One of the Apple TV's nicest features is that it can automatically display your iPhone photos as a screensaver. But what if you don't have an iPhone, and what about those accidental blur-shots? Fortunately, there's a way to improve this feature using three old friends: IFTTT, Dropbox, and Automator.
I use an Android phone, and besides, I wouldn't want all of my photos to be put on display — some of them look downright terrible. Conversely, I tend to really appreciate the photos that I post to Instagram. Now that we've decided a good source for our images, we can start setting up this apparatus.
Part 1: IFTTT
IFTTT is pretty well loved 'round these parts, and with good reason: It's the web service's web service, and it's usually the first place you should turn when you're trying to smash any two of 'em together. In this case, we're going to use it to send all of our Instagram photos to Dropbox.
Hit the button to create a new recipe, and choose "Instagram" as your trigger channel. (If you haven't yet enabled that channel, you'll be prompted to.) Next, you'll be presented with a dozen different options. While you might find several of them useful, for right now, we're going to select the first option: "Any new photo by you." Whenever you upload a photograph to Instagram, this recipe will be triggered.
There's nothing special to do in step 3, so just hit "Create Trigger" to continue. The Action Channel you'll select is Dropbox, and the action is "Add file from URL." The default selections here will work just perfectly, although feel free to change the Dropbox folder path to something else. Whatever you choose, the path you set is where IFTTT will save your Instagram photos as JPGs.
Hit "Create Action" and "Create Recipe," and you're all done with IFTTT!
Part 2: Automator
Great! We're automatically pulling down all our beautiful snapshots, but how do we get them from the computer to Apple TV? For that, we turn to Automator, a little workhorse who lives in the Applications folder and gets far too little attention. It can be a little intimidating if you've never used it before, but I promise, it's not as bad as it looks.
When you first start up Automator, you'll be asked to choose from seven different types of documents. Since we'll be working with files getting tossed into a single folder (the Dropbox folder that accepts the JPGs sent to it by IFTTT), choose Folder Action.
Pay no attention to the two left sidebars for now; instead, let's start at the top. Under the "Choose folder" dropdown menu, click "Other..." and select the same folder you wrote a path to in IFTTT. In my case, that is the same as the default: ~/Dropbox/IFTTT/Instagram
Next, make sure the "Actions" button in the upper-left is selected, rather than the "Variables" one. The choices here can be a little overwhelming, so let's narrow things down a bit by typing "iPhoto" in the search field.
The option called, "Import Files into iPhoto," is the one we want. Drag and drop it to your workflow space at the right. Next, you'll need to name the album you want these added to. You could simply add them to "My Photo Stream," but that may run the risk of deletion after 30 days — I simply went with a new album called "Instagram."
If you don't want the images cluttering up your Dropbox and hard drive, tick the box marked, "Delete the Source Images After Importing Them." Hit File -> Save, and your folder action should automatically be associated with your Instagram folder, ready for use.
Now we have to take a brief jaunt over to iPhoto, so open that up and go to Preferences. Under the "iCloud" tab (called "Photo Stream" in older versions), check the first three boxes: "My Photo Stream," "Automatic Import," and "Automatic Upload."
Part 3: Apple TV
This is it, the home stretch! Now we just need to tell the Apple TV to use those images in iPhoto as a screen saver.
iCloud Photos should be one of the default icons on your home screen, so go there now. You'll be prompted to sign in to iCloud yet again, and then it will ask if you'd like to use iCloud Photos as your screen saver. Choose "Yes," and you're done! If you add more photos to My Photo Stream manually, they'll eventually make their way over, too.
This can be useful for far more than Instagram photos, too. Any image that you can siphon into Automator's watch folder will be imported into iPhoto, then handed off to the Apple TV. Some other IFTTT recipes you might want to try out include Instagram photos your significant other uploads, pictures you're tagged in on Facebook, and images you upload to 500px. Share any other permutations you can think of in the comments!