Why wait for iOS 8? Seven cloud-friendly apps for your photos

Big improvements to iCloud are coming which promise to make it easier to keep photos neatly organized and easily accessible in the cloud. But there are a number of iOS photo apps that have already embraced the cloud.

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Apple

At WWDC this week, Apple officially announced iOS 8. Included in the list of new features for the next iteration of the company's mobile operating system was a handful of new editing tools for the iOS Photos app that will help you get your shots looking just right. While the new straightening and cropping tools look promising, along with smarter controls to adjust brightness and color levels of your photos, what looks to be bigger news for iPhone photographers is iCloud Drive.

Up to this point, my only interaction with iCloud has been ignoring its repeated warnings that my storage is almost full. iCloud Drive promises to change that. With it launches this fall, iCloud Drive will be baked into Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite and will have its own app in iOS 8, promising to make your photos -- and all manner of file types -- easily accessible across all of your Apple devices.

Like iCloud today, iCloud Drive will deliver only 5GB of free space. The paid plans for iCloud Drive look attractive, however, at 99 cents per month for 20GB, or $3.99 per month for 200GB. More to the point, I might actually be tempted to upgrade because the service looks like a vast improvement over the current iCloud. That is, it looks like a fully featured cloud storage service -- for both desktop and mobile -- instead of a middling mobile backup service.

I can't wait to try out iCloud Drive when its released this fall. I take a lot of photos and videos with my iPhone, so I am looking forward to having easy access to them on my iPad and MacBook Pro. And because I take a lot of photos and videos with my iPhone, I am always running up against my storage maximum. So, if iCloud Drive turns out to be a bonafide cloud service, then it will allow me to store my photos and videos in the cloud to free up the local storage on my iPhone. It's a win-win: easier access to my photos and videos and more room on my iPhone for apps and other data. And I'm not the only one waiting for iCloud Drive to arrive to solve my photo storage issues.

In many ways, however, Apple is playing catch-up with iCloud Drive. There are a number of iOS photo apps, for example, that have already embraced the cloud. Thus, you need not wait for iOS 8 and iCloud Drive to arrive this fall if you want shoot and store photos in the cloud. Let's take a quick spin through seven apps that currently exist.

Instagram

Instagram is an obvious first choice. The popular photo-sharing app lets you upload an unlimited number of photos and short videos free of charge (and now it features new editing tools in addition to its veritable filters), and you can then browse and like and comment on your friends' uploads.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

In the app's options, you can turn a slider off for Save Original Photos, so when you snap a shot with Instagram, it gets uploaded but not saved to your iPhone or Android phone. If you turn the slider on for Save Original Photos, Instagram will save a full-resolution version of photos taken with the app -- up to 2,048x2,048 pixels, which happens to be resolution of photos taken with the app on an iPhone 4S and newer. If you snap a shot with your phone's camera, however, and then upload it, the copy of the filtered, square photo that you are left with on your camera roll is greatly reduced to 612x612 pixels, which is the size of the photos in your feed.

Instagram is mobile only; there is no desktop version of the app, though you can view Instagram profiles through a browser. Also, there is no Instagram iPad app, though many Android tablets are supported.

Carousel by Dropbox

Dropbox added a Camera Upload feature a while back that automatically uploads full-resolution copies of your photos and videos to a folder on Dropbox. More recently, the company released the standalone Carousel app, which creates a pretty front-end for viewing and sharing all of your photos and videos. Carousel makes it easy to thumb through a vast collection of photos and videos and share collections with your contacts.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

There is no iPad version of Carousel, but because the app works within Dropbox, the photos and videos you've uploaded to Carousel are accessible via Dropbox's desktop and Web apps. I quickly ran out of space on the free plan, however, and through various promotions over the years, I've upgraded from Dropbox's free 2GB of storage to 7.25GB. Dropbox Pro nets you 100GB of space for $99.99 a year.

Flickr

Version 3.0 of Flickr's mobile app was released earlier this year that introduced video capture, improved search functionality, and a redesign that closely resembles that of Instagram. Hey, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

The Flickr app features live filters that let you play around with various effects before taking a shot. If you enjoy using these and use the Flickr app to capture photos and videos, you can upload them straight to Flickr's servers and skip keeping a copy on your iPhone. As with its muse Instagram, the Flickr app lets you flip a switch to bypass your Camera Roll altogether. From your profile page, tap the gear icon and turn the slider off for "Save to camera roll."

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

There is also an Auto Sync setting that, when enabled, uploads a backup to Flickr of every photo you take with your iPhone's camera app.

Flickr resizes photos you upload to "more Web-friendly dimensions" for viewing purposes, but you can always download full-resolution versions of photos you have uploaded. And you shouldn't run up against the storage max unless you are the most serious of shutterbugs (or take lots and lots of videos); Flickr provides a whopping 1TB of storage space for free. There are, however, file-size limits; each photo you upload can't be larger than 200MB, and 1GB is the maximum for a video.

There is no iPad version of the Flickr mobile app, but you can access all of your photos and videos and a host of options not offered on the mobile app from Flickr's Web app.

Google+

Odds are Google+ has not supplanted Facebook as your go-to social network. The Google+ iOS app, however, is a great way to view the photos and videos you have in Google's cloud, whether they be on Picasa or Google+ itself. Using the space you have on Google Drive, the Google+ app features a Photos section that lets you browse, edit, organize, and share your photos on your iPhone or iPad.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Head into the Camera and Photos settings and you'll find an Auto Backup option to send a copy of every photo you take to Google Drive. For auto backup, you can choose to send full-size images to your Google Drive or limit backups to 2,048 pixels, which will save on storage and won't require you to sign up for Google Drive paid plan. There are also two unique settings: Auto Enhance and Auto Awesome. While you have access to finer edit controls, Auto Enhance applies edits to your photos, for example, to improve the lighting, or remove redeye, while Auto Awesome adds fun animations such as falling snow, or turns a series of similar photos into an animated GIF.

You get up to 15GB of storage space for free on Google Drive, and paid plans start at $1.99 a month for a generous 100GB of space.

Microsoft OneDrive

OneDrive for iOS is for Microsoft-inclined iPhone and iPad users. It'll offer to start backing up your existing photos, and if you agree you'll get 3GB of additional free storage (on top of the 7GB you get for free with OneDrive). In the app's settings, below the Camera Backup option, is an option to backup full-res "Original" photos or resized photos.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

The OneDrive app makes it easy to browse and organize your photos in folders, but it does not provide any editing tools, auto, manual or otherwise. Also, sharing options are limited to sending a link to the photo via email, and copying the link to your clipboard.

Amazon Cloud Drive Photos

Amazon would also like to store your iOS photos for you. Launch its app for iPhone or iPad, sign into your Amazon account, and it will first ask you to agree to its Auto-Save feature, which will start backing up your photos and videos. Alternatively, you can turn off Auto-Save and manually select which photos you'd like to backup to your Amazon Cloud Drive. There is no option, however, for choosing to upload full-resolution copies of your photos or resized versions. I couldn't find any information about which type of photo Amazon uploads -- full size or reduced size -- but in my tests, it uploaded full-resolution copies of my photos taken on my iPhone 5S.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

The Amazon Cloud Drive Photos app for iOS boasts slick animations for viewing your photos and videos but, like OneDrive, it doesn't offer any editing tools. Its sharing options are most robust than OneDrive, however, with Facebook, Twitter, and messaging options offered in addition to email.

Amazon Cloud Drive gives you only 5GB of storage for free. Paid plans start at $10 a year for 20GB and go up to $500 a year for 1,000GB.

Shoebox Photo Backup and Cloud Storage

The Shoebox Photo Backup and Cloud Storage app provides unlimited storage for your photos, but there's a catch. The free plan stores resized images -- up to 1,024 pixels on the longest side -- while the Pro plan lets you upload full-resolution copies of your photos. The Pro plan costs $5 per month, or $48 per year.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

The app is available for both iPhone and iPad and a variety of other platforms, including Android, Windows, and on a Mac. It's photo-only, however, and does not let you upload videos. The app does not provide any editing tools, but boasts a number of useful ways to browse your photos. Most photo backup apps let you browse only chronologically, but Shoebox lets you search by season, day of the week, time of day, and camera, among others.

Which photo backup service do you use? Please share your preference in the comments below.

 

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