About Apple’s Bandwidth Brute: Photos

Last week Apple released a new version of Yosemite, the operating system that runs on Mac computers. Setting aside its small technical improvements, this release sports one major upgrade: an app called Photos, which is designed to replace the aged iPhoto.

If you’re a Mac user you probably use iPhoto. When you upgrade to the new version of Yosemite, your Mac will try to coerce you into migrating your iPhoto library to Photos. I recommend you do this.

For the most part, Photos is a significant improvement over iPhoto. The app is more fluid, intuitive and has a modern design. I much prefer it over its predecessor.

But there will come a point in the migration process from iPhoto to Photos where the new app asks if you want to use Apple’s iCloud Photo Library to store your photos and videos in the cloud. I would strongly caution you against enabling this option. There is a tremendous risk associated with using Photo’s iCloud Photo Library.

Enabling the iCloud Photo Library option in Photos will give the app license to upload all of the photos and videos you had stored in iPhoto to the cloud as quickly as possible. It’s like turning on a garden hose full blast. And once you turn the hose on, you’ll have almost no ability to control the flow of water.

Chances are, this will kill your internet connection. The way Photos floods the upload channel of your internet connection degrades the connection overall to the point that it’s often unusable.

I now have problems with my internet connection because of Photos, and Jason Snell, a well-known Mac pundit, reports that he does too (see Photos for Mac’s unrestrained iCloud uploads).

More importantly, if your internet connection has bandwidth use limitations, chances are Photos will exceed them and your next bill will be larger than you expect it to be.

For example, I have two modems, each with a 300 GB bandwidth use limitation. If I exceed that 300 GB limitation on either modem, I am penalized by my service provider at a rate of $2 per GB. I already max both modems out every month.

Still, throwing caution to the wind, I migrated my 500 GB iPhoto library to Photos and turned on iCloud Drive. Here’s what it did to my internet bandwidth:

Photos Eats Bandwidth

See that big lump? That’s Photos uploading almost 75 GB of photos and videos in the space of about 5 days. And it’s only getting started. It’s already exhausted my first modem ahead of the middle of the month (the blue/green blocks are one modem, the orange/yellow are another). At this rate, I’ll be paying hundreds of dollars in overuse penalties on my second modem if I let Photos keep going.

But it turns out I don’t really have too much control over what Photos does anyway. In fact, this is all the control any Photos user has over how the app uploads photos and videos to the cloud (it’s accessible in Photos’ Preferences):

No Control

“Pause for one day”. That’s it.

So, say you hit your internet connection’s bandwidth use maximum and now you’re paying for every additional GB that flows. You have to remember to open up Photos every day for the rest of the month and pause the upload if you want to avoid being hammered by your internet provider. Yes, that’s every day for the rest of the month. Quitting Photos doesn’t help, as the upload will continue even when the app is closed. Depending on the size of your photo library and the limitations associated with your internet connection, this “pause for one day” routine could go on for months.

But wait, what about that check box beside “iCloud Photo Library”? Isn’t that a sort of global pause button, that will let you put your upload on a long term vacation?

No, definitely not. I spoke to a Photos specialist at Apple and she explained that the checkbox is just what it looks like: an on/off switch. If you turn it off this month, after you’ve uploaded 75 GB of your photos, and then turn it back on next month, Photos will start uploading those same 75 GB of photos all over again from the start.

Unacceptable. Apple should be ashamed.

Other cloud service providers provide much more articulate and adaptable capabilities for managing your bandwidth use. Like this:


That’s the bandwidth control mechanism for Backblaze, the cloud backup service that I use. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than what Apple provides in Photos. I wrote about a variety of cloud services’ throttling controls in a previous post, “Essential Functionality in OS X Photos: Data Throttling“.

There’s a water drought in California, but bandwidth is obviously plentiful. Apple’s team in Cupertino seems to have developed Photos in a sort of internet nirvana, where the GB flow freely. The real world suffers constraints, though, and Apple would do well to recognize that and enable us to effectively respond to them.

Until that day comes – and be aware, it probably never will – you’ll probably want to avoid using the iCloud Photo Library feature in Apple’s new Photos app.