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:

image

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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My wish list for iOS 6

iOS delivered when it removed the need to synchronise with iTunes, and incorporated cloud backup right into the device. But what is still missing?

 

iTunes Account Sharing

Yes the bosses at Hollywood and the big music companies will hate this idea, but we humans like to share. Who knows what evaluation might have thrown up if we had been purely selfish creatures. That means when my partner downloads a TV show on her iPad, it would be quite nice if we could watch it on my iPad without jumping through hoops. How about a feature to link up to 5 iTunes accounts, so they can all download each others purchases? It would be one more argument for buying DRM protected content as opposed to downloading it for free from other unofficial sources.

Automatic App Updates

More ‘normal’ users don’t religiously check the App Store for updates, so having an Android-like feature whe selected apps can update automatically would be useful. This would need to be user-controlled, as some apps makers have a tendency to make their apps worse over time instead of improving them.

Standard platform for magazine/newspaper content

Digital newspapers and magazines are a mess. Most are custom apps that contain a series of digital images. There’s no ability to email links, lookup words or save out articles. What iOS needs is a standard system for newspapers (and a lesser extent magazines) – that offers a consistent way to navigate articles. When you pickup a newspaper, you expect it to work like every other newspaper. That’s not the case on the iPad. App makers might say this limits their creativity, but I think the egos of software developers can take the hit, and that the written content should take centre stage. It would surey be cheaper to produce for a system like this where all the publisher needs to worry about is the content and not the cogs and wheels that drive the app.

Less Clutter

iOS 5 seems a little bloated in placed. Cick the action button in Safari and the options no longer fit in on one screen on the iPhone. Where we once had ‘Add Bookmark’, ‘Add to home screen’ and ‘Mail link to this page’ we have now options to Tweet, Print and do even more. This is systematic of the OS in many places.

 

System wide sharing to other apps

Instead of a ‘Tweet’ link hard-coded into the operating system, why not have a share system simular to Android. The UI would need some work and the ‘intent’ be more specific that Android (on my Androird phone, sharing a link brings me a list containing Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox and a File Explorer app, why would I want to send Dropbox a URL?) – perhaps a way for apps to register as social applications ?

 

Scheduled Notifications

I like the fact my iPad has push email. I don’t like the fact it notifies me of new email at 2 in the morning. ‘Nuff said?

 

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.

5 Must have mobile apps for Android

I thought I’d share with you some of the apps I use most often on my phone (a HTC desire S). Here are a few links to some “must have” apps (non-games).

Audible

I enjoy listening to Audiobooks while at the gym or driving, and this app makes it so easy. You can download any books you’ve purchased from Audible and the 30s rewind button and sleep timer are excellent additions. The ability to bookmark is also nice. Being owned by Amazon, I’m surprised your position and bookmarks are not backed up to the cloud (as they are when reading a book using the Kindle app) – so this means when I launch the app on my iPad I’m not in sync. Great app and great service.

Call Filter

I don’t like answering calls from anonymous callers – it’s usually someone trying to sell me something I don’t want. This handy little app silently sends anonymous incoming calls to voicemail, meaning anyone who does actually want to contact you can still leave a message for you to call back.

Dropbox

A while back I blogged about a rather convoluted way to mimic the excellent Photo Stream feature found on iOS on Android. That just got much easier thanks to the latest update to Dropbox which can now automatically synchronise photos and videos to your Dropbox account. No more plugging in your USB cable to download all your photos, and if you loose/wipe your phone your precious memories are safe.

IM+ Pro

A great chat application that lets me sign into MSN Messenger, Google Talk and Facebook all at once. The app cleverly maintains your sessions on their servers, and uses a highly efficient Push connection to keep you connected – meaning you can be signed into all your accounts and your battery won’t even notice. (Also well worth getting for iPad)

Dogcatcher

I love podcasts, and Dogcatcher is a great player for Android. I wouldn’t say it has the nicest User Experience I’ve ever seen, but functionality it has everything I could ask for from a mobile podcast player – including automatic downloading of new episodes (you can specify WiFi or Plugged in only). iPhone users should checkout Podcaster which provides similar functionality.

 

Hope you find this useful, let me know if you have any favourites.

Photostream in Android with Dropbox

Windows Phone 7 has always had the ability to automatically upload your photos to Skydrive, and iOS recently gained this feature with iCloud’s photo stream. But how can you do this on Android? The answer is by using a great little app called Real Sync to synchronise with Dropbox.
 
 
Simply add your dropbox account, then set Real Sync to immediately mirror the contents of your SD card’s DCIM folder (you can add rules to ignore large files if you like).

Using Dropbox to synchronise existing folders

Dropbox is a great service at a decent price, it’s limited however by the fact that it only synchronises files stored inside your ‘Dropbox’ folder. To get around this limitation on Windows 7 here’s what you need to do (as with anything like this, always backup everything to an external drive first, usual disclaimers apply, follow these instructions at your own risk).

  1. Inside your Dropbox folder, create folders with the same name as the ones you already have on your hard disk, in my case “Music”, “Documents” and “Pictures”.
  2. Move all your data from the existing folders into your Dropbox folder (they should start uploading to Dropbox) – Yes I said move, so make sure you backed.
  3. Delete the original folders (which will now be empty as you moved everything into your Dropbox)
  4. For each folder, create a symbolic link from your original location to the new one inside your Dropbox by running mklink from an administrative command prompt.
    Example:
    mklink /D “C:UsersMarcDocuments”  “C:UsersMarcDropboxDocuments”
  5. That’s it! When you setup a new PC, you will have to start from step 4 and all your documents, pictures and music will just appear.

It will also work the other way round, creating a link from inside the Dropbox folder to your existing documents folder, however Dropbox only recognises changes when it gets restarted which defeats the point if you’re using it as a backup service and want to make use of it’s ‘Previous Versions’ feature.

Hope this might be of use to someone, and I hope Dropbox make doing this easier like Windows Live Mesh. Happy syncing!

Online Services I use

Here are some of the few online services I consider worth paying for…

 

XBOX live

XBOX Live

I have been using this service since I first got my XBOX 360 in 2006. I was at first very sceptical about paying to play games online, after all I’ve paid for the game so shouldn’t the online play be included in the price? Having seen other free alternatives however (Steam on the PC, and of course the PlayStation network) XBOX Live seems a more cohesive service. Starting games is simple, as is inviting friends to voice chat. A nice way to waste some time on a Sunday afternoon.

£4.99 / month (I got an annual pass for about £27, look for special offers)

 

AudibleAudible

Audiobooks are a great way to “read” while you’re doing other things, in the gym, in the car, doing boring household chores, or sometimes just when falling asleep. The monthly subscription gives me a book each month (which when some of them are over 30 hours long, will easily last that long) and is genuinely a good way to get more reading time in. There’s an Android app, and books will play on the Kindle too.

£6.99 / month

 

DropBoxDropBox

DropBox is a neat online backup service. While Windows Live Mesh is technically superior, you can’t get more than 5GB of storage as you can with DropBox. Therefore I use it, and it’s very useful to have all your documents available wherever you are. If only the software would make is easier to sync existing folders (currently it’s a longwinded process involving symbolic links) I wouldn’t feel the need to be looking for alternatives all the time. Still, it’s a good price and the features they do have are very useful.

$9.99 USD / month

 

Spotify

I am still on my free trial of Spotify, after having initially been sceptical about “renting” music rather than owning it. Being able to try out albums is great, and now they have offline access for mobile phones it’s actually not a bad product. I have discovered a lot of new music using sites such as BBCify, which I would never have done without Spotify. It’s a shame not al of the music labels have signed up, that is misguided in my opinion. The desktop client it a bit clunky – a classic case of “design by committee” but the underlying functionality is worth the money.

£9.99 / month