The One Killer Feature in Cloud Photo Storage for iPhone Users

For people who take most of their photos with their iPhone, there is no shortage of services to store and share your photos and videos, but when you break it down, there is one killer feature everyone needs. That’s a fairly outlandish statement. Countless articles have been written about the minute differences between the many solutions and their costs, but in the end, if you care about your photos at all, only one feature matters. To be clear, this article is aimed at people who use Apple devices to shoot most of their photos. Android users and people who shoot a lot of photos with a standalone camera should consider a different solution.

Now if you’re the kind of person who just wants the answer, go ahead and scroll down. It’s in bold near the bottom. But if you prefer I make a case before telling you the answer, keep reading.

Key Features for Cloud Photo Storage

Here are some of the key features you should consider when you’re picking a service to host your photos in the cloud:

  • Search: The ability to find your photos quickly based on date, or where you were when you took them…even who’s in them or what objects are in the picture
  • Face Recognition: Find all the pictures of a specific person
  • Editing: You will probably want to retouch, resize, or adjust the colors of your photos
  • Price: At the end of the day, you want your cloud storage to be competitive the alternative — buying and maintaining your own hard drive and storing the photos yourself
  • Privacy: You want to know that only people you want to share your photos with see them. Think of all those celebrity hacks where there photos got out
  • Reliability: You want to know that your photos are secure, always accessible, and that the company who stores them will be in business for a very long time
  • Ease of Use: Let’s face it — we’re all lazy about our photos. If a service isn’t easy to use, you won’t use it

With those core features enumerated, let’s look at the three kinds of places you might store your photos in the cloud.

Photo Specific Cloud Storage

Sites like Flickr and Smugmug specialize in photo storage, sharing and editing. For professional photographers, these site offer the ability to sell your photos, or protect people from using them without your permission. And because they specialize in photos, they often have strong editing, sharing and presentation features. In fact, they often have a whole set of features for people who shoot photos with a high-end camera. Ironically, most of these sites treat your videos as second thoughts, if they support video at all. In fact, it’s hard to recommend a service that only stores photos, because if you’re paying for storage space, it should also include your important files. For the person who mostly shoots pictures with an iPhone, these sites are okay, but there are better solutions.

All-Purpose Cloud Storage

There are some cloud storage solutions that treat your photos like any other file. Sure they back it up, but offer few photo specific features. Luckily, most of these services have realized that consumers need at least basic photo tools, so they are delivering them quickly. Dropbox has created a specific app for your photos called Carousel and the Dropbox app will automatically upload your photos when it is running. It’s not as slick as some, but it’s pretty good. The same is true for Microsoft’s OneDrive and Amazon’s Prime Photos. Again, not great photo features, but good enough, and Microsoft gives away a lot of free storage to attract users. Amazon includes their photo service as part of their Prime package.

The Best of Both Worlds — All-Purpose Cloud Storage with Awesome Photo Tools

The best two cloud photo solutions for iOS users are both general storage services with fantastic photo tools on top. Both Google Drive and Apple iCloud are general storage solutions with fairly competitive storage pricing. But both companies have layered on top of their cloud storage special tools for photos and
video. Apple has included an editor for your iOS devices in the Photos app, as well as one for the Mac.

Google doesn’t have an editor for your Mac, but does allow you to automatically upload photos from a PC or Mac, and you can edit on any Android device or iOS device. (Apple doesn’t support Android). The photo editing tools for both companies are perfect for the average user — not as powerful as advanced photo editors, but just right for most adjustments.

The real power comes from the incredible cloud tools offered by both Google and Apple. When you make an adjustment to a photo in either Google‘s or Apple’s app, the changes automatically sync across all devices. But Google offers simply the most amazing search tools in the business. Google uses machine learning to make your entire photo collection searchable by location, faces, or even subject matter. You can search for weddings, soccer games, beach scenes…almost anything you can think of. Google even knows what’s in the background. It can help you find your selfies in front of the Eiffel tower or the Statue of Liberty.

Both Google and Apple can search for the face of any person you’ve photographed, and even recognize the faces of your children as they age. Google Photos will automagically creates collages of photos from an event, cute animations, and helps your remember photos from your past.

Google will store all your photos and videos for free. Free with a small catch — Google might reduce the quality of your photos if they’re extremely high resolution. Most people would never notice. Apple will store 5GB of photos for free, and you pay for more than that. You can also pay if you want Google to store the photos and videos in their original quality.

But with all those amazing features, none are the killer feature that puts one of these two solutions above the other.

And the Killer Feature Is…

Automatic uploads of your photos to the cloud in the background.

It’s a simple feature, but background cloud sync is incredibly powerful. As I understand it, Apple, Flickr, and Dropbox all offer the feature. Google seems to do it if the app is running, but not automatically. (I’d love clarification on this if someone knows the details. It’s not documented that I can find.) Apple will upload your photos as soon as your phone gets a signal (or only over WiFi if you prefer). Imagine you shoot a weekend of photos on a white-water rafting trip, but you drop your phone in the water on the last day. If your phone had signal, you probably won’t lose a single photo, even though you haven’t thought about backup. Apple always backs up your photos to the cloud in their original quality, but as an added really cool feature, you can also ask Apple to put lower resolution versions of your photos on your phone to free up space — again, without you having to think about it.

No other photo service or app for iOS is this simple to use, or this reliable.

In many ways, Google Photos bests Apple Photos, but that one simple feature, the one that makes it almost impossible to lose a photo or to run out of room on your phone, makes Apple Photos with iCloud storage the solution every iPhone user should use.

One final confession

I lost one of my favorite pictures of my wife from our honeymoon years ago, and ever since I’ve been obsessed with making sure I never lose another photo again. I’m an Apple fanboy and rely on Apple Photos to backup my photos, but I also LOVE Google Photos. I use both.

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