Get Android photos into iCloud Photostream via Dropbox

If like me you have an Android phone but also have an iPad, then you might find that getting photos you take on the phone onto the iPad a chore. Having photos on the iPad means you can take advantage of the beautiful screen and powerful software like iPhoto for which there simply is no alternative for on Android.

Yes you can use the built in Dropbox app, but it’s very clunky and doesn’t let you sort by date. With this solution, photos you take on your Android phone will appear in your iCloud photo stream, which is a far more elegant solution.

What we will do here is essentially make your Dropbox Camera Uploads folder the same folder as your iCloud PhotoStream uploads folder.

Note: I got this working by using my Windows 8 PC with Dropbox installed – it should work fine for Windows 7, and instructions will be different for Mac OS X but it should still be possible. Follow this guide at your own risk!

Step 1: Install Dropbox on your phone

If you haven’t done so already, install Dropbox on your Android device and make sure automatic camera uploads is switched on. This will create a new folder in your Dropbox called ‘Camera Uploads’

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Step 2: Install iCloud Control panel on your PC

I already had iTunes installed, so this was a case of running Apple software update and selecting ‘iCloud Control Panel’

Step 3: Remove the iCloud Uploads folder

Open the iCloud control panel and find the location of your photo stream on disk:

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Kill the any iCloud.exe and ApplePhotoStream.exe processes from the task manager, and then browse to your photostream folder and delete the ‘Uploads’ folder.

Step 4: Recreate uploads folder

Now the magic happens, open an administrative command prompt and create a junction that will recreate the Uploads folder, only showing the contents of your Dropbox’s ‘Camera Uploads’ folder.

Example:

mklink /J “C:UsersMarcDesktopPhotoStreamUploads”  “C:UsersMarcDropboxCamera Uploads”

The first path is where I want the uploads folder to go, and second is where my camera uploads folder in Drobox is. Remember: you haven’t made to copies, if you delete from one, it gets deleted from the other.

Step 5: That’s it…!

Now any photo you take will be uploaded to your PC, from your PC it will be sent to iCloud. and from iCloud it will find its way onto your iOS devices.

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Why we still need Dropbox

Last week both Google and Microsoft launched cloud file synchronisation services. Together with Apple, three of the biggest players in tech are now competing with the likes of Dropbox and Box.net.

Google’s service, named “Google Drive” (a name I was hoping they would reserve for their exciting autonomous car project) offers tight integration with Google Docs and other Google products such as Picasa (and no doubt their Chrome OS and Android operating systems at some point in the near future). One of the key selling points of Google Drive is it’s search facility – they even use OCR to let you search images. You get 5GB free, and can get up to 1TB of space if you’re prepared to pay for it. Crucially Drive supports sharing files with others, making collaboration on documents much easier. There is support for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS (no Windows Phone).

Microsoft’s SkyDrive has actually been around for a few years, but has always been a web only interface and so despite their initial offering of 25GB free, it was difficult to see how anyone would ever use that if they had to upload files one by one in a web browser (I think they they knew that too, since now it’s more usable it only offers 7GB for free). SkyDrive too has tight integration with Microsoft’s ecosystem – the upcoming Windows 8 will use it to synchronise the data within Apps, and also to keep your settings in the cloud. Office documents can be opened using Office Web Apps and there’s support for sharing files too. There is support for Windows, Mac, Windows Phone and iOS (no Android).

Apple’s iCloud is a rather different affair. There’s no way to arbitrarily use the storage like a folder, as is the case with the other services mentioned here. Instead developers use the APIs to build iCloud into their apps. For many people this is just fine, after all most normal users just want their documents and photos to be safe, and don’t care so much about the file system underneath. For many (including me) this is a major limitation. It’s great if you own multiple iOS devices (say an iPhone and an iPad) because your bookmarks, notes and documents will stay in sync. It’s not so great if you want to share a document. There is no way for example, for two iPad users to work on a spreadsheet using Apple’s ‘Numbers’ app. It just can’t be done. Of course Apple haven’t added support for cloud rival Dropbox to their apps, so it left me continually emailing a spreadsheet back and forth like it was 1998. Welcome to the future. The biggest downer on iCloud is the lack of Windows support. Not that I would be able to open my Pages documents on Windows anyway. However if you have a Mac and live wholly using Apple’s products, it’s not bad.

So who needs Dropbox?

So with all these major players getting involved, I’ve read a lot of blogs and comments to the effect of “Dropbox is doomed” or that there’s no point in it any more. How wrong could they be.

The purpose of these three services is to keep you within an ecosystem. Each has it’s own small limitations that might seem like a minor inconvenience now, but remember this is your data – and one day you might decide you no longer want to be part of a particular ecosystem, how easy will it be to move all those gigabytes of data? Dropbox (and other pure cloud providers, I just happen to use Dropbox) is not out to try and get me to use their phone operating system, or to to make it difficult for me to share with a rival. They are just offering cloud synchronisation, without the platform politics.

When you buy software, how long should it reasonably continue to work for?

Electronic Arts have decided to discontinue some of their earlier Xbox 360 games, meaning players will no longer be able to play online. With the 360 still selling exceptionally well, the fact that games publishers are deprecating some of its older games must be worrying news for console owners. To think I can still play Team Fortress Classic, purchased in March 2000 to this day on my Windows 7 laptop –  this amazing feat however is  because the servers are not run by one company. Lesson learnt?

No, I don’t want to update!

Automatic updates aren’t always a good thing.

Software updates. We all all love them don’t we? Unlike any other industry I can think of, users of software expect to get updates on a regular basis. When Microsoft included Windows Update with Windows 98 it hailed a new era of self-updating software. But what happens when you are forced to update software? Microsoft has always been pretty conservative when it comes to forcing users to install updates, prompting, prompting again, and providing administrators with means of delaying updates (much to the dismay of web developers, as many institutions are still using IE6, which is 9 years old) while Google on the other hand takes the opposite approach with its web browser, Chrome that updates itself so quietly you’d never notice. This is fine with me, as Google have continued to add features and make the browser better and faster.

So what happens when (as seems to happen with all software) the browser starts to get a bit bloated and therefore needs a beefier machine to run on? Will I be so pleased when my browser suddenly takes longer to start up? Of course two things redeem Google here, firstly I would be free to downgrade and turn off automatic updates, and secondly they give it away for free, so it’s not as if would have lost anything, except perhaps the time investment spent learning and configuring the browser (which rules by the way, I used it on all my PCs and can’t recommend it highly enough)

I want my money back

When you pay for a piece of software, the publisher changes it considerably to its detriment, and then forces the update upon you then I have a problem. This was the case with Team Fortress 2. What started out as a fun, well balanced, class-based classic game of Red vs. Blue has slowly morphed into a terrible, badly balanced game of class-based luck that has more in common with Monopoly than its excellent predecessor Team Fortress Classic. Class upgrades and in game purchases are not what I originally bought into and it’s certainly not how the game was sold to me when I paid for it almost 3 years ago. Yet here I am 3 years later unable to play the game I originally purchased because that game no longer exists. Instead I have a considerably different game where they expect you to pay extra to get the best weapons. Can you imagine if your TV manufacture insisted you upgrade to a 3D TV and then burdened you with paying extra for silly 3D glasses you’d have to wear for the rest of your TV viewing years? Maybe there is an analogy here with the switch-off of analogue TV or when motorists were forced to stop using lead based petrol – but these were in the interests of the public good, and the decisions were no doubt made after lots of discussion by elected members of government.

I am struggling to think of any instances of when this sort of forced update would be acceptable. Security patches are a different matter, because they rarely take away features.and so I fully support them. Of course when the updates are actually good, then I don’t mind (TFC for example gained teleporters midway through its life) – but one person’s great new feature could just as easily ruin the game for someone else. There is no easy solution, I’m sure Value would argue it’s impossible to support each version ever released and still have people playing against each other. Had they released a whole new game called Team Fortress 3, then people would accused them of cashing in like they did when Left 4 Dead 2 was released.

So no easy answers, but as cloud computing becomes more commonplace in business I don’t see this problem going away.

The application bandwagon?

A couple of years ago I remember reading in the technology press about how desktop software was dead, and that the web was the future. Skip forward to today and I still hear the same thing, only with the word ‘web’ replaced with ‘cloud’ – cloud being a buzzword, simply meaning some server, somewhere.

I liked that promise, in a world where Microsoft Outlook takes about 10 times longer than the combination of Google Chrome and Gmail to load, web based software certainly seems to me to be the future. So I was surprised today when I discovered that the BBC is launching some new pieces of client software for mobile phones. These days, all the major web sites have their own ‘app’ – The Guardian, RadioTimes, WordPress, even the White House to name just a few examples – yet nearly all of those apps could work just fine in the web browser. Does this mean the web application is dead? I pondered this, and came to the conclusion that no, web apps aren’t dead. The fact that The Guardian and The Whitehouse haven’t released an application for Windows or MacOSX tells me that this is just a mobile thing, and that installable applications are perhaps easier to use than web sites, with their caching, gestures and smooth animations. The BBC’s applications will feature high-quality flash, something Apple don’t allow inside the iPhone’s web browser so that’s probably their reasoning. Installable applications (on the iPhone in particular) create a desktop presence, you can bet that people who’ve installed The Guardian’s app visit The Guardian more often that those who have a bookmark buried away somewhere, or type the address manually, so there is added benefit to the content provider. Of course, as the Windows Quick Launch area taught us, too much branding on the desktop can get annoying, so maybe it is a fad after all, and we’ll all be using web based mobile apps in 2 years time?

Is that client software? Google cleverly pretends to install client-side software, when it is in fact, just a web application.