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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Photos for Mac’s unrestrained iCloud uploads

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

I’ve been using Photos for Mac since day one of its beta release—have I mentioned lately that you should buy my book about it?—and on day one I encountered a problem that, surprisingly, seems to have gone unfixed throughout the entire beta process.

The first day I used Photos, I imported a substantial portion of my family photo collection—20,000 or so photos—into what Photos calls the System Photo Library. And set it to upload to iCloud.

The next day, my Internet connection seemed to die, or at least become sporadically inert. Traffic would sometimes squirt through, but after long delays. It was weird, and intermittent, and I was really sad.

Later that day I discovered something, though: Even though Photos wasn’t open, a background task was uploading my photo library to iCloud. All 20,000 photos. The process was using all the available bandwidth, saturating my outbound Internet connection and making it essentially unusable. (Was Comcast also throttling me due to a sudden explosion of uploading data? I don’t know, but the net result was the same. And the moment I paused the upload, all the problems went away.)

If you’re trying out Photos and wondering why your Internet is suddenly slow, now you know! Fortunately, Apple provides you with a way to pause the upload—a single button labeled “Pause for one day.” (Note that Photos needs to be using the System Photo Library for you to see this option, because that’s the only library that syncs with iCloud.)

This is certainly better than a boot to the head, but it’s not enough.

What Apple needs to do to fix how Photos syncs with iCloud is take a tip from online backup services like CrashPlan and Backblaze. Yes, it’s good to upload things fast, especially when you’re doing your first backup. But these services combine some intelligence with user settings to not make the Internet unusable while they operate.

Perhaps photos could sense when someone’s using the computer and throttle back the upload speed. Or let users optionally choose hours when uploads should take place, and when they should be curtailed. Or let users choose how much bandwidth the backup can use. (Or, if you want to be all Appley about it, Photos could figure out how fast a user’s connection is and try to use a conscientious percentage of that bandwidth.)

Users with bandwidth caps should be able to somehow throttle the uploads so they don’t end up with bandwidth overages. And users should be able to pause iCloud uploads indefinitely, not just for one day. Bug me if I’m still paused after a few days, sure, but don’t force me to open Photos every day and pause the upload just so I can visit websites or make a Skype call. Pauses for shorter amounts of time—just this next hour when I’m FaceTiming—would also be welcome.

I understand that Apple doesn’t want to junk up the Photos interface. A commitment to simplicity is admirable. But in this case, what’s there is not enough. If Apple wants to commit to that simplicity, it can make this feature as hands-off and intelligent as it likes. Or it can punt and provide users with nerdy settings to control all of it like the online backup services do. Maybe it could even pick some nice middle ground between those two extremes.

What it shouldn’t do is abdicate all responsibility for what the initial iCloud photo backup does to an Internet connection. In version 1.0 of Photos, that’s what it feels like Apple has done. I don’t think it’s good enough.

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