I have a lot of photos organized in folders on my computer that I would like on my iOS device. The easiest way to sync these different folders onto iOS is to use iPhoto or Aperture, but I don’t have iPhoto or Aperture and I don’t want to use them. I’ve never liked an application importing all of my photos into a database; I prefer the flexibility and simplicity of the file system to manage my photos. iTunes is an option, but it only syncs one folder and the next level of folders within that one folder. The folders I want to sync are organized throughout my Pictures folder. The only option I have is to copy each of the desired folders into an “iOS Sync” folder and sync the contents of that folder within iTunes. A simple solution but it causes redundant data.
This is one area where I feel Android - at least stock Android - has the upper hand. I can connect an Android device to my computer, whether it be Windows, OS X, or a Linux distribution, mount it as an external drive, drag and drop the desired folders of photos onto the Android Pictures folder and the Android Gallery application interprets each folder as an album. No redundant data and no dealing with other applications besides the file browser (I am aware you have to use Android Connect on OS X to drag and drop data to an Android device). Plus, I can do this on any computer. If I want to get a bunch of photos from a friend, I can repeat the steps above, then transfer them to my computer later; not something possible with iTunes. In addition, the photos that are synced to Android are not “optimized”. I don’t know why iTunes resizes photos when syncing them to an iOS device; it defeats the purpose of being able to zoom-in on photos.
So what can be done?
A quick fix would be to add functionality to iTunes to allow selecting folders nested deeper than one level. Functionality could also be added to be able to drag and drop photos, or a folder of photos, onto the iTunes icon or window. iTunes would then prompt what to name the album and sync it. Simple.
Even better, finally allow iOS devices to be mounted like an external drive with the Pictures folder exposed to the file system. Exposing the Pictures folder, as well as Music, Ringtones, Videos, etc., to the file system would make iOS devices cross platform, rid the need of iTunes, and open up other non-Apple applications to easily sync data to an iOS device.
The three options above are great for situations where you don’t have an internet connection, have slow bandwidth, or have too much data to transfer. Yet, they all require connecting your iOS device via USB to your computer. No one likes doing that. The real solution is iCloud.
The Photos App should be connected to iCloud. Want to upload new pictures and create an album? Log in to icloud.com, click the Photos icon, and all of your photos and albums are available to view, download, and reorganize from whatever computer you are logging in from. Drag and drop new photos, or a folder of new photos, onto the browser and they begin to upload. Flickr works this way, it would work fine for iCloud as well. In addition, all your photos that are not in your Camera Roll are now backed up to iCloud.
So isn’t this what Photo Stream is for? No. Photo Stream is meant to get any photo saved to your Camera Roll quickly synced to all of your iOS devices or connected iPhoto and/or Aperture libraries. It only saves the last 1000 photos saved to your Camera Roll and requires you to manually save a photo if you want to keep it forever. It is strictly a sync mechanism and not a photo storage solution. What I’m suggesting is a photo storage solution that syncs everything within the Photos App, not just the Camera Roll, to iCloud. And Storage is not a problem. iOS devices are getting more and more storage space and Apple has the capacity; they wouldn’t allow you to buy more iCloud Storage if they didn’t.