iCloud for Windows creates a single folder with 44,000 items

Trigger Warning: A First World problem.

A recent example of software engineering from the best and brightest of Silicon Valley is iCloud for Windows version 11. Want to see the picture that you just took on your phone? It will be zapped automatically to \Pictures\iCloud Photos\Photos … where it is mixed in with 44,000+ additional photos and videos that you’ve taken since 2014 (thumbnails only, which load slowly even with a 1 Gbit fiber connection).

Yes, a single flat directory of however many thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of photos and videos that you’ve ever taken. Even worse, the software no longer converts from Apple’s unconventional choice of HEIC to JPEG. Except that if you edit the photo on the device, e.g., because the orientation sensor got it wrong, the corrected version comes through as a JPEG. So now you’ve got a directory with a mixture of HEIC and JPEG files.

Is there any way to change this behavior? The 10.x version of iCloud would take the HEIC files captured by the phone, convert them to JPEG, and actually download them into a \Pictures\iCloud Photos\Downloads

Stylish Macintosh users: does it work the same way on the Mac? One enormous flat folder with every photo that you’ve ever taken?

(Maybe Apple is just leading the way into a HEIC future? Apparently not. The Apple-brand silicone case for the iPhone 11 Pro Max failed and I tried to send them a picture of the failure so they’d send me a replacement. Apple support has a web-based system for uploading “files”. If you try to upload a photo that you took with Apple’s own device, from Apple’s own browser (Safari), into Apple’s own server, it fails with no further explanation. If you try to do it from Windows, you get the same unexplained failure. If you convert the HEIC to JPEG on Windows and then upload… it works.)

9 thoughts on “iCloud for Windows creates a single folder with 44,000 items

  1. I don’t have an iPhone 11 but you can download the HEIF Image Extension for the Windows 10 PC. Note that you may have to buy the HEVC Video Extensions app. for $0.99 also. I have no help to offer regarding the flat default directory.




  2. On a Mac you don’t see this file structure directly and interact with it through Photos app, which is reasonably snappy.

  3. If the mixture of HEICs and JPGs is an issue, you could make the iphone capture using the jpeg format:

    Settings>Camera>Formats>’Most Compatible’

    Will use up more space on the phone but probably not a problem if you are downloading the files regularly.

  4. Presumably, if there’s some database somewhere else doing some efficient indexing, it doesn’t matter how flat the file structure is. (and it might make some other aspect of coding or management incrementally simpler)

    • SuperMike: But there is no such magic database on native Windows! And the Apple coders presumably know that. Just the File Explorer program that might still have some of its original code from the 1980s. So they build a structure on Windows that is almost guaranteed to make users miserable. Why not at least divide by month?

    • “might make some other aspect of coding or management incrementally simpler” probably laziness

  5. On my Mac laptop you just use the Photos app which keeps the same folder structure from your phone and it works reasonably well – except it incomprehensibly and randomly changes which is the “cover” photo for your folders/albums and also replicates this change to your phone – and there is no way to set a picture as cover. Amazing.

    On my Windows desktop all you have is this bulk iCloud downloader software that doesn’t even maintain the folder, favorites or album structure as you say and it’s an absolutely ridiculous nightmare. I love my iPhone 11 Pro as a photographer but getting anything into a normal, useful workflow is inflicting war crimes on my brain.

    The lesson really is to live on your phone and never ever go near these “computer” things. Clearly the future intended for us all. The developers for computer support even for Apple’s own computers are clearly the B team/down-prioritized/uninterested (or non-existent) and don’t spend particularly much time or care on the experience. I’m not even sure why they bother with the Windows client at all when it’s so pointless and doesn’t support the basic features of their own system.

    • I would say the absolute minimum effort required and expected would be to at least put the album structure and favorite status into existing EXIF metadata fields like rating and tags. Then at least we can use some common and available software to replicate the structure on our computers.

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