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When moving photos, here’s how to choose between iCloud Photos and My Photo Stream

The decision is easier than you might think, because Apple® may be phasing out My Photo Stream.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

My Photo Stream for years was a cost-free feature that enabled iPhone®, iPad® and iPod touch® users to share photos among their iOS and now iPadOS® devices.  It also enabled users to download those photos to the Mac® in full resolution.  So far, so good.

But in 2015, Apple introduced iCloud® Photo Library, later renamed iCloud Photos, allowing users to move their entire photo and video library to the cloud.  As a full-featured cloud-based photo synching service, it made it as easy as possible for Apple users to switch among Mac® and iOS devices.  However, for most people, using iCloud Photos required the purchase of more storage from Apple to use it.  Not so good.

Because it’s free, Apple has maintained the availability of My Photo Stream for most existing users.  Those who choose not to pay for the additional storage are happy about that because the two technologies are similar in many ways.  The key advantage iCloud Photos has over My Photo Stream is the ability to use more image file formats, save video and keep images forever safe in the cloud.

So, for those who still have a choice, which way should you go?  Let’s look closer.

My Photo Stream, as mentioned, is completely free and the storage it uses doesn’t count against your iCloud limits.  In contrast, Apple gives every iCloud user 5 GB of free storage, but that’s shared among all iCloud services, like iCloud Drive and icloud.com email, so it disappears quickly.  You can purchase 50 GB for $0.99 per month, 200 GB for $2.99 per month or 2 TB for $9.99 per month.  Thank you for your business, as Apple likes to say.

Based on price, My Photo Stream wins.  But it suffers from other limitations:

1.  My Photo Stream stores photos on your iOS devices in lower resolution to save space and transmission time.  (On the Mac, they download in full resolution.)  In contrast, iCloud Photos lets you choose on each device whether you want original images or optimized versions to save space — while full-resolution originals are always stored in iCloud itself.

2.  My Photo Stream manages only the last 30 days of photos and only the last 1000 photos. That’s fine for just transferring photos from your iPhone to your Mac for permanent storage, but your other devices will be able to display only your most recent photos.  iCloud Photos stores all your photos as long as you have sufficient space.  That’s significant.

3.  This is also significant.  When you edit a photo while using My Photo Stream, the edits apply only to the photo you edited, not to versions synced with other devices.  With iCloud Photos, all edits you make — on any of your devices — sync to all the rest of your devices.  Clearly, that’s the advantage of cloud-based synching.

4.  As your library of photos and video expands, you may have to purchase even more iCloud storage.  So, in actuality, you may be weighing free vs. $9.99 per month for 2 TB of extra storage.

There are other considerations, as well.  

For example, My Photo Stream supports only photos and images in JPEG, PNG and TIFF formats, plus most raw formats.  That doesn’t sound terrible until you realize it doesn’t include Live Photos or any video formats.  It means you’ll have to manually move them from your iOS or iPadOS to your Mac in some other way.  iCloud Photos, in comparison, will sync all your images and videos, regardless of format.

My Photo Stream works on the Mac, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Apple TV®, and with Windows-based PCs.  But iCloud Photos extends that list to include the Apple Watch® and the iCloud.com Web site.  Apple Watch support likely isn’t a deal breaker for most people, but it can be useful to be able to see all your photos in a web browser on any computer.

Yes, Apple may be making this decision easy for you.  On its current My Photo Stream support page, Apple features this message:  If you recently created your Apple ID, My Photo Stream might not be available. If My Photo Stream isn’t available, use iCloud Photos to keep your photos and videos in iCloud.

Technically speaking, you can have both My Photo Stream and iCloud Photos turned on.  However, if you’re using iCloud Photos, My Photo Stream doesn’t get you anything, so you should turn it off.

If you’re trying to save money and have more than 5 GB of photos, My Photo Stream (for now) works to bring most of your iPhone photos down to your Mac for permanent storage in the Photos app.  For most people, though, iCloud Photos is the way to go.  Our CranstonIT team believes it’s easily worth $12 or $36 per year for 50 GB or 200 GB of storage, primarily because it taps into iCloud and takes that extra step to ensure your photos are available — regardless of which Apple device you use.  

Questions?  Call us at 412-200-5656 or email us at support@cranstonit.com.  We’re here to help.