Managing Phone Photos

Michael Tsai:

It’s always been necessary to prune the locally stored photos now and then; otherwise they will consume all the space on your phone. Now, there is seemingly no way to see, from the phone, which photos I should be pruning. And there’s still no way to delete a large number of photos without individually tapping them.


I find it bizarre that there is no way to tell (a) which photos are only stored on the device, (b) which photos were taken with this device, or (c) which photos are on Apple’s server.

While this is incredibly annoying to people who know what they're doing and want to have the ability to manage photos manually, a lot of iPhone owners — perhaps most of them — do not manually manage the photos on their phones, and would not do so if they had the option. Which is one of the reasons why I think it's absurd for Apple to still sell a 16GB phone. The people most likely to buy it are probably precisely the ones least likely to understand that they need to manually manages the pictures they take so they won't fill the limited space on their device.1

I understand why it makes sense for Apple to sell a 16GB phone. They need an entry-level model that gets people into the store so that they can upsell them to a higher-margin model. "Starting at $199" is a great argument.

The problem with this approach is that a lot of people who buy the 16GB model probably shouldn't.2 When people ask me which phone to buy, I always tell them to buy the largest phone they can. I've seen too many people who simply stopped taking pictures with their phones after half a year or a year, because their 16GB phone ran out of space.

A 16GB iPhone has about 12 Gigabytes of usable space. The iPhone 6 has a 8MP camera; that should translate to between 2 MB and 4 MB per picture. If you do nothing else with your phone — install no games,3 record no movies, do nothing at all — your phone will be full after you've taken about 4000 pictures. If you take a few pictures of your cat every day,4 eventually end up with a phone that effectively stops working, and don't know how to solve that problem, this is a terrible user experience.

Addendum: Cloud storage of data will eventually solve this, but not yet. To really be accepted by normal people, it probably needs to be completely transparent. That means unlimited online storage capacity at zero cost (i.e. subsidized by the purchase of the device), and it means constant, good data connections. As of right now, neither exist. Telling people that they will be able to take all the pictures they want, and use the pictures they took in their original quality, just as soon as they subscribe to Apple's photo storage service, pay a monthly fee, and wait for their phone to have better reception? I doubt that another subscription service is a viable solution. Online storage will solve this, but not yet.

Question: how many of the hundreds of millions of iPhone users have subscribed to iTunes match?

Another aspect of this: Apple is now changing its software to deal with storage issues. For example, the Messages app can delete old messages automatically. However, I don't see this as a good thing. I see this as Apple's bad hardware decisions making their software worse. How many people will accidentally lose a message they still wanted to have, because of this feature?

  1. The most casual users need the most high-end computers↩︎

  2. By the way, it's not just people who don't know how to manage their phones who would be happier with a bigger one. There's a reason why my phone has 160 GB of storage — ten times what the entry-level iPhone offers. We're living in an era where storage space is cheap enough that running out of space simply shouldn't be an issue anymore for normal people, ever. Every second people spend manually deleting photos off their phones is a second wasted needlessly. ↩︎

  3. Which, by the way, will also need a lot more room on newer iPhones, because they need higher-res assets. ↩︎

  4. Here you go↩︎

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