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How to view embedded 'favourite' data in a JPEG pic taken via iOS device (in Windows)

Posted on 2016-11-10
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Last Modified: 2016-11-30
When going through my pics on my iPhone, I'm able to mark them as a 'favourite'. I use a Windows PC primarily, and want to be able to view this data via some means on that OS, once the pictures are copied across. I would have assumed that Apple used a custom data field within the JPEGs EXIF data or the like, but all viewers I've used don't seem to show a difference with the data fields and entries on files I've marked as favourites versus ones I haven't. However, I do notice that when I mark a picture as a favourite under iOS, the modification time stamp on the file is updated.

I suspect Apple are doing something non-standard here (wouldn't be the first time!) but does anyone have insite as to where the 'favourite' field is set, and how I might be able to view that data (better still, do searches on the basis of it) on the MS Windows 10 platform.

Many thanks! :-)
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Question by:bluemercury
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by:darbid73
darbid73 earned 500 total points
ID: 41882404
When you make an image a favorite on your apple device you are not changing something with respect to the image itself.  The operating system iOS has a small image database which, for this image has an isFavorite flag which is set to true.  In case you are a developer here is the reference to the things in this little database for all media types (images, audit, video)

Thus only your Apple Devices that support iPhoto or similar kinds of apps that not only display the image but read these little databases will be able to show you your favorites.
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by:Joe Winograd, EE MVE
ID: 41882416
I don't have an iPhone and don't know anything about iOS, but I do have a recommendation on two (free!) metadata viewers — Phil Harvey's amazing ExifTool and Calvin Hass' also amazing JPEGsnoop:

http://www.sno.phy.queensu.ca/~phil/exiftool/
http://www.impulseadventure.com/photo/jpeg-snoop.html

Perhaps one of them will show something that the viewers you've tried so far have not shown. Regards, Joe
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by:Kyle Santos
ID: 41882490
You could go to https://www.icloud.com/ and see your favorites there, and download them to your desktop.  (Assuming you have your devices synced to the cloud.)
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by:bluemercury
ID: 41883033
Hi Darbid73.

That is exactly what I wondered. What I found interesting (having run a couple of little tests), is if I mark an image as a favourite on my iPhone, it updates the modified date / time on the actual file with that moment in time. So I vainly hoped that (even though I anticipated there would be such a DB) iOS would double up in some way, putting something in the meta data for the actual JPEG file. I can only therefore assume that it is doing this file mod for some other reason (perhaps the DB itself updates the modified date when the entry is written to the DB).

Do you know of other apps that are capable of reading the photos DB and perhaps making a list of all images that have been 'favourited'? The problem is, my storage is full on my iPhone, and I need to remove old pics - but it would be nice to retain some kind of record of the pics marked as favourite, even if just a list to refer to.

Thanks for your suggestions, Joe. The first one I've already used some time back, and remember it being a great tool. Looks like the best EXIF viewer in the world isn't going to help out on this one though :-(

Interesting suggestion Kyle - I'm going to check that out. At present, I just use iCloud for the Image State type backups and Photo Stream. I might see if I can roll with something along these lines to sync just my favourites to iCloud, then download from there. That would be good enough!

Cheers all :-)
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by:Joe Winograd, EE MVE
ID: 41883054
> sync just my favourites to iCloud, then download from there

If you can do that, you can then add a custom tag using ExifTool. Should be fairly easy to write a script that would loop through all of them, making it an automated process to add the custom tag to all of your favs.
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by:bluemercury
ID: 41883067
Sounds great Joe, I was thinking of doing something along those lines :-)

Cheers for the thought!
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by:darbid73
ID: 41883075
On my iPhone 7 with the native photo app I can view all my favorites.  I can then Select all of these favorites. After Selected I can choose "Add to" at the bottom and then add them to a new Album. Once you've done that does windows now see that Album so you can now just copy them or make your own list from what you see in windows explorer?
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bluemercury earned 0 total points
ID: 41901843
Hi darbid73.

Thanks for the suggestion, and sorry for being slow in replying. Unfortuantely, the way the images are served up to Windows Explorer couldn't be made to work like that. Apple just makes the pictures appear in DCIM subfolders, titled 100APPLE, 101APPLE, 102APPLE, etc. Each folder contains up to 1000 pictures, with an ongoing counter starting 'IMG_1001', or such like. After 'IMG_9999' it loops back to the beginning again.

In short, whatever folders I create in the iOS Photo app, Windows does not see. And as we've already established, the favourites flag is set in the iOS photos DB, which Windows isn't given access to.

I worked out a simple way of handling this and finding a solution to my problem. I took my normal backups in iTunes and copied all files to my server before doing anything (well, this is done every night anyway). Then, on the iPhone, I made sure my deleted photos folder was empty. I then went into the pictures marked as favourites in the photo app, and deleted them all, moving them to the deleted folder, where they are safe for 30 days. THEN (having unplugged and replugged my iPhone) in MS Windows Explorer, I selected all photos and videos it could see on the iPhone and deleted them. The beauty here is that Explorer cannot see the content of the deleted photos folder under iOS, so I'd effectively filtered out my favourites.

So with this deletion of everything else done, back to my iPhone, and my camera roll is empty. Now I go back into deleted items, restore them all and all I'm left with now on my phone is my favourite items. I can copy and keep these in an additional folder on my PC, which save for using a little extra space, defines my favourites without doing anything more. If I could really be bothered, I could give them all a star rating with the EXIF batch tools available.

It's a heath robinson resolution, but it is working quite well. Sorry for not sharing before.

Fundementally, your initial comment is spot on that the favourites data is stored in the photos DB, and so I'm awarding you the points as this defined the answer to my question. Many thanks for your help, and the input from everyone else too :-)
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by:Joe Winograd, EE MVE
ID: 41901859
You're welcome. Happy to help. And thanks to you for sharing your solution. Regards, Joe
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by:bluemercury
ID: 41906999
Ultimately worked out a heath robinson solution utilising the deleted folder in the iOS app in a leapfrog approach, but Darbid73 answered my initial question (and suspicion) that the meta data concerning whether a picture is a favourite or not is stored in the iOS photo DB, and not in the EXIF data of the image files themselves. Thanks a lot!
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