simplified light meter tool and just drag to a better, clearer image. You can do the same with the simplified color meter and drag to make skies pop and skin shades glow.

Under the hood, iOS is increasing and decreasing a bunch of different settings, but all you have to worry about is sliding left or right — everything else gets calculated for you.

Now, if you prefer more manual control, you can have those too. You can open up light and individually adjust exposure, highlights, shadows, brightness, contrast, and black point.

You can even teach yourself about these settings by using the simplified light meter at first and then opening it up to see what Photos is actually doing. Repeat that often enough and you'll start to see how each one affects the whole.

You can do the same with color, of course, and individually adjust saturation, contrast, and cast, and you can open up black and white and individually adjust intensity, neutrals, tone, and grain.

The best part is that the edits are non-destructive. They're applied on top of your photo, not into it, so you if you change your mind you can go back later and change any individual edit you've made. That way you don't lose the edits you do like just to fix the ones you don't.

It also makes it quick and easy for Apple to sync those edits over, since they're just syncing the list of those edits.

Now, while the built-in filters didn't change, that's no longer a problem. You can use third party filters right from inside the Photos app.

Family albums

Another of Apple's tentpole features for iOS 8 is Family Sharing. With it you can share a variety of content between family members, including iTunes music, movies, TV shows, and apps. You can also share family photo albums. When you set up Family Sharing it will automatically set up a shared family album for pictures and videos, so you can all keep up-to-date with each other, comment, favorite, and more.

Photo and sharing extensions

With photo and video extensions, we get the ability to access filters and effects from any app right inside the built-in Photos app. Apply a VSCO Cam filter or Waterlogue transformation, for example, with only a few taps, and without having to leave one app for another, or load and save content in between. With sharing extensions app can hook into the system-wide Share Sheets and present a way to upload your photos and videos to any website or service. For example, you can send your picture to Pinterest right from Photos and never have to swap back and forth with other apps again.

Bottom line

With Photos in iOS 8 Apple hasn't tried to bring iPhoto (again) or Aperture to the iPhone or iPad. They've done something new. They've built photo and video handling right into the operating system — or operating systems, as it'll debut next year for the Mac as well — and into their new cloud-based services. In so doing they've made ubiquity a priority, and though you don't get all the space you may want — or need — for free, you get the potential for far more than ever before. Apple has also kept the tools simple on the surface but made them expandable for people who do want to get in and manage every little tweak.

Best of all, with Extensibility they're letting App Store apps tie straight into Photos, both for filters and transformations and for sharing. That means, as much as Apple has improved Photos in iOS 8, developers will be able to improve it even more.

iOS 8 is expected to ship this September.

More of iOS 8: Explained

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • I've heard a lot about albums but what about events? I love using events in iPhoto on my Mac...are these going away? Sent from the iMore App
  • I'm going to do a follow up post on Photos for Mac. Hopefully for Monday!
  • Or Faces?
    One step at a time I guess. By the time OSX & iOS versions of Photos have the same features, it will have happened by reducing features in OSX rather than the addition of features in iOS.
  • It's the same situation with iWork. Apple's rewriting the ecosystem from the ground up to match the feature parity and will restore features over time with updates to all platforms at the same time. That's why we are seeing iWork updates come at the same time for iCloud, iOS, and OS X. Photos for OS X is not going to have all of the features that iPhoto have because it's a brand new app. Apple is not removing features intentionally, it's simply building a new app + ecosystem from the ground up, and then re-implement the missing features over time.
  • Yup. iWork for OS X essentially ported over the iWork for iOS engine which meant compatibility between mobile, desktop, and web, but also meant a lot of old code has to be re-written. (iWork for OS X was very old code.)
  • Thanks...look forward to it! Sent from the iMore App
  • Thanks...look forward to it! Sent from the iMore App
  • I'm usually pretty good at dealing with OS changes but this reminds me of going from OS 9 to OS 10.
    Any idea how photos are sorting? I am seeing a hundred pictures I took on the same evening with my iPhone 6 spread out like a shotgun with photos that were uploaded with iTunes sync on my phone and my iPad days and weeks before. Same with the Faces feature... not in date order, not in first name or last name order.
    iCloud Drive is turned on but the photo upload is not.
    The first day or two after this session, the iPad was unable to offload to iPhoto. I almost lost several pictures that iPhoto though I already had imported from the cloud. Had to remove the stream from the iPad, import and delete the photos, then reconnect the stream and save copies to recents of the ones it missed. Good thing I noticed.
    Will it work better if I turn uploading to Drive on?
  • Any indication if my wife & I could share the same Photo library, separate iTunes accounts (same credit card).
    Great round up. I'm looking forward to iOS 8.
  • Probably not the same library but it'll generate the family photo album automatically. It's mentioned on their preview page ( "The whole family can contribute to the family photo album.
    Family Sharing makes collecting and sharing family memories easier and more fun. It automatically sets up a family photo stream where you can share photos, videos, and comments. And everything stays up to date on everyone’s devices. So you’re all a tap away from the latest vacation shots, birthday highlights, and family pranks."
  • Cool, Thanks MikhailT! I missed that.
    My goal would be to get all of our photos in one library on my Mac, and therefore backed up in the cloud. So as long as photos added to the Family Album end up there, I'll be happy.
  • Yea, that'd work. One thing to keep in mind is that you should open your Mac once in a while and back up the iTunes library if you're not using Time Machine or anything like that. It's not yet clear as to what happens if you delete the photos by accident or something like that.
  • I would hope that it works like iCloud into OSX iPhoto works now: auto download, never delete.
    In my particular case, the Mac mini stays on all the time, as does the Time Machine drive. I wouldn't put too much faith in their server anyhow, based on the track record of missing or moved calendar events, reminders, etc. I stopped relying on PhotoStream to import pictures into OSX iPhoto, it doesn't auto split events. I just think of PhotoStream as a short-term safety net. I'm looking forward to proper, full-library redundancy & access.
  • Right, the reason I bought that up is this is a brand new environment we're dealing with. Photos and iCloud Drive are based on top of CloudKit, which is their new cloud-based infrastructure. Apple doesn't have a solid track record when it comes to releasing new web-based stuff (MobileMe, Maps, etc).
  • Very true.
    Fingers crossed it will fulfill our wildest dreams. Haha
    We'll see.
  • Well that solves a few problems right there - thanks!
  • You can use separate iCloud and iTunes accounts on the same phone, so you and your wife could share one iCloud account and keep separate iTunes accounts. The downside is you'd split storage and have to share other services as well. What MikhailT suggests below is better.
  • Good to know. Thanks.
    Neither of us use the Mac for work, just personal stuff, mostly pictures & videos. So that might actually be a good option - one iCloud account on all devices. I planned on paying for the plan that can eat my entire iPhoto library of >250Gb.
    I tried using seperate accounts on the Mac, but I ended up merging the iPhoto libraries bc she wouldn't pay attention to which account she was importing to.
  • Are you going to be able to see file names now? Always bugged the shit out of me you couldn't. ಠ益ಠ
  • There are apps to view meta data. I use Koredoko.
    It would be nice if there was a little ( i ) button in the native Photos app to show all the meta data.
  • Doesn't appear to show file names or meta data, but that's pretty much in keeping with Apple's philosophy for iOS. Third party apps can and will offer that.
  • I' a little confused, Photos will store all your photos and videos? Or just up to the amount you paid for?
  • Up to the amount you paid for, there is no unlimited storage. The main difference is that before iCloud Photo library, the previous Photo Stream was limited to 1000 photos and 30 days. Now, it's up to your storage plan with no time restrictions.
  • Unfortunately all photos synced with iTunes will be deleted if you actiate iCloud Photo. So I won't be able to show my family photos if I'm not connected to the internet? That sounds very uncomfortable.
    And, in my trials I could'nt activate iCloud Photo at all, until my photos library on the iPad were smaller than my (now increased) iCloud space.
  • iOS 8 isn't publicly available yet and all of that is likely still being worked on.
  • I'm hoping that iCloud Photo Library and the upcoming Photos app will work similarly to iTunes in the Cloud. In other words, that all your photos and videos will be automatically stored in the cloud, they'll all be visible/accessible from any device, and users will have the option of downloading specific photos, videos, and/or albums to specific devices for offline use when desired. Along these same lines, I'm hoping the OS X Photos app will allow you to store a local copy of everything that's in the cloud.
  • Am I the only one that things this is ridiculous. Once again apple changes something because they want to tell us HOW we should do something. Photo stream in my opinion was great because it automatically imported photos into iPhoto then they get synced back to my phone as an "event" so it didn't matter about the lady 1000 photos. Now they r saying if I enable iCloud photo library I can't sync my photos via iTunes? BS. This is nothing more than a ploy to force us into buying storage. Why have a 128g or 64g phone if u can't sync your own freaking photos? Apple is working hard to surpass Microsoft in stupidity.
  • Joe, considering it's still in beta and nothing is officially announced yet, we don't know the whole story yet. Photo Stream still works fine on iOS 8 and iCloud Photo Library is optional. For users who don't have computers, iCloud Photo Library is perfect for them since they'll have a backup in the cloud.
  • Totally agree!
    Photostream has gone, or it has been superseded by a far more opaque and unintuitive solution.
    And it's not only the Photos app: the API (application programmers interface to the photo library) does not give us developers any means to give our dear users the old behavior.
  • The article states $40 per year for 20GB of iCloud storage, but the monthly charge adds up to $48 -- do you get a discount if you purchase an annual subscription?
  • Might want to go back to the article for a review read. You got your numbers all wrong. Just sayin... :) Sent from the iMore App
  • Sounds like iCloud photos is finally going to work as it always should have done. Apple desperately needed to fix their storage plans too. I do wonder about photo sharing though. Google Drive users can easily share photos in G+, but at present shared photos in iOS require everyone to have access to iOS devices.
  • What about photos imported to an iPad from a digital camera. Will they be synced as well? Sent from the iMore App
  • As long as they're imported into the Photos app, I believe so, yes. And if they're in RAW, they'll be kept in RAW.
  • Added a section on shared family photo streams and a link to the Family Sharing article.
  • Any word (or speculation) on how we'll get a pre-existing iPhoto library into an iCloud Photo Library when iOS 8 is released, since Photos for OS X won't be out until next year? If we'll only be able to upload photos currently on iOS devices, it's doesn't seem like the tiered plans over 100 GB would even be necessary (certainly not 1 TB). Might there be an iPhoto update to allow for some of the iCloud features before Photos is ready? Sent from the iMore App
  • Someone please answer this question for me, because it seems as though Apple has come full circle and once again implementing something I used to hate about the older version of their photo app: What if I don't want every photo I take to instantly show up in the cloud and on all of my devices? I like the way it is now. Let me decide what gets shared across my devices and what doesn't.
  • Sharing still needs work. Shared Photo Streams need to be accessible from Mobile Browsers. It's a real showstopper. I got the iPhone 5S primarily for that feature, and ended up exchanging it for a Note 3 because... The shared streams were basically unusable to anyone with an Android, Windows Phone, or Blackberry handset (We have a Facebook Group, but I'd like to keep stuff separate from a Social network and the Shared Streams give higher quality media than most social Networks). Tried Google+ Photos, but no one wants to bite so I gave up on that. Now using OneDrive to share stuff. Seems to be working bit better, and doesn't have the platform/browser limitations that Photos has. There are better photo editors than Apple is giving its users. There are better camera apps. The big issue is sharing. The photos and videos at least need to be VIEWABLE by people on other platforms.
  • Can you tell me how can I access the photos stored in icloud photo library from my iPad, macbook and desktop. And after the photos are stored in icloud then it will automatically sync to other devices like iPad so isn't the favourite (heart) button unnecessary. Please replay
  • How can I access the photos stored in icloud photo library from my iPad, Mac, and pc. And isn't the favourite button in each photo unnecessary because the photos taken are already stored in icloud photo library which is synced to every device with your Apple ID. So it is already seen in those devices. So what is the value of that favorite button. Please reply
  • Curious to see what Apple's overarching strategy is for Photos. For now, the process for syncing photos to your iPhone via iTunes appears to be unreliable under iOS 8. Either that, or the Photos app is not properly grouping photos based on metadata. I just synced a variety of albums and found many images grouped under the wrong date or location in the Photos app under Collections.
  • How do I disable the new features for the photo albums or revert back to how it was??
    I sync'd and now everything is all screwed up.
    I just want to scroll thru my photos in the order they were taken or saved without seeing all the 'when and where' and in a thumb nail size like they used to be.
    I'm very aware of when and where I took my photos.
  • I have a lot of photos on my iPad. How do I know which ones are being stored online only? Is thee a way I can select photos for online-only?
  • This is kinda absurd. This means the free icloud storage will be filled up pretty quickly, then the phone will get filled up and then the backup will stop working because there is no more space in icloud unless you pay for extra space. I dont think the majority will chose to pay, so this will be a big mess with no space in cloud and no space in phone. I know there is option to turn this off, but then nothing gets automatically shared to what we knew so far as photo stream and if i want to access to see iphone pics from ipad i have to do something awkward manually. I wish there would be option to set space limit for photos on iphone. "Last 30 days" is way too little.
  • nice article, thanks... would be nice to warn iOS8 users about loosing all the photo edits because Aperture and iPhoto will simply ignore all the work done in the Photos app and strip off all the edits and adjustments when you sync your devices with your mac. Have you noticed what happen to your photo edits and adjustments when you sync? You will get the original photo without ANY of the edits you did... not even a "crop". I haven't found a workaround except sending all my edited pictures via e-mail or sharing an icloud folder and manually moving there all my edited images.