Flickr for iPhone Gets Honest-to-Goodness Automatic Uploads

With iOS7, photos reach the cloud without opening the app.

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Yahoo’s Flickr just became a lot more useful on the iPhone, allowing users to automatically store the phone’s camera photos online.

Flickr relaunched in May, providing a terabyte of free storage to all users. While some Flickr veterans griped about the site’s new design and changes to the service’s premium offerings, no other cloud storage service comes close to the terabyte that Flickr is offering. (Google+ offers unlimited photo uploads, but only by cutting resolution to 2048 pixels wide.)

Uploading photos used to be a chore in Flickr’s iPhone app, because you could only upload one photo at a time. Now with auto-uploads, you don’t even have to go into the app. Every photo you snap with the iPhone’s camera beams up to Yahoo’s servers automatically. The only thing you’ll want to do first is go into Flickr’s settings and change automatic uploads to Wi-Fi only, unless you want to risk using up too much of your data plan.

As far as I know, this is the first online storage app to take advantage of the Background App Refresh feature in iOS 7, the latest version of Apple’s software. Background App Refresh doesn’t get much attention, but it makes iOS much more useful. As the name suggests, it let apps to perform tasks at any time, even when you’re not running them. For example, in the third-party Gmail app Mailbox, new messages are ready to read when you open the app–no more waiting for them to load.

In the past, Apple was stricter about background tasks. With the exception of location services like Google Maps and music apps like Pandora, apps were prohibited from doing anything in the background after about 10 minutes. For apps like Dropbox and Google+, the only way to trigger background uploads was to open the app. Dropbox ended up creating a workaround that pinged your location to keep uploads alive, but that’s not ideal. As I wrote when BitTorrent Sync launched its iOS and Android apps, the iPhone version was at a major disadvantage.

In my testing today, the background upload process wasn’t quite flawless. After snapping a photo, it often took 15 or 20 minutes for that photo to show up on Flickr’s website. And I still have some gripes with the Flickr app itself. It’s still way too difficult to delete photos — doing so requires five taps on the screen, and there’s no way to delete multiple photos at once — and a batch uploading tool would still be helpful. (Correction: You can delete photos faster by switching to “List View” in the top right corner, then swiping each photo to bring up a “Delete” button.) But I’m glad to have another way to make my photos available online without relying on Apple’s PhotoStream.

As for Android users, a Yahoo representative wouldn’t comment, except to say, “We’re committed to designing beautiful and engaging products that are available wherever our users are.” iPhone users can download the Flickr app here.