Walled-up Backup: getting photos off my iPhone without copying through the cloud

I recently got a new iPhone with iOS 13, and, well, I can't get my photos off my iPhone by plugging it in, the way it's worked for years. The garden walls are getting steeper, even if it's only an "accident". This particular problem (WIA/PTP being broken) has been causing fits for people for at least a year, and it needs to be fixed.

Right now, the only supported way to get photos off a phone is to copy them through iCloud, which is apparently not that well encrypted. I wonder how many people have no other backup at all?

Getting photos out should be easy

I've always kept a separate backup of photos from the phone, which is usually as simple as plugging it in and syncing the files to a Windows PC. This simply doesn't work with the new phone.

Dropbox says that the iPhone is "locked", even after I've hit the "Trust" button on the phone every single time. Windows Photos app starts the import and then says that something failed. Picasa starts copying, but if you do anything else on the phone while this is happening, the import stops suddenly and never recovers. It's as if the phone is deciding that this import is too expensive and killing it off, even though my new phone has 4GB of RAM, and my old iPhone 6 (which did this fine) only had 1GB.

I've tried the same thing on three machines. Reddit told me that you should uninstall iCloud from your PC first, but it didn't help. Also, that you have to "wait" several minutes after plugging in the phone, but that doesn't help either. It does take several minutes for the DCIM folder to appear in Windows Explorer, but that's a silly shell extension so you can't do a reliable "copy what changed" operation from it.

See other people with this problem here and here and here.

It seems like this is not a thing that needs to work in Apple's ecosystem, so it just doesn't work.

Tried a lot of things

The only thing I've been able to do so far: I told my iPhone's screen to "never" shut off, and left the Dropbox app running for 8 hours. It failed to upload 100 videos, but otherwise mostly worked. There is apparently still no API for Dropbox to use for background upload, so they do some location hacks if you let them.

This is all so unbelievable for 2020. Great camera, but I'm not allowed to do what I want to with the photos. 

As we were making Picasa, I visited my grandfather and looked through his baby book from more than 90 years before, and we wondered how digital photos would get preserved for 100 years. This is one reason we always left files in folders on disk, so people would be in control as technology changed or cloud services went offline. Even when Picasa shut down, people didn't lose their photos. 

I hope the people building modern locked-in services will consider how they could meet the same standard. It's not an easy one, but allowing people to be in control of their data and copy their own files and memories should be a fundamental human right.

1 comment:

  1. I think you are talking about two problems. Pulling photos from iCloud, I agree is PITA. However, if you are scoping the problem as "getting photos off my iPhone" where photos really are on the iPhone, you can use one of Apple's built-in tools: Image Capture.app