We’re all disappearing under a virtual avalanche of photos and videos, and no one’s really sure about how to organize it all—though Apple and Google keep trying. Android and iOS both have smart photo services built in nowadays, but what happens when you want to jump from one to the other? Here’s what you need to know.
In this guide we’ll be tackling the challenge of moving your whole photo library from one service to the other: this is a full traded-in-my-iPhone-for-a-Pixel scenario, a clean break where you’re switching from Apple Photos to Google Photos or back the other way.
For a lot of people it might be better to have a foot in both camps, at least for some photos or for some of the time, but for simplicity’s sake we won’t go into every possible scenario here. You can in fact use these services alongside each other pretty easily, but in this case we’ll tackle going from one to the other wholesale.
It’s also worth noting these are not exactly directly comparable services, with Apple’s photo offerings very much baked into its hardware and software, and Google Photos very much web-first and operating independently of your computers, phones and tablets.
Before you jump to Google Photos you need to decide if you want to store your photos (and videos) at their original resolution or whether you’re happy to put up with some resizing—images are stored at a maximum of 16 megapixels and videos are stored at a maximum of 1080p HD.
If you choose the second option, you can store as much as you want, for free. If you want to keep everything as it is, you need to think about paying for Google Drive storage, as you only get 15GB for free. Prices start at 100GB for $1.99 a month.
Once you’ve decided, you need to work out where your photos are, and given the different apps on macOS and iOS, and the recent upgrades to both, you could be forgiven for not being too sure. Thankfully, Google Photos isn’t too fussed.
Download the Google Photos desktop client for macOS and mobile app for iOS and both will get to work picking up all the pictures from your computers and iDevices. The desktop app asks which photo libraries you want to back up when you start it, and the iOS app simply backs up everything it can find.
The only images and videos that might get missed are those you’ve uploaded to iCloud and deleted from your devices, if you’re using iCloud. To get these files back on macOS, launch Photos, then open the Photos menu, choose Preferences, switch to iCloud and make sure Download Originals to Mac is selected. On iOS, if you have the space, open Settings then tap iCloud, Photos and Download and Keep Originals.
If for whatever reason you can’t get your iCloud photos back to a Mac or iOS device, the export options from iCloud on the web are a little less than stellar. Pictures can be downloaded individually easily enough, but for bulk downloads you have to use the Shift or Cmd keys to select multiple items at once, then click the download icon. Once saved somewhere, they can be uploaded to Google Photos using a desktop client or just your web browser.
As we’ve said, Google Photos lives on the web, but getting all your pictures and videos back down again isn’t too difficult—though it might take some time if you’ve got a massive photo library and a sluggish internet connection. With Apple Photos, you don’t have to store your pictures in the cloud, but if you do then you’ll probably need to pay for extra storage.
The Google Photos desktop client for macOS doesn’t have two-way sync, but the one for Google Drive does. First, go to Google Drive on the web, open the Settings page (via the cog icon) and tick the box marked Automatically put your Google Photos into a folder in My Drive under the General tab.
That doesn’t change anything about what’s stored in Google Photos, it just makes everything visible in Google Drive. Then, download and install the macOS client for Google Drive, and make sure the Google Photos folder is selected in the list of folders to sync, which will be displayed during the setup process.
Hey presto, all your photos and videos are pulled down from the cloud. In the Photos app on your Mac, pick File then Import to load in the newly downloaded content. It’s only if you don’t have a Mac computer to hand that difficulties arise—if you’re using Apple’s photo services solely on iPhones, iPads, and the web, maybe.
If you have a Windows machine to hand, you can use the same trick as above to get the images and videos downloaded. Then, instead of running the Photos app on macOS, use iTunes and your iDevice, or just iCloud on the web, to get everything up to the iCloud Photo Library.
Alternatively you can use the Google Takeout service to download all of your pictures and video from Google Photos if you don’t want to go down the Google Drive syncing route. All of your stuff gets served up as a compressed folder which you can then extract and move to Apple’s apps on the desktop, on mobile and in the cloud.
A computer of some kind really is essential though as a stopgap between Google Photos and Apple’s Photos apps, even if you’re planning to use nothing but an iPhone and iCloud Photo Library for the rest of your life. In other words you can’t go straight from cloud service to cloud service.
Without investing too much time and effort you should be up and running on your new photo management system and ready to take and store pictures again—at least until you decide to switch to something new.