I blogged a while ago about the new Apple Photos for Mac, and gave the post a rather intemperate title because I was frustrated by the application’s refusal to connect to the Store to print a book, and by the outrageously high pricing of Apple’s iCloud storage options.
A lot of tech pundits scratch their heads about why Apple charges (in general) about twice as much for online backup as their nearest competitors, but the answer is simple. They gouge you for storage space because their ideal customer is a consumer who doesn’t really understand or think about technology, wouldn’t consider alternatives, and just pays what Apple charges because it’s Apple and it works with their phone. Most people aren’t very interested in the nuts and bolts and just want stuff that works. That’s Apple’s core market, not the likes of me or the podcasting crowd who know what else is out there.
Something else that is out there – now – is Google’s own Photos app and online service. For a Mac user, the disadvantage is that the Mac interface is browser-based. For an iPhone user, even the icon of Google Photos looks familiar, and what it allows you to do is compelling.
In my assessment of Apple Photos I said I’d rather continue investing in one or two printed books per year to keep my best photos safe. Now Google are offering free, unlimited* backup of all your photos, whilst offering a few very clever features to help you sort through the vast number of images in your library.
I’ve been keeping my own library lean because of how slow iPhoto was, and since switching to Aperture I’ve been trying to delete the out-of-focus or badly composed pictures. I wasn’t trying hard enough though, so last week (when I was on holiday and had time on my hands), I went through all my photos and ruthlessly culled another 300+, reducing my current library (which only goes back about a year) to about 530. I have older libraries on hard drives and DVDs, and a long term ambition is to re-import them and combine them, whilst deleting at least 50 percent of them.
What this means is that when I installed Google Photos, I only had 530 or so pictures to synch to the service. This took several hours – the bulk of it happened overnight, while my phone was plugged in to charge. So if you have a good-sized photo library (and I know there are people out there with 10,000 or so), the initial synch might take several days.
Everyone knows Google is creepy, and that free doesn’t mean free. You pay with data. In this case, you’re letting Google look at all your pictures. All digital photos have metadata, and you’re telling Google a hell of a lot by uploading your pictures. What does Google do with this data? Of course, they’re going to try to monetise it at some point. Now, I’m not keen on advertising and don’t use Facebook, but I do use Gmail. Some people complain about Gmail ads, but I never see them because I access Gmail through Apple Mail. Also, I’m not busy and important enough to get much email, and not much of it matters. I’m not the kind of person who takes naked selfies or whatever, so I figure there’s nothing much in my Photostream that I care if anyone sees. I already upload to Flickr and Instagram (yes, owned by Facebook), so I decided not to be fussy about Google.
It’s what else Google can do with the photos and their metadata that interests me. One thing is the automatic creation of animated Gifs from your burst shots (or banks of very similar photos). You get a notification from the Assistant that Google has created something for you, and there it is. It also occasionally applies a filter to a photo and wants to show it to you, like a keen student who has just discovered Photoshop.
Over and above this are the Collections, which include Albums and Stories. You an create these yourself, but Google can also create them automatically. The app looks at the time/date and location metadata, and puts related photos together in a time-line, together with location maps (!) and spaces for you to add explanatory captions. If there was a person doing this, it would be decidedly creepy, but artificial intelligence (aka machine learning)? Not so much. It’s just strikingly clever, even supplying titles and an end credit. It’s the sort of clever thing that you want to share with others. So you can see where Google is going with this.
This example selected photos and videos from my last Xmas stay in France, and even took note of when we went out for a meal (in a snowstorm, natch), supplying a map and noting the table decorations, as well as the snowy aftermath (above).
All in all, this is worth a look, unless you have lots of nudes or some other reason why you wouldn’t want Google looking over your shoulder.
*There is a paid option if you want to upload uncompressed image files over a 15GB storage space limit. Otherwise, Google is going to compress your pics and give you “good enough” versions.