For quite a few years, Apple enabled users to download their iPhone or iPad photos to their Macs with a service called My Photo Stream. It wasn’t perfect, but it was free, and it did a decent job of ensuring that photos you took on your iPhone or iPad would end up on your Mac.
Then Apple introduced iCloud Photo Library, later renamed to iCloud Photos, which is a full-featured cloud-based photo syncing service. However, because it stores all your photos in the cloud, most people need to purchase more storage from Apple to use it.
As a result, Apple has kept My Photo Stream around, at least for most existing users. (The company says, “If you recently created your Apple ID, My Photo Stream might not be available. If My Photo Stream isn’t available, use iCloud Photos to keep your photos and videos in iCloud.” Huh.) For those who have a choice, which should you use? (On the Mac, you make that choice in Photos > Preferences > iCloud; in iOS, look in Settings > Photos.)
Cost and Storage Details
The key advantages of My Photo Stream over iCloud Photos are that My Photo Stream is completely free and the storage it uses doesn’t count against your iCloud limits.
In contrast, Apple gives every iCloud user 5 GB of free storage, but that’s shared among all your iCloud services, like iCloud Drive and icloud.com email, so it disappears quickly. Most of us have more than 5 GB of photos anyway. You can purchase 50 GB for $0.99 per month, 200 GB for $2.99 per month, or 2 TB for $9.99 per month (prices vary slightly in other countries).
On a pure price basis then, My Photo Stream wins. However, it suffers from other limitations that make it less compelling:
My Photo Stream stores your photos on your iOS devices in a lower resolution to save space and transmission time. On the Mac, however, your photos download in full resolution. In contrast, iCloud Photos lets you choose on each device whether you want original images or optimized versions to save space—full-resolution originals are always stored in iCloud itself.
My Photo Stream manages only the last 30 days of photos and only the last 1000 photos. That’s fine for just transferring photos from your iPhone to your Mac for permanent storage, but your other devices will be able to display only your most recent photos. iCloud Photos stores all your photos as long as you have sufficient space.
When you edit a photo while using My Photo Stream, the edits apply only to the photo you edited, not to versions synced with other devices. With iCloud Photos, all edits you make—on any of your devices—sync to all the rest of your devices.
There’s another big gotcha with My Photo Stream. It supports only photos and images in JPEG, PNG, and TIFF formats, plus most raw formats. That doesn’t sound terrible until you realize that it doesn’t include Live Photos or any video formats. That’s right—My Photo Stream won’t sync your Live Photos or videos from your iPhone to your Mac at all! You’ll have to move them over manually in some other way.
In comparison, iCloud Photos supports the same still image formats as My Photo Stream and adds GIF, HEIF, and more raw formats, along with Live Photos. Plus, it supports MP4 and HEVC videos. In other words, iCloud Photos will sync all your images and videos, regardless of format.
Finally, My Photo Stream works on the Mac, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Apple TV, and with Windows-based PCs. iCloud Photos extends that list to include the Apple Watch and the iCloud.com Web site. Apple Watch support likely isn’t a dealbreaker for most people, but it can be useful to be able to see all your photos in a Web browser on any computer.
Making the Choice
Technically speaking, you can have both My Photo Stream and iCloud Photos turned on. However, if you’re using iCloud Photos, My Photo Stream doesn’t get you anything, so you should turn it off.
If you’re trying to save money and have more than 5 GB of photos, My Photo Stream works to bring most of your iPhone photos down to your Mac for permanent storage in the Photos app. Just beware that it won’t sync your Live Photos or videos, and any other iOS devices you have will be limited to seeing the last 30 days or 1000 photos.
For most people, though, iCloud Photos is the way to go. It’s easily worth $12 or $36 per year for 50 GB or 200 GB of storage, it syncs all your photos and videos among all your devices, and it even syncs edits.
By default, Apple gives every iCloud user 5 GB of storage space. That disappears quickly, given how it’s shared between iCloud Mail, iCloud Drive, iCloud Photos, Messages, and iCloud-enabled apps.
Apple will, of course, sell you more iCloud space. $0.99 per month gets you 50 GB, $2.99 per month provides 200 GB, and for $9.99 per month, you can use a whopping 2 TB. The latter two plans can even be shared with others in your Family Sharing group.
As we’ve noted elsewhere, using iCloud Photos almost certainly requires you to pay for extra storage. But if you’re paying $2.99 per month and nudge up against the 200 GB limit, you may not be enthused about increasing your payment to $9.99 per month when you’re unlikely to need anywhere near 2 TB.
That said, you don’t want to run out of storage space. Email to your iCloud email address will be rejected, photos won’t upload from your iPhone, and app data will fail to sync. Happily, Apple alerts you when you’re running low on space, before things get bad.
It’s often easy to recover space that’s not being used in a helpful way. First, check how much space you have and how much you’re using. In macOS 10.14 Mojave, look at the graph at the bottom of System Preferences > iCloud. In 10.15 Catalina, the graph is in System Preferences > Apple ID > iCloud. In iOS, you’ll find a similar graph at Settings > Your Name > iCloud.
Then, to clear space, work through these five approaches.
1. Remove Unnecessary iCloud Device Backups
The biggest win comes from deleting iCloud device backups for devices you no longer use. It’s common for these to stick around, so if you recently upgraded from an iPhone X to an iPhone 11 Pro, the iPhone X backup is probably still consuming gigabytes.
Navigate to Settings > Your Name > iCloud > Manage Storage > Backups to see what you have. If you find backups for a previous iPhone or iPad, tap it and then tap Delete Backup.
2. Delete Unnecessary Data from iOS Apps
While you’re in the iCloud Storage screen (the leftmost screenshot above), look through the other apps at the top of the list. The Photos app will likely be using the most storage, but all you can do to minimize its space usage is delete unnecessary screenshots, duplicate photos, and accidental videos from Photos. That will likely require lots of manual effort.
However, some other apps—think about third-party camera or video apps—may be using space unnecessarily. Investigate any apps reporting a lot of usage in the iCloud Storage screen, and if possible, clear out the unnecessary data.
Finally, consider Messages. If you regularly trade photos and videos in chats, it could be another place you can save significant space. In the iCloud Storage screen, tap Messages > Top Conversations to see which conversations are the largest. Tap one to switch to Messages, tap the person’s avatar at the top of the conversation, tap the Info button, scroll down to see the photos, and tap See All Photos. Tap Select, tap photos you have no desire to keep within that Messages conversation, and then tap Delete at the bottom-right of the screen.
3. Avoid Backing Up Apps with Massive iCloud Data Stores
If one of your apps is storing a lot of data that you don’t want to delete, but that you don’t care if it were to be lost, you can prevent it from being backed up by iCloud Backup and reduce the size of your backups.
To find such apps, navigate to Settings > Your Name > iCloud > Manage Storage > Backups and tap the name of the device you’re on. That screen shows which apps consume the most space in your backup. Tap the toggle switch next to an app to stop backing it up and delete its data from your backup.
4. Scan for and Delete Large Files in iCloud Drive
It’s hard to know if you’re likely to be using lots of space in iCloud Drive—it all depends on what iCloud-savvy apps you use and if you store other files in iCloud Drive via the Mac’s Finder or the Files app in iOS.
There’s no need to guess, however, thanks to free Mac apps that help you identify especially large files and folders. Our favorites are GrandPerspective and OmniDiskSweeper. GrandPerspective uses a graphical view so you can see at a glance where your space is going, whereas OmniDiskSweeper opts for a classic text-based approach that gives you hard numbers. In GrandPerspective, choose File > Scan Folder and select iCloud Drive in the sidebar of the Open dialog. For OmniDiskSweeper, choose File > Size Folder.
Whichever app you use, it’s easy to select large files or folders and click Delete (GrandPerspective) or Trash (OmniDiskSweeper). You may have to set an option in GrandPerspective > Preferences to enable deletions if its Delete button is disabled.
5. Delete Old Email from iCloud Mail
All the email you store at iCloud counts against your free space, so it can be worth clearing out unwanted old messages (and their large attachments). To delete individual messages using Apple’s Mail, just select them and click the Trash button in the toolbar. Some messages are much bigger than others, however, and to find them, choose View > Sort By > Size. That puts the largest messages at the top.
Of course, deleting messages normally just moves them to the Trash mailbox; to reclaim the space they occupy on iCloud, choose Mailbox > Erase Deleted Items > AccountName. Once you do that, the messages are gone for good.
If you want to remove an entire mailbox and its contents, select it in the sidebar and choose Mailbox > Delete Mailbox. That deletes all of its messages immediately and can’t be undone.
When you put all these space-clearing techniques together, you’ll likely be able to clear enough cruft that you won’t have to pay Apple for more iCloud storage space. But if you’re uncomfortable deleting such data, there’s no shame in upgrading to a larger iCloud storage plan.
It’s easy to share a single photo from your iPhone or iPad with a friend, but if you want to share a bunch of photos or lengthy videos, sending them in Messages or Mail might not work or could impact your (and your recipients’) data caps. In iOS 12, Apple added a clever feature that instead uploads the files to iCloud and lets you share a simple link that your recipients can use to view and download. Use this approach and your messages will send and be received faster and more reliably.
This feature requires that you use iCloud Photos (previously called iCloud Photo Library). If you’re not already set up with iCloud Photos, you can turn it on in Settings > Photos, but be aware that you will likely need to pay for more iCloud storage ($0.99 per month for 50 GB, $2.99 for 200 GB, and $9.99 for 2 TB). Your recipients don’t need to use iCloud Photos, though, and in fact, they can use any device or operating system.
Send iCloud Links
It’s easy to send an iCloud Link. Follow these steps:
Open the Photos app on an iPhone or iPad running iOS 12.
In any view with multiple thumbnails showing, tap Select.
Tap one or more photos or videos to select them.
Tap the Share button.
In the bottom row of icons in the Share sheet, tap Copy iCloud Link. You may have to scroll to the right to see it.
After iOS prepares the items for sharing, it puts the iCloud link on the clipboard.
Switch to whatever app you’re using to communicate and paste the link by pressing in a text area and tapping Paste in the control that appears. Messages will generate a preview thumbnail for you; other apps will display a Web URL to icloud.com.
Manage iCloud Links
By default, items you share via an iCloud link are stored for only 30 days. That’s a good thing—you don’t have to worry about things hanging around forever. However, it does mean that your recipients need to get around to viewing or downloading within that time. And what if you want to remove access before the 30 days are up? Plus, what if you want to send the iCloud link to another person—how do you get it again?
Here’s the trick. In Photos, tap For You, then tap your collection under Recently Shared to open it. Then tap the blue more button in the upper-right corner to display a menu with two options:
To get the link again to send to another person, tap Copy iCloud Link.
To remove the files from iCloud, tap Stop Sharing.
Receive iCloud Links
When someone sends you an iCloud link, opening it is as simple as tapping or clicking the link, just like any other Web URL. (As with other Web links, if you’re receiving an iCloud link in Messages, you’ll see a thumbnail preview instead of the URL.)
If you’re receiving the iCloud link on an iOS device, tapping it opens the collection in the For You tab of Photos with a convenient Add All button for bringing the photos into your own library. If you don’t want all of them, you can instead tap Select to pick a few.
However, opening the iCloud link on a Mac or any other device opens it in a Web browser, with a Photos-like display. By default, all the photos are selected, although you can click the blue checkmark for any one to deselect it or click Deselect All. Clicking the round spot where the checkmark was selects an image again. Once the photos you want are selected, click Download.
Alternatively, if you just want to look at the photos online, click any photo to expand it. All the other photos appear in a scrolling bar below, and you can click them or use the arrow keys to navigate through them.
So next time you have some photos to share and don’t want to waste bandwidth or mess around with shared albums, try sending an iCloud link instead!
Many Apple users rely on mac.com, me.com, or icloud.com email addresses, along with plenty of other iCloud-related services. So if you can’t send or receive email, if photos aren’t transferring via iCloud Photo Library, or if some other iCloud-related service isn’t responding, the first thing to do is check Apple’s System Status page. It’s updated every minute, and if it shows that the associated Apple service is having problems, you know to sit tight until things come back up. If everything is green, you’ll have to look elsewhere for a solution—or get in touch with us.
If a new Mac has recently arrived in your life, it may be time to repurpose and hand your old Mac down to a friend or family member, pass it on to a coworker, or bring it back to iStore for recycling. Here’s what to do.
Before anything else, make a backup, just in case. Do this even if you’ve already migrated your data to your new Mac, since it’s possible that data could have been corrupted during the transfer without you realizing. At a minimum, update your old Mac’s Time Machine backup by clicking the Time Machine icon in the menu bar, and choosing Back Up Now. For extra safety, consider using an app like Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper to make a bootable duplicate that will be easier to navigate if you need to recover a file.
Deauthorize iTunes and Other Apps
It’s uncommon for apps to have licensing schemes that are tied to your Mac’s hardware these days, but if you have any, such as those from Adobe, be sure to deauthorize or deactivate them.
However, there is one app that most people will need to deauthorize: iTunes. That’s because Apple allows you to play content purchased from iTunes only on up to five computers associated with your Apple ID, so be sure to deauthorize Macs that you won’t use again before passing them on.
To do this, open iTunes and choose Account > Authorizations > Deauthorize This Computer. Enter your Apple ID credentials when prompted.
If you’ve forgotten to do this, you can deauthorize all your computers once per year (and then add back those you still have). To do this in iTunes, choose Account > View My Account, and in the Apple ID Summary next to Computer Authorizations, click Deauthorize All.
Sign Out of iCloud
Next, you should sign out of iCloud to remove any connection between your iCloud account and the old Mac. Doing so disconnects the Mac from synchronization of your iCloud data.
To do this, open System Preferences > iCloud, and click the Sign Out button. If you’ve been syncing via iCloud Drive, Calendar, Contacts, Reminders, and so on, the Mac will ask if you want to keep the data on the Mac or delete it. Don’t bother deleting it since you’ll erase the Mac’s drive in a future step.
Sign Out of iMessage
Much as with iCloud, you should sign out of your iMessage account, at least if your Mac is running OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion or later. To do this, open Messages and choose Messages > Preferences > Accounts. Select your iMessage account and click Sign Out. (In 10.14 Mojave, instead of clicking Accounts in the toolbar, click iMessage.)
Unpair Bluetooth Devices
If you’re giving your Mac to another user along with its Bluetooth devices, such as a wireless keyboard and trackpad, you don’t need to do anything with them. However, if you plan to hang on to your Bluetooth devices and use them with another Mac, you should unpair them. That’s especially true if someone else in your home or office will be using the old Mac, since the device might end up working on multiple Macs, which could cause confusion.
Before you unpair a wireless keyboard and mouse or trackpad, however, make sure you have a wired keyboard and pointing device available, since you won’t be able to erase the drive and reinstall macOS without them. If you lack wired alternatives, don’t unpair your keyboard and pointing device.
To unpair Bluetooth devices, open System Preferences > Bluetooth, and in the list of devices either hover over a device or select it. Then click the X button to the right. When prompted, click Remove.
Erase the Drive and Reinstall macOS
Here’s the most important step—erasing the Mac’s drive. After all, you don’t want the next user to be able to access all your photos, documents, email, and more. Luckily, this is easy to do.
First, start up from macOS Recovery by holding down Command-R while the Mac boots. In the macOS Utilities window that appears, select Disk Utility and click Continue.
In Disk Utility, select the internal drive, click Erase in the toolbar, and in the dialog that appears, enter a new name, choose a format, and choose GUID Partition Map for the scheme. For the format, stick with the default, since the macOS installer will convert it later if necessary. Quit Disk Utility when you’re done.
Once the drive is erased, you’ll be returned to the macOS Utilities window, where you can select Reinstall macOS (or Reinstall OS X, if it’s an older Mac) and click Continue. Obviously, if you’re sending it back to Apple for recycling, there’s no reason to do this.
The installation process takes time, and when it’s done, the Mac will restart into the setup assistant. Press Command-Q at the Welcome screen to shut down. When the new user starts the Mac up again, they’ll be able to continue with the setup process. That’s it—now you’re ready to give the Mac to its next user.
Poll a room of Apple experts about the one topic they can’t stop talking about and many will launch into frustrated rants about how too few people back up. Backups are always important since you can never predict when your Mac or iPhone will be lost or stolen, melt in a fire, or just break. But one time when backups are especially important is before you upgrade to a major new operating system. If you’re thinking “What could go wrong?” the answer is, “Lots, and wouldn’t you like to be able to revert instantly if something does?”
On the Mac side, there are plenty of ways to back up, and a bootable duplicate made with SuperDuper or Carbon Copy Cloner is the best insurance right before you upgrade to macOS 10.14 Mojave. More generally, backing up with Time Machine ensures that you can not only restore your entire drive if necessary, but also easily recover a previous version of a corrupted file. Finally, since a fire or flood would likely destroy your backup drive along with your Mac, we always recommend an offsite backup made via an Internet backup service like Backblaze.
What happens if you don’t back up and your Mac gets damaged such that you can’t access important data? That’s when things get expensive, and if you have a 2018 MacBook Pro, you have even fewer options.
Historically, it was relatively easy to remove a drive from a broken Mac and recover the data from it. Data recovery got harder with solid-state storage, and even more so with the introduction of the first MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, thanks to Apple’s new T2 encryption chip, which encrypts data on the drive. To simplify last-ditch data recovery, Apple put a special port on the MacBook Pro’s logic board and provided a custom recovery tool for Apple Authorized Service Providers. With the 2018 MacBook Pro, however, Apple removed that port, so only data recovery specialists like DriveSavers can recover data from such damaged machines, and only then if they have the user’s password.
So please, back up your Mac before something goes wrong. It’s fast, easy, and inexpensive to get started, and we’re happy to help.
We’ve all seen, if not experienced, a broken iPhone or iPad. They’re durable little devices, but they won’t necessarily survive a drop onto a sidewalk or into a toilet (yeah, it happens). And it’s way too easy to forget your iPhone at the gym or in a restaurant. So a backup is necessary if you don’t want to risk losing precious photos or having to set up a new device from scratch. Plus, just as with a Mac, things can go wrong during major iOS upgrades.
With iOS, though, you don’t need extra software or hardware. Apple provides two ways of backing up your iPhone or iPad, iTunes and iCloud. Neither is necessarily better or worse, and you can—and should!—use both for added safety. We’ve seen situations where an iPhone would refuse to restore its files from iTunes but would from iCloud.
To back up to iCloud, go to Settings > Your Name > iCloud > iCloud Backup, turn the switch on, and tap Back Up Now. For backups to happen automatically in the future, you must have sufficient space in your iCloud account (you get 5 GB for free and can buy more), and your device must be on a Wi-Fi network, connected to power, and have its screen locked.
To back up to iTunes, connect your device to your Mac via a Lightning-to-USB cable, launch iTunes, and click the device icon to the right of the media menu.
Then, in the Backups section, click Back Up Now. If you’re prompted to encrypt your backups, we encourage you to agree since otherwise your backup won’t include passwords, Health information, or HomeKit data. For automatic backups via iTunes, select This Computer. After that, every time you plug into your Mac, it will back up.
If you have sufficient iCloud storage, we recommend backing up automatically to iCloud because its automatic backups work well at night when you’re charging your devices. Then, make extra backups to iTunes whenever you think you might need to restore, such as when you’re getting a new iPhone or iPad, or when you’re about to upgrade to a new version of iOS.