I'm looking for a solution to easily share photos with family members around the world. I realise there are dozens of photo-sharing sites, but I'm looking for something that has

  • native iPad compatibility
  • syncing / auto-download
  • offline viewing
  • access control
  • simple interface

This is aimed at grandparents keeping in touch with their new grandbabies, so simplicity is important. The offline viewing is also key as I expect they will want to take their iPad on the go as a 'brag book' to share with friends when/where internet is not available (or too slow).

One option is MobileMe Gallery. I'm not crazy about the subscription fee, but it is acceptable. It caches photos when they are viewed which is acceptable, but not as great as sync / auto-download of new photos.

I've also checked out Dropbox which has the advantage of not requiring a subscription fee. It caches photos on the iPad the same as MobileMe Gallery. But it doesn't have an easy export from iPhoto which is a drawback.

The questions are... Is MobileMe Gallery fit for purpose? Are there alternatives? Are there better solutions?

  • Thanks for the answers. Since none of the answers are an exact fit, I'm going to leave it open for a bit to see if there are more suggestions. – g . Mar 10 '11 at 15:11
  • I would leave this open for a big while. For the most part the lacking features are restricted due to a technical constraint: battery life. And other part because of apple: photos taken on the iOS are easy to share, but ones synced through iTunes are encrypted and mostly unshareable - plus allowing the "push out" part of syncing anything to anywhere shouldn't be too hard on the battery. – cregox Mar 12 '11 at 15:31
  • Battery life? iTunes? Encryption? I don't see those as relevant. (Do I need to clarify the question?) I believe the biggest problem is that app designers assume the Internet is always present. The photos would come from the Internet all in one go but stored for offline viewing -- kind of like email. – g . Mar 12 '11 at 18:39
  • Well @g, if you didn't get my point there might be due to a lot of things you are missing. Those on your question marks are issues both developers and apple have to deal with when we talk about syncing and that includes having things for offline access. Pushing e-mail is already one of the biggest battery consumptions feature and it's only text. But I completely agree too many developers have internet as granted to be always online, while it isn't true. – cregox Mar 12 '11 at 19:03
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    My point is that it doesn't have to be complicated. You don't need iTunes, you don't need to encrypt photos, and battery life wouldn't be anymore than if you downloaded each photo individually as you are forced to do currently. It doesn't have to 'push' new photos instantly to the iPad. It could be done with a simple button like the old school check for e-mail. The current apps are almost there, but the key point that seems to be missing is that there is no way to download all the photos. You have to go through and select each one individually. Perhaps that is what I didn't make clear? – g . Mar 14 '11 at 9:18

Dropbox would probably do this. Or at least some of this.

It is possible to set up several Dropbox accounts (i.e., one for you and one for different family members) and share folders between those accounts. This would enable you to upload photos and they would be shared immediately in the shared folder.

Dropbox provides a Photos folder which can be organised into a web album for viewing via the web page or in the iOS app. The most recent release of the iOS app has just included photo cacheing so that it doesn't need to be online to show photos.

Not entirely sure that this would be a great solution but it might solve some of the issues. Also, not entirely sure that the sharing and photo features work quite as I have described but would be worth experimenting with.

This link explains how to set it up: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/quickly-set-share-beautiful-photo-galleries-dropbox/

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  • Somebody else mentioned Dropbox to me today, so I may have to investigate this. I added a link to your answer that give a quick tutorial. – g . Feb 22 '11 at 18:34
  • @g Although dropbox is not meant for photos, I think you'll hardly find anything as good as it for everything else you requested. And its photos interface is good enough. – cregox Feb 23 '11 at 16:32
  • I am not sure what I am looking for exists. I looked at Dropbox, but it doesn't automatically sync photos to the iPad -- it seems to work the same as MobileMe Gallery where it caches photos when browsed. The other issue is that there isn't an easy way to export from iPhoto to Dropbox. – g . Mar 10 '11 at 15:01
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    @g This problem intrigues me. It is a simple problem and I'm sure there should be a simple solution but there doesn't really seem to be one. – Mike Meyers Mar 11 '11 at 9:00
  • @g dropbox doesn't sync with ipad because iOS doesn't allow it to. it's main purpose is to keep everything in sync at all times. iOS doesn't allow that kind of thing because battery would drop too fast. as for iPhoto "export" there are two ways to deal with it: you either set your folder inside dropbox or make iPhoto a shortlink to a folder inside dropbox. after getting used to it, I think this way of dealing with the sync (having only its own folder) brings some good points to make dropbox be what it is. – cregox Mar 12 '11 at 14:58

Perhaps the most awkward answer, but this is how I do it. I view the photo online and take a screen grab of it.

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Picasa from Google might solve this. Picasa offers a Mac application which allows you to easily upload photos stored in your iPhoto library to the Picasa web site. They can either be made private, public or shared with friends.

There are also a number of iPhone/iPad apps that can be used to access Picasa. They seem to all be third-party apps and seem to charge and I can't really comment on the quality of any of them.

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  • Picasa would be great (because it has great photo sharing features) if it had iPad offline access. But, as you said, with a proper iOS app maybe it becomes better than Dropbox, though it will still not sync as smoothly as big D. – cregox Feb 23 '11 at 16:35

I've used MobileMe Gallery for the last year which ticked most of the boxes. However, with it coming to an end, I've had to reevaluate my solution and thought I'd update this question with my latest answer.

I've gone with Flickr as a photosharing service and the FlickStackr iPad app.

One of the primary reasons for selecting Flickr was the integration with iPhoto. It makes it easy to upload and manage albums. Flickr is also a robust and powerful service with API access allowing other developers to write apps that use the service which provides many options. I evaluated many apps and selected FlickStackr primarily for its offline capabilities. It will queue up and automatically download photos and display them without issue while offline.

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There are two great apps that do this for you, one is called CameraSync the other is called PhotoSync. Sorry you'll have to search the app store for them as im on my phone so I can't copy the links (maybe someone will be good enough to edit this answer and add the links).

Anyway, they both sync photos to your iPad and they're made even better as they both sync with services like Picasa and Dropbox! Meaning you can use Picasa or Dropbox on you computer to sync and use one of these two apps on your iPad.

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