Apple iCloud iPhone iPad Photos Missing Not Synchronizing

In the past three days, I’ve had three different people experiencing problems with photos disappearing from their devices and missing from iCloud. I usually hear from my Apple customers once every 5 years when it’s time to upgrade to a new device. So, hearing from three in one week, all having the same problem, seemed unusual to me.

Problems Observed

Here is some of what’s being observed regarding the iCloud Photos synchronization issue:

  • People with multiple devices have noticed that photos recently taken on their iPhone won’t show up on their iPad.
  • Photos taken weeks ago on the iPhone will only have partially synchronized with other devices.
  • Mac computers synchronizing with iCloud may not show all photos.
  • The iCloud.com website may show all photos under the Photos folder, but photos will be missing under the All Photos folder.
  • On my own iPhone recently, I took a photo, saw it appear in the thumbnail preview as it was being saved, then looked in Photos but it was missing.
  • When going to the iCloud.com website, you may see a banner alert stating “Network unavailable or slow. Photos is taking longer than expected.” This can show up even if you have a tested network speed of 200 Mbps or higher. It’s presumably not an issue with local network speeds, but an problem with Apple’s network or servers.

Synchronization issues can be very challenging because a person may not notice if a few random photos go missing, particularly those from a few weeks ago.

User Interface

It’s important to know the difference between the “All Photos” display of photos and the “Moments” display. Because Moments and All Photos are organized differently, it’s possible at a glance to think some photos are missing. In Moments view, photos are listed by the date and time associated with them. In All Photos, pictures are listed in the order they were added.

On an iOS device, Moments are accessed by tapping the Photos icon. All Photos are found by tapping the Albums icon. These are found at the bottom of the screen on your iPhone or iPad while in the Photos app. By default, an option to “Summarize Photos” is turned on in Settings > Photos as shown below.

20180602sa2146-iphone-ipad-setings-photos-summarize-IMG_6544

All Photos. Under Albums, if you select All Photos, you will see all photos in your collection listed in the order they were added.

Photos > Moments.There are three levels of zoom in Moments view.

  • Year. When viewing Moments, the overview shows groups of photos by year with individual photos representing events or collections. These tiny thumbnails are about 1/8″ (.5cm) in size, and too small to see.
  • Collections. When you tap on an image in Year view, you will then see photos grouped by location and a range of dates with individual photos representing a group of similar photos (based on location, date, time, and image). So in this view you won’t see all your photos.
    • If you tap on a location title you can explore an automatically grouped collection of photos for the location(s) and dates selected. Note that the title text is white, so the title won’t show up for photos that are predominantly white or light colored. If you tap on the title, you’ll see a slideshow of that collection.
  • Moments. If you tap on a photo in the Collections view, you’ll be taken to the zoomed in view of Moments which is all photos listed in chronological order grouped by location, date, and time. If you scroll to the bottom, you’ll see a total count of photos and videos, as well as an indication of when the last update happened, or the progress of any current uploads or downloads.

Apple Support Experience

Working with someone this evening, I called Apple customer service (at 1-800-MYAPPLE) and was routed to what seemed to be an overseas call center. The support representative wanted the user information for the account with the corrupted photo collection. They said they wouldn’t have access to the user’s account, but they wanted the account information. The support person seemed uninformed about the nature of the problem, but said they could look into the account in more depth to try and fix the problem — contradicting what they’d said previously. Needless to say, no account information was provided to this support person.

Just to clarify, this was a call we placed to the correct Apple support number — not an incoming call from a fake support center.

System Failures

As a technology support consultant, I have an insight into wide spread epidemic problems. I’ll sometimes get a flood of support calls for similar issues and patterns of system failure become apparent. Or, I’ll write an article (like this one) about a technical problem and it will get thousands of page visits from around the world searching for an answer to a problem — which suggests many people are impacted by that problem.

Lack of Transparency

What’s frequently frustrating is that companies are very reluctant to inform customers of system failures and security breaches for fear of losing customer trust which could adversely impact the sacred ‘bottom line’ and shareholder earnings. So, there’s a lack of transparency. As a result, customers are left dangerously uninformed about massive looming data loss or privacy issues. Were customers to be informed about system failures, they could take the appropriate action to protect their data and personal information. This isn’t just a problem with Apple. It’s the nature of the self-preserving collective ‘narcissism’ found in corporate profit-driven culture. We’re all familiar with news of security breaches impacting millions of people who are only informed years later of the breach.

Actions

Here’s what I’d suggest for those experiencing the above issues or wanting to avoid them:

  • Archive Photos. In addition to using cloud synchronization, it’s a good idea to maintain a local archive of your photos. Windows users can copy photos directly from the camera. Apple users can import photos using the Image Capture program and save them to an archive folder on your computer or an external drive. You’ll want to have the optimization feature turned off (explained below).
    • In this scenario, you would use an archive location for all photos, saved by date and place or event name.
    • For editing and sharing photos, you can use your photo editing software of choice. If anything goes wrong, you can go back to the archive to get your untouched originals.
  • Backup. If you don’t already have your computer system backed up, consider setting up a local hard drive to backup your photos.
  • Check iCloud. Login to your iCloud.com account page and check to see if any missing photos are showing up in the main database. If you see photos in iCloud that aren’t showing up on your devices you might try the following:
    1. Use a friend’s computer to setup a local user account with your iCloud account.
    2. Start the Photos program and put the Photos Library on an external drive and synchronize with your iCloud photos with Optimization turned off.
    3. This process may take a long time if you have a large collection of photos in your iCloud storage.
  • Disable Optimization. When storage is limited, the photo optimization feature removes your pictures from your devices and puts the originals on Apple’s cloud servers. Thumbnail images remain. When in effect, when you click on an image, there may be a delay as the full resolution image or video downloads. If you have a slow internet connection this can take a long time. To disable the optimization feature, go to settings on your iOS device or Preferences in Photos on your computer.
    • A possible configuration would be to have a computer designated as your primary library with optimization turned off. If your mobile devices have optimization turned on, this can save space. In this way, the storage consuming photos can be on your computer’s drive or an external drive where your Photos library file can be maintained.
    • With optimization turned on, for all your devices, it means that you might not have any original photos anywhere, at least not  your entire collection. If your iCloud account gets hacked or corrupted, your photos will forever be lost.
  • Leave Computer On. If you leave your computer on, and the Photos program running (Apple users only), then the photos you take on your iPhone should appear on the computer, be stored, and also get backed up.
  • Traditional Camera. For important photos that you don’t want to possibly lose, consider using a traditional camera and manually copying all of your photos to two hard drives for redundancy.

Share Your Experiences

Please feel free to post a comment below about your own experiences with synchronization issues. Thanks!

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