iOS 14 Photos "captions" is useful but half-baked

If you use iCloud Photo Library and make a point of labeling your photos and videos, you surely have noticed the new “captions” feature in Photos on iOS 14.

The Photo Library on your Mac has, for a long time, had several ways to add textual metadata to your photos:

  • the Title
  • the Description
  • Keywords
  • the filename, which is a more primitive approach, but can be helpful especially when the files were imported from an external source, in which case the previous 3 methods don’t exist.

Up until iOS 14, none of these 4 text fields were visible on iOS 14 (although some were still searchable). You also could not modify any of these on iOS. So if you just took a photo and wanted to tag it as “James Olson Cedartop Guitar”, for example, you couldn’t do it until you got home to your Mac, at which point you may have forgotten what you were looking at (that’s my dream guitar, btw, if anyone’s buying. About $30K these days.)

Well, now you can do it on your iPhone using the new Captions feature.

The trick here is to know that Captions on iOS 14 syncs to the traditional Description field on Photos on your Mac. I don’t have Big Sur yet (I’m scared it will corrupt my email or photo library until it’s tested better); but it would make sense if they made things consistent by renaming Description in Photos to “Caption”. Hopefully that will happen.

But it still leaves the matter open that iOS users don’t have access to viewing or modifying the Title or Keywords fields.

This does raise the valid point that it’s never been particularly clear when to use Title vs. Description (now Caption). They are both basically equivalent, the latter ostensibly being designed for something more verbose, and possibly designed to map to a printable template for a photo album more attractively. But my guess is that Apple realizes that this is too confusing for mobile users, so they are coalescing the two down to one in that context.

I might be okay with that, although it does raise the question of how to view/change the years of Titles that already exist in my library. But more importantly, I still need access to Keywords. Those are essential for tagging and searching. And frankly, they are more mobile-friendly because they are normally just selected from a list of ones you have previously created (less typing / auto-complete).

So, Captions seems half-baked. It will be useful in a pinch. But it leaves lots of issues unaddressed.

Have any of you guys run into these issues? What ideas do you have?


I agree that it seems very half-baked. I’m also annoyed that I can’t view photo metadata in the Photos app in iOS.

This is what happens when Apple has different teams working on the Photos app. One group works on the iOS version, another on the Mac OS version and a third works on iCloud. And they apparently never talk to one another, each team operating with a different product manager and different priorities.

RESULT: Half-Bake second rate software.

Okay, two more “notes from the field” on this subject, based on today’s video editing…

I have a bunch of performance videos broken up by songs. I want to label them with the name of the song. I decided to use the Description field in Photos for Mac so that this will show up on my iPhone later on as the Caption. But the Description field is not visible when browsing through your library thumbnails in Photos on the Mac. You can View -> Metadata -> Titles, Keywords, etc. But Description is not one of them. So, in order to see the song names, I’d have to open up the Info window for one video at a time. Lame!

And the next problem…

When I go to export the videos, for later upload to YouTube, I want the file names to reflect the song name. The export feature has long had an option to name the file based on the Title of the video. But this feature is not available for the Description field.

So once again, I’m screwed.

For these two issues, I can hope that Photos on Big Sur fixes things. But I’m not optimistic that more than a few minor fixes to this broken experience will be deployed.

Out of curiousity, do you have contacts within Apple who have said this?

Update: Photos in Big Sur does rename Description to Caption. That’s something.

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