When it works, Photo Stream is convenient. The underlying principle is simple enough: you take a picture on one device, it automatically transfers to all other devices with iCloud.
In practice, it’s a convoluted feature. Apple is using quantity and time-based limitations for Photo Stream, which comprises both your Photo Stream (called “My Photo Stream”) and Shared Photo Streams, which are all part of iCloud, but only your Photo Stream counts against storage. I wouldn’t be surprised to know it took Apple more time to come up with Photo Stream rules than to build the actual technology. It’s difficult to explain, and I suggest listening to this Mac Power Users episode to grasp how Photo Stream works and what it can do.
In my workflow, I have new solutions to quickly transfer photos from iOS to OS X or avoid my Mac entirely, but there are still times when I need/want to leave iPhoto running and drag photos out of it and into the Finder or another app. MyPhotostream is a lightweight Photo Stream client that runs on your Mac and provides read-only access to your personal Photo Stream (not the shared ones).
MyPhotostream finds the directory where Photo Stream stores its data and presents all your synced photos in reverse chronological order. While you could build a smart folder or Hazel filter to achieve the same functionality of MyPhotostream, the app takes a lot of pressure off needing to deal with Finder subfolders and sorting criteria because it just works. After I downloaded the app, I waited for an initial database refresh and after a few seconds MyPhotostream showed all my Photo Stream photos in a small window free of iPhoto’s clunkiness. The window shows thumbnails that can be quick-looked, and it can be resized or put into full-screen mode.
With a right-click, photos can be shared with system services like Twitter and Flickr, opened with other apps, or saved to your Downloads folder. Alas, I wasn’t able to pick photos and drag them into the Finder or other apps like I can with iPhoto, which seems like a limitation that could be fixed in an update.
If you don’t like iPhoto but want to see incoming photos in Photo Stream, MyPhotostream is a simple and fast alternative viewer. It’s read-only and it comes with other limitations that the developer has detailed on his website, and it could use support for drag & drop for better integration with OS X. There are other nice details, such as the fact that the app refreshes when it’s already open if new photos are available, displaying a notification.
If you’ve been looking for a simpler Photo Stream viewer, MyPhotostream works well and it’s got a 7-day free trial. To unlock the full version, a single license is $3.99.
- In some cases, iPhoto just “stops” and I can’t see new photos added to Photo Stream and I need to quit iPhoto and relaunch it and wait for new photos to come in. Maybe the problem isn’t iPhoto per se, but OS X. Either way, it’s not a great experience. ↩
- Usually, it’s MailMate and I’m composing a long message with multiple screenshots or photos. ↩
- Footnote #1 still applies. ↩