The Problem with Apple Shared Albums

The Problem with Apple Shared Albums

This post has been brewing in my mind for 10 years… As soon as camera phones got popular, it became pretty critical to have a way to share photos with larger groups of people. You go on a vacation with a group of people, you need a shared album. You have a birthday party with a lot of people… you need a shared album. You have a wedding…all the guests take photos, you need a shared album.

So I’m clearly in support of shared albums, what makes me so frustrated with Apple’s current implementation?

The Invisible invite

My Apple Photos has over 50 shared albums in it as I write this article. I don’t recall a single instance where everyone got the invite and was able to join the album on the first try. When you look at the workflow, the first problem that jumps out is that people don’t seem to notice the invite notification.

I’ve had to hop on the phone with younger, more tech savvy friends just as much as with older family members that aren’t as nerdy. The notification is easy to miss, and then the next issue is that it's not clear where those messages live.

No Home

In Apple Photos, not only is it unclear where your shared invites live, but it’s also not clear where shared albums live. You can find them in your albums list in the Photos app, but you can also find them in the confusing “for you” section of the Photos app.

This is the only place that an invite to a shared album persists if you miss the pop-up, and yet again, I’ve never come across someone who has figured out what this section does, or thinks to look here for access to a shared album.

Shared Albums Disabled

The next issue is that you need to enable shared albums on your phone or iPad first. I had people on a shared album for years that I thought were able to see all the photos I was sending, only to find out they didn’t even have this feature turned on.

I have no idea what happens to the invite when you send it to someone who hasn’t activated the feature. My hope is that it helps them through the process of activating it, but I haven’t had a chance to see this firsthand.

Invisible Updates

Once someone is set up with Apple shared albums, that’s when you stumble into the next problem, the updates. When someone posts a new photo to a shared album, members of that shared album get an update notification. The issue is that notification isn’t very noticeable; it gets lost in the crowd. It also suffers from the problem of not having a home; these notifications live in a strange place in the app. I would expect those notifications to show up somewhere like the Messages app, which is where most people are used to sharing their photos.

Public web album

It’s great that this option exists to share with non apple users, but yet again, the UI is strange. It doesn’t really look like a photo album so much as a feed. The whole feature seems to have a bit of a confused identity.

To get more people using these features, the tools need to look like the photo albums they are used to using. They need to be obvious and easy to use. The best I’ve found to date is Smugmug. It makes it easy to download full resolution versions of your images, and you can put those photos wherever you want.

Arbitrary Limitations

Now for my biggest best peeve of all, Shared Albums don’t actually share full resolution photos or videos. The photos are limited to 2048 on the long edge and up to 5400 pixels wide. It’s also limited to 5,000 images and 1GB total file size.

I am paying a premium for iCloud, I want it to just work, and I want it to share the best quality photos possible. One of the main reasons I got the phone at the time was that my first child was about to be born. I’m fine if the extra storage comes out of my storage allotment.


The single biggest suggestion I have is to put communication about shared albums where most people share photos… in the Apple messages app.

When you invite someone to a shared album, it should be a message in their Messages app that includes the invitation. When you post updates to your shared album, it should notify people of those updates in the Messages app. Most people share their photos by sending them through Messages, this is where they expect photos to be.

There’s precedence for this, the Apple Notes sharing functionality actually sends notifications through the messages app, I’d love to see a similar approach come to Apple Photos Shared Albums.