I have taken 1235 photos and videos with my phone since May 28th, 2014, most of which I will never look at. Even if there are good photos, I’ll probably miss them. It’s just too much shit to crunch with my puny human brain. Can the new Google Photos help?
The new service is amongst the most exciting new products Google announced at today’s Google I/O keynote hoedown. The appealing features include unlimited storage for photos and videos, some neat UI tricks that make the tons of photos easier to navigate, and, perhaps most importantly, smart image recognition technology that makes your library of photos almost endlessly searchable. Google Photos promises to turn the cacophony of images you generate daily into sortable batches of photos you can pluck meaning from.
On unlimited storage
It’s unlimited, assuming you’re okay with a little compression. If you want to upload RAW files or TIFFs, you can, but it’ll count against your Google Drive storage limits. And sure there are people who might need to store uncompressed files, but at the Google Photos presentation this afternoon, we were shown a side-by-side comparison of compressed and uncompressed. Really, it seems there might not be much of a perceptible difference. In advanced editing it’ll make a difference but otherwise, just let Google do its middle-out smash.
On the UI design
Photos is pretty slick, and it’s obviously designed with mobile in mind first. This makes sense to me: You take most of your photos on your phone, and at least personally, I look at more snapshot-like photos on my phone than anywhere else. (The service works perfectly well on desktop as well.)
On a phone I’m used to navigating my photos using a typical camera roll UI or occasionally the Dropbox app’s endless folders. Both are a pain in the ass because you’re constantly scrolling. Google Photos is different. You pinch and zoom through time. Zoom out to view a decade or zoom in to parse the minutiae of a month. You can even pinch directly into a photo or a video, a fancy detail Google devs are proud of.
Here’s as good a place as any to touch on some of the many little features that Google has incorporated. None of them personally appeal to me. The Assistant tool is supposed to show me “fun new things automatically created from your photos & helps you stay organized.” Ok! But it hasn’t shown me anything yet.
Presumably down the line I’ll get the option to make some cool mashup videos and fun slideshows.
You can do some basic photo editing in Photos as you can in virtually any app. I don’t really care. Let’s get to the goods.
On the brains and search
I was sitting here with Sploid editor Casey Chan going through some of my snaps on Google Photos and it’s crazy how well this works. Creepy even. We were amazed first, then suspicious. Whoa! Uhhh.
We were only working with a small smattering of the photos I currently have on this phone (I just switched to a LG G4). There were a few I’d previously uploaded to Google+ for whatever unthinkable reason. Plus I uploaded a few hundred from the last year, though, admittedly not the full 1235 I snapped since last May.
Despite the limited pool, Google Photos was actually able to make quite a bit of sense out of what I shot. It correctly identified one of my best friends who I have many photos of as a unique person. Although the app does seem to think that I am a different person when I’m wearing sunglasses. Understandable, I suppose. That’s two Marios not hundreds.
Like Flickr, Photos correctly categorized some of the images based on what’s in them. For example, this particular batch of photos had many photos of the sky.
But where Photos really wrecks your brain is when you start searching for random things in your collection. Beers? It finds photos of beers. Bars? It finds photos of bars.
Ugh, I am going to regret this, but type in selfies, and it finds selfies!
This is all very cool! As Brent on the ground at I/O put it, “scary good.”
Annnnnd that’s scary and weird because the rich search feels superhuman. Like how Google! What? How?
More importantly, beyond befuddlement, it’s right if this deep dive into everything in your life makes you uneasy.
True fact:, Google is definitely giving you a lot here without making it entirely clear what it’s taking back. On stage during today’s I/O keynote, the company insisted that all of this image recognition and organization action would be “for your eyes only.” You need to decide for yourself how much you trust Google. Remember, this is a company whose business model is based on selling conclusions derived from data.
Amongst the awkward photo services out there Photos feels like a revelatory offering.
We still have a lot of exploration to do, and some pain points are already evident. For example, it’s not clear to me how I might easily migrate 50GB of photos from my Dropbox to Google Photos without a headache.
It’s also worth noting that all of this has been done before in some form or another. Facebook has great facial recognition. Flickr can identify content in your photos and place them in broad categories. Google’s real accomplishment here is stringing everything together more or less seamlessly. Plus, you’ve already got a Google account. No new accounts! Just sync everything you take on your phone and this stuff all works like magic. It’s a bonus of sorts, if you trust it.
So far, this is the best solution I’ve seen for my endless proliferation of smartphone snaps. Hopefully, Google Photos reveals itself to be as enlightening as it appears on first inspection.
Additional reporting by Brent Rose
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