In my iOS design work, I take a lot of screenshots for the purpose of measuring distances between elements. To quickly get an iOS screenshot onto my Mac, Image Capture used to do the trick. Then, with the upgrade to iOS 5, Image Capture became flaky for this purpose. I filed a bug report, Apple tried to address it; but the process remains iffy.

I gave up on Image Capture and used Dropbox. But if you’ve used Dropbox for this purpose, you know it involves several steps: launch the app, tap the Uploads tab, tap the add button, tap the photo, etc. etc. It works, but it wasn’t convenient enough.

I wanted something instantaneous. Fortunately, Ryan McCuaig was able to point me in the right direction. Follow these steps and you, too, can experience painless iOS screenshot sharing on your Mac.

Ensure all your iOS devices use Photo Stream

On each of your iPads, iPhones etc. check iCloud settings in the Settings app. Photo Stream should be set to On.

Locate the Photo Stream in the Finder

Since the user’s Library folder is now hidden by default, I can’t just give you the file path. In the Finder, option-click on the Go menu and hit “Library.” Then navigate to Application Support > iLifeAssetManagement > assets > sub. In the search filed, type “png”; then select “Portable Network Graphics image” from the popup.

Save the Search

Click the Save button under the search field. Give the saved search a name like “Screenshots.” Leave “Add to Sidebar” checked.

This ought to be the end, but it’s not. For some reason, this particular saved search acts up when accessed from the Finder sidebar (at least on my version of OS X). Sometimes it works, sometimes it returns zero results. The fix for this is to add it to the Dock instead. Hit up the contextual menu and do that.

(Note: a few folks have told me they don’t have “Add to Dock” in their contextual menu. Your alternative is to navigate to your Saved Searches folder in your Library folder — again: in the Finder, option-click on the Go menu and hit “Library.” The saved search you created should be in there.)

I recommend also removing the saved search from the sidebar via the same menu.

Now, you have a live-updating folder of all PNG images that arrive on your Mac via Photo Stream.

You’ll probably want to set this to Sort By > Date Created.

No, you won’t need to have iPhoto running for this to work. Take some screenshots on your iOS devices and they’ll automatically start showing up in this folder. Just keep in mind that a retina iPad screen can take a little bit to make its way through iCloud.

(If you wanted to get especially clever, you could add in pixel height and width metadata to filter screenshots from each device type into its own folder. The trick here is that those will vary with device orientation, so you’ll probably end up using a Raw Query — something like “kMDItemPixelHeight == 2048 || kMDItemPixelHeight == 1536” for retina iPad shots.)

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April 4, 2012