Yesterday’s article described various techniques for resizing images using APIs from the UIKit, Core Graphics, Core Image, and Image I/O frameworks. However, that article failed to mention some rather extraordinary functionality baked into the new Photos framework which takes care of all of this for you.

For anyone developing apps that manage photos or videos, meet your new best friend: PHImageManager.

New in iOS 8, the Photos framework is something of a triumph for the platform. Photography is one of the key verticals for the iPhone: in addition to being the most popular cameras in the world, photo & video apps are regularly featured on the App Store. This framework goes a long way to empower apps to do even more, with a shared set of tools and primitives.

A great example of this is PHImageManager, which acts as a centralized coordinator for image assets. Previously, each app was responsible for creating and caching their own image thumbnails. In addition to requiring extra work on the part of developers, redundant image caches could potentially add up to gigabytes of data across the system. But with PHImageManager, apps don’t have to worry about resizing or caching logistics, and can instead focus on building out features.

Requesting Asset Images

PHImageManager provides several APIs for asynchronously fetching image and video data for assets. For a given asset, a PHImageManager can request an image at a particular size and content mode, with a high degree of configurability in terms of quality and delivery options.

But first, here’s a simple example of how a table view might asynchronously load cell images with asset thumbnails:

import Photos

var assets: [PHAsset]

func tableView(tableView: UITableView, cellForRowAtIndexPath indexPath: NSIndexPath) -> UITableViewCell {
    let cell = tableView.dequeueReusableCellWithIdentifier("Cell", forIndexPath: indexPath)

    let manager = PHImageManager.defaultManager()

    if cell.tag != 0 {

    let asset = assets[indexPath.row]

    if let creationDate = asset.creationDate {
        cell.textLabel?.text = NSDateFormatter.localizedStringFromDate(creationDate,
            dateStyle: .MediumStyle,
            timeStyle: .MediumStyle
    } else {
        cell.textLabel?.text = nil

    cell.tag = Int(manager.requestImageForAsset(asset,
        targetSize: CGSize(width: 100.0, height: 100.0),
        contentMode: .AspectFill,
        options: nil) { (result, _) in
            cell.imageView?.image = result

    return cell

API usage is pretty straightforward: the defaultManager asynchronously requests an image for the asset corresponding to the cell at a particular index path, and the cell image view is set whenever the result comes back. The only tricky part is handling cell reuse—(1) before assigning the resulting image to the cell’s image view, we call cellForRowAtIndexPath to be sure we’re working with the right cell, and (2) we use the cell’s tag to keep track of image requests, in order to cancel any pending requests when a cell is reused.

Batch Pre-Caching Asset Images

If there’s reasonable assurance that most of a set of assets will be viewed at some point, it may make sense to pre-cache those images. PHCachingImageManager is a subclass of PHImageManager designed to do just that.

For example, here’s how the results of a PHAsset fetch operation can be pre-cached in order to optimize image availability:

let cachingImageManager = PHCachingImageManager()

let options = PHFetchOptions()
options.predicate = NSPredicate(format: "favorite == YES")
options.sortDescriptors = [
    NSSortDescriptor(key: "creationDate", ascending: true)

let results = PHAsset.fetchAssetsWithMediaType(.Image, options: options)
var assets: [PHAsset] = []
results.enumerateObjectsUsingBlock { (object, _, _) in
    if let asset = object as? PHAsset {

    targetSize: PHImageManagerMaximumSize,
    contentMode: .AspectFit,
    options: nil

Alternatively, Swift willSet / didSet hooks offer a convenient way to automatically start pre-caching assets as they are loaded:

let cachingImageManager = PHCachingImageManager()
var assets: [PHAsset] = [] {
    willSet {

    didSet {
            targetSize: PHImageManagerMaximumSize,
            contentMode: .AspectFit,
            options: nil


In the previous examples, the options parameter of requestImageForAsset() & startCachingImagesForAssets() have been set to nil. Passing an instance of PHImageRequestOptions allows for fine-grained control over what gets loaded and how.

PHImageRequestOptions has the following properties:

  • deliveryMode PHImageRequestOptionsDeliveryMode: (Described Below)
  • networkAccessAllowed Bool: Will download the image from iCloud, if necessary.
  • normalizedCropRect CGRect: Specify a crop rectangle in unit coordinates of the original image.
  • progressHandler: Provide caller a way to be told how much progress has been made prior to delivering the data when it comes from iCloud. Defaults to nil, shall be set by caller
  • resizeMode PHImageRequestOptionsResizeMode: .None, .Fast, or .Exact. Does not apply when size is PHImageManagerMaximumSize.
  • synchronous Bool: Return only a single result, blocking until available (or failure). Defaults to NO
  • version PHImageRequestOptionsVersion: .Current, .Unadjusted, or .Original

Several of these properties take a specific enum type, which are all pretty self explanatory, save for PHImageRequestOptionsDeliveryMode, which encapsulates some pretty complex behavior:


  • .Opportunistic: Photos automatically provides one or more results in order to balance image quality and responsiveness. Photos may call the resultHandler block method more than once, such as to provide a low-quality image suitable for displaying temporarily while it prepares a high-quality image. If the image manager has already cached the requested image, Photos calls your result handler only once. This option is not available if the synchronous property is false.
  • .HighQualityFormat: Photos provides only the highest-quality image available, regardless of how much time it takes to load. If the synchronous property is true or if using the requestImageDataForAsset:options:resultHandler: method, this behavior is the default and only option.
  • .FastFormat: Photos provides only a fast-loading image, possibly sacrificing image quality. If a high-quality image cannot be loaded quickly, the result handler provides a low-quality image. Check the PHImageResultIsDegradedKey key in the info dictionary to determine the quality of image provided to the result handler.

Cropping Asset To Detected Faces Using 2-Phase Image Request

Using PHImageManager and PHImageRequestOptions to their full capacity allows for rather sophisticated functionality. One could, for example, use successive image requests to crop full-quality assets to any faces detected in the image.

let asset: PHAsset

@IBOutlet weak var imageView: UIImageView!
@IBOutlet weak var progressView: UIProgressView!

override func viewDidLoad() {

    let manager = PHImageManager.defaultManager()

    let initialRequestOptions = PHImageRequestOptions()
    initialRequestOptions.synchronous = true
    initialRequestOptions.resizeMode = .Fast
    initialRequestOptions.deliveryMode = .FastFormat

        targetSize: CGSize(width: 250.0, height: 250.0),
        contentMode: .AspectFit,
        options: initialRequestOptions) { (initialResult, _) in
            guard let ciImage = initialResult?.CIImage else {

            let finalRequestOptions = PHImageRequestOptions()
            finalRequestOptions.progressHandler = { (progress, _, _, _) in
                self.progressView.progress = Float(progress)

            let detector = CIDetector(
                ofType: CIDetectorTypeFace,
                context: nil,
                options: [CIDetectorAccuracy: CIDetectorAccuracyLow]

            let features = detector.featuresInImage(ciImage)
            if features.count > 0 {
                var rect = CGRectZero
                features.forEach {

                let transform = CGAffineTransformMakeScale(1.0 / initialResult!.size.width, 1.0 / initialResult!.size.height)
                finalRequestOptions.normalizedCropRect = CGRectApplyAffineTransform(rect, transform)

                targetSize: PHImageManagerMaximumSize,
                contentMode: .AspectFit,
                options: finalRequestOptions) { (finalResult, _) in
                    self.imageView.image = finalResult

The initial request attempts to get the most readily available representation of an asset to pass into a CIDetector for facial recognition. If any features were detected, the final request would be cropped to them, by specifying the normalizedCropRect on the final PHImageRequestOptions.

normalizedCropRect is normalized for origin and size components within the inclusive range 0.0 to 1.0. An affine transformation scaling on the inverse of the original frame makes for an easy calculation.

From its very inception, iOS has been a balancing act between functionality and integrity. And with every release, a combination of thoughtful affordances and powerful APIs have managed to expand the role third-party applications without compromising security or performance.

By unifying functionality for fetching, managing, and manipulating photos, the Photos framework will dramatically raise the standards for existing apps, while simultaneously lowering the bar for developing apps, and is a stunning example of why developers tend to prefer iOS as a platform.


Questions? Corrections? Issues and pull requests are always welcome.

This article uses Swift version 2.0 and was last reviewed on September 15, 2015. Find status information for all articles on the status page.

Written by Mattt

Mattt (@mattt) is a writer and developer in Portland, Oregon.

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