Streamlining background uploads on iOS with Geofences

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Back in early 2013, we introduced two key features essential in making your DiskStation mobile-friendly: DS cloud to extend Cloud Station and make your files available on your iOS and Android devices, and Instant Upload (1) in DS photo+, to backup all the pictures and videos taken with these same smartphones and tablets.

Since their launch, we’ve been regularly enhancing them. However a frequent suggestion we received from our iOS users was to allow the data transmission to continue with the app in the background. Obviously, the need to open the app was not a design flaw but a restriction imposed by iOS itself: to improve this, Geofences have recently been added to DS photo+ and DS cloud. So lets take a look at how they work.

iOS vs Android, 2 very different philosophies

To better understand the need for Geofences in the first place, a quick reminder of how the 2 major mobile operating systems differ in their design. The Android ecosystem takes a more laissez-faire approach to what developers can do, contrasting with Apple’s guidelines for stricter control over things. Video playback is the best example: limited native codec support of an iOS device doesn’t stem from hardware capabilities, but reflects Apple’s integrated ecosystem approach which boils down to: “use iDevices with iFormats via iProtocols to be sure you won’t run into compatibility issues”.

Performing tasks in the background is the other major difference between the two systems, and leads to this common issue we mentioned when using Instant Upload to back up photos: where the Android version detects new photos taken by the camera just as long as the phone is turned on, iOS only allows this when DS photo+ is open and the few minutes after being closed. A restriction aimed at guaranteeing the good performances of your iPhone and improving its battery life: a noble intention, but a slight inconvenience nonetheless as it puts a bit of a damper on the “Instantness” of the uploads.

Using Geofences in DS photo+

To remedy to this, the phone maker from Cupertino has given some latitude to make apps work in the background under certain conditions. DS photo+ is leveraging this with Geofences. To create one, simply, give it a name… and that’s all you need to do: DS photo+ automatically registers the GPS location of your iOS device, defining a 200 meter-radius (2) around it. Each time you enter or exit (3) this geofence, the iOS system will give DS photo+ a free rein to detect and upload any new images, without the need to open the app!

 The benefits of using Geofences

The more observant of you may have noticed that Geofences are replacing the Background Upload option which was implemented recently, similar to the one used in other Cloud storage apps. Why such a short-lived career? Whereas “background uploads“ were triggered during “noticeable” changes in the location of the phone (i.e. randomly), defining a geofence gives you a clear and predictable idea of when the upload will occur. Typically during your next holidays, set up a geofence at your hotel, and your Camera Roll will be automatically uploaded onto your Synology everyday when you get back. “Location-based” backups, quite relevant since it’s a mobile device.

Geofences are going to bring about a great deal of convenience, removing one of the biggest hurdles iOS users had using our apps (4). Well don’t forget to open DS photo+ from time to time to not miss out on any the features we introduce regularly!

1. Instant Upload is now renamed Photo Backup
2. This parameter is given by the iOS system, based on our tests it may vary between 150 and 250 meters
3. iOS requires a change in location to allow background uploads: a photo taken when already inside the geofence won’t be immediately uploaded
4. In addition to DS photo+, our other app DS cloud gets geofences to optimise its background sync