Thursday, June 30, 2016

iCloud MailDrop for distributing archival quality photos (sports teams, etc)

Inspired by an AWT post I did some testing to see how iCloud MailDrop handles a set of image attachments. I’ve blogged previously that archival/group distribution of large photo images is an unsolved problem.

It turns out MailDrop is a pretty interesting solution. You can use it to send 5GB of images at a time for a maximum quota of 1TB. Images are available for download for 1 month. That’s weirdly generous by Apple standards. Since iCloud accounts are now available to anyone this option is universally available. (Correction: AppleIDs are universally available, and they include access to Apple’s web based productivity apps, but non-Apple customers don’t get the rest.)

I tested using the iCloud web interface for Mail - I turned on MailDrop in preferences:

Screen Shot 2016 06 30 at 10 07 11 AM

With this enabled I selected about 60MB of images from a folder of Mac background images using the Mail.icloud attachment interface. After selection there was a note that they’d be sent by MailDrop. It’s hard to predict when MailDrop is used, Apple says it happens when the “ISP limit is exceeded”. I’m guessing 20MB or so [1]; but it would be preferable to have a manual way to activate AirDrop. (I’m pretty sure it’s 15 to 20 MB — and Apple doesn’t know what the cap is for corporate email accounts.)

I received the images in Gmail. The result was surprisingly attractive …

Screen Shot 2016 06 30 at 10 06 32 AM

The email was composed of thumbnails, if you click on an image you get …

Screen Shot 2016 06 30 at 10 06 13 AM

Since there’s no authentication one can send the message to oneself and forwards. I don’t normally use iCloud mail, but I could use it for distributing sports team images by sending the email to my gmail account then redirecting it.

If you want to provide a package of images that can be downloaded all at one time you need to compress them first and upload the archive. When I use this feature to share sports team photos I’ll probably do both — attach the images separately and include an archive. I may also share the archive URL in a team web page.

Apple has been curiously quiet about this feature. It may be the best way to distribute archival images available anywhere.

Here’s an edited example of an image URL, emphases mine:

- fn -

[1] It’s 20MB and there doesn’t seem to be a stable technique for lowering the threshold. This would be much nicer if it were manually adjustable. I’ll create a 15MB “filler file” to attach to emails I send to my gmail account, then I’ll resend from there stripping the filler file.

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