The Complete Guide to PHPicker API in iOS 14

Updated on January 30th, 2021

⏱ Reading Time: 3 mins

This is a post contributed to AppCoda. Here you can read only the introduction.

Importing photos and videos as media items is one of the most common features that the majority of iOS applications include. In general lines, there are two ways to do that; either by using a system-provided controller, or by implementing a custom picker manually. Obviously, going with the second approach is a much harder and complicated process.

In this post we are going to focus on the first option, and particularly on a brand new photo picker controller that was first introduced in iOS 14. That is the PHPicker API! Let’s take a look at a few interesting and useful details, but let’s do that starting from a different point.

Up until iOS 13, the available photo picker to use had been the UIImagePickerController; a familiar view controller that made its debut many years back. UIImagePickerController has been providing double functionality; the first is photo and videos importing to the app, and the other capture of new media using a camera from the iPhone or iPad.

This controller, however, carries along two disadvantages; the first is that it provides a relatively limited environment to pick media items from. Users can select one photo or video at each time only, while there’s no option to search for specific items when there are many of those stored in user’s library. The second downside is that developers are required to ask from users for their consent in order to present it, and therefore add new entries in the app’s Info.plist file with a description of the intended use.

PHPicker changes all that, and makes importing photos and videos an easier and faster task. First of all, its greatest feature is that it allows both single and multiple item selection, a feature that is definitely much appreciated by users. In addition, it offers a search feature in a picker similar to the Photos app, so users meet a familiar place; they already know how to move and what to do when such a picker is presented to them.

Also, and contrarily to the UIImagePickerController, PHPicker provides a better privacy and does not require to ask for user consent so it can be used. Even though an app can trigger its presentation, the picker runs in a separate process where users can select only type of media necessary for their tasks, and do nothing beyond that; not even to get a snapshot of the picker. So, with PHPicker, simply forget about usage descriptions and rely on the built-in iOS privacy.

To get the photos and videos that users have picked and handle them in our apps, PHPicker transfers them over temporarily and offers a few ways to fetch them. We are going to see all the related how-to in the upcoming parts of this post. However, before we continue, keep something important in mind; PHPicker is not a class, nor a framework. It’s just a name that hides classes and other types behind it, where all of them belong to the PhotosUI framework, also announced in WWDC 2020.

What PHPicker does not do is to offer capture capabilities. If an app wants to do so, then the UIImagePickerController is still the way to go. Also, apps running on iOS 13 and below cannot use PHPicker APIs; it’s meant for iOS 14 and above only.

That being said, in this tutorial we are going to meet PHPicker and all necessary actions that will let us import photos, videos and live photos to a demo application. We will have the chance to talk about some not so much known techniques, and we’ll see various aspects of PHPicker, such as how to configure it or how to handle picked items. In the mix we will also add pinches of SwiftUI, so get ready for a really interesting post!

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