iOS 16 introduces a new way to share photos with friends and family. With iCloud Shared Photo Library, coming to iPhone this fall with the iOS 16 software update, you’ll be able to bring all your photos together in one place, swapping memories with an audience of your choice.
“Doesn’t iOS already support shared albums?” you might ask. And it is indeed the case. But iCloud Shared Photo Library handles things differently, seeking to make it easier to manage and download folders in that shared library. Plus, the people you share with have the same powers as you, with the ability to add, delete, and even edit shared photos.
iCloud Shared Photo Library was a recent arrival in the iOS 16 beta, only appearing as of iOS 16 Developer Beta 3 released last week. But since Apple included this flagship feature of iOS 16 during its June preview, we know a bit more about how the new Shared Photo Library works before the iOS 16 public beta releases this month- this.
How to Set Up an iCloud Shared Photo Library
One of the differences between iCloud Shared Photo Library and existing shared libraries in the current version of iOS is how you set things up. Standard shared libraries are created in the Photos app on your iPhone. But according to people who have used the iOS 16 developer beta, you create your iCloud Shared Photo Library from the Settings app, by adjusting one of the Photos settings.
Launching your iCloud Shared Photo Library is as easy as flipping a switch. From there, you’re prompted to add people to share photos with — up to six people can be in a shared library.
Once you’ve decided who you’re going to share with, it’s time to decide what you’re going to share. You can include your entire photo library, if you want, but there’s also an option to choose people features in photos or photos from a set date range (or both, if you prefer).
These selection options really take advantage of the Photos app’s facial recognition features as well as metadata about your images to eliminate a lot of the manual work of adding images to a shared library (although you have the option of ‘add photos manually if you prefer. )
Shared Library vs Personal Library in Photos
From what I can tell so far, there really isn’t a separate album or section of the Photos app that hosts your iCloud Shared Photo Library. Any photos you’ve shared to iCloud simply exist in your library alongside the photos you keep to yourself. It’s a bit different from the way iOS currently handles things where the Albums tab in Photos has a dedicated area for shared albums.
Instead, in iOS 16 there will now be filters at the top of the Library tab that allow you to view your personal photos, your shared photos, or both of these libraries at once. It’s unclear if there will be a visual designation for shared photos in the same way as photos from your library that arrived on your iPhone via Messages. (These photos have a small word bubble in the lower left corner.)
Since shared albums are already an ingrained concept, the idea of personal and shared photos living side-by-side in a single tab might be hard for some iOS users to grasp. We’ll have to spend some time with iOS 16 once the beta arrives to see how seamless and natural it feels.
How Sharing Works with an iCloud Shared Photo Library
Besides the sharing that takes place when you set up your iCloud Shared Photo Library, you’ll find some other great tips for adding photos as you capture them. You’ll have the option in the Camera app to add the photos you take directly with people who are part of your shared library.
Apple says you’ll be able to switch back to shooting images that are only stored in your personal library, but the usefulness of this feature will depend on how smoothly the switch in the camera app is.
An even cooler way to share photos involves proximity-based sharing, which happens when you’re around people who are in your iCloud Shared Photo Library, such as at a party or on a family vacation.
In these cases, the photos you take will automatically be added to the shared library, although this will likely require people close to you to also be using iPhones running iOS 16.
The For You tab in Photos looks like another area where you’ll find suggested pictures for your iCloud Shared Photo library. This tab currently serves photo collections called Memories – one of my favorite additions in iOS 15 Photos – and now it will include photos of people included in your shared library. You can add them in one click.
Edit shared photos in your iCloud Shared Photo Library
One of the things about current shared libraries is that they’re pretty static – you can make changes to photos stored on your device, but unless you add them to the shared folder, everyone will always see the same Photo.
This is not the case with iCloud shared photo libraries, where everyone has the right to edit a photo. And it’s not just about tweaking: Shared folder participants can also edit captions, keywords, and other metadata. They can even delete photos, although you’ll get a notification and the option to keep the photo in your own library when this happens.
iCloud Shared Photo Library Outlook
As noted above, this is a feature we’ll need to test thoroughly to see if it’s a real improvement over how Shared Photos works today. The ability for everyone to edit and manage photos sounds like a solid addition, but the fact that shared photos are stored next to your personal library sounds like something that might trip people up.
Apple’s goal with iCloud Shared Photo Library is to remove the remaining barriers that prevent you from sharing photos with friends and family by making the process virtually automatic. We’ll see how well they’ve delivered on that promise once we have more time with the iOS 16 public beta.