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You are here: MacNN Forums > News > Mac News > Hands On: Google Photos 1.0.0 (iOS)

Hands On: Google Photos 1.0.0 (iOS)
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May 29, 2015, 04:25 PM
It's not as if Apple owns the rights to the word "photos," but with the new Google Photos 1.0.0 for iOS launch, there are going to be some short but confusing conversations. Are you going to store your photos in Photos or in Photos? Look into Google's offering, and you will immediately decide to move to it -- but if you look even a tiny bit further, the decision is less clear. We think Google has big and compelling advantages, but Apple has some too -- and in the end, the best result may be that both companies force each other to get better.

These are the reasons you'll make that immediate decision to move to Google Photos: it stores (on Google's cloud servers) all of your photos from your Mac, your iPhone, your iPad, and pretty much anything that takes images and is connected to the Internet. So far, there isn't a pixel's difference between that and Apple Photos, with its Photos in the Cloud option. What Google quite rightly crows about, and is different from Apple's option, is that its version of this service is free.

In truth, that's not entirely accurate: it's a bit more "yes and no" than it might at first appear.

Exactly as with Apple, there is a free and there is a paid option. That sounds like we're making a persnickety little point, especially as in both cases Google is the better bargain by a mile, but it's a significant difference -- and headlines saying Google's service is free are just misleading. That's particularly so because the first thing you see when you sign up is that you have to make a decision between two choices of picture quality to save. It's really a choice between paying or not paying, but it's offered to you as "high quality" or "original."

"Original" means that what you shot, you store in Google at whatever the file size and resolution it was done in. "High quality" means that Google caps that resolution, it caps that file size. It doesn't prevent you uploading something massive that you shot with a DSLR camera, it instead takes the shot and reduces it -- throwing out original information in the compression process that cannot be restored.

We'd really like it more if Google Photos told you each time that it was going to do this: if it said, "look, that's massive, we're going to cut it down." Instead, in our testing, it just eventually stopped uploading the image and announced "1 Skipped." We can't believe Google really gets as far as uploading the entire file before doing a Scooby-Doo double-take and skipping it because it's too big. Except we can believe that.

Nonetheless, however it reacts to large image, it is still more than fair that Google charges for higher-quality ones. What's surprising is how generous the company is with lower-quality photos. Where Apple offers you 5GB of storage for free, Google's offering is "unlimited." You can just keep saving stuff to it, and in fact you can get your iOS devices to just keep on saving to it.

Google Photos is an app on iOS and, at least for the moment, an online service that you use with your browser on your Mac rather than a native OS X application. There isn't, then, any way to upload photos from your iPad or iPhone that are too big for Google Photos. You can only do it by dragging images on your Mac to the photos.google.com website.

Uploading photos is not the fastest thing in the world, but we're not going to time this because right now, when perhaps millions of people are uploading their entire libraries, no result would be fair. Even when everyone has finished doing that, and is just topping up their collections, though, it doesn't really matter how long it takes to upload photos; it really only matters how long it takes to find them again.

Google Photos is very fast at finding and showing you images. You can't upload directly from Apple's Photos program at this point, so we took every stray image we had on our Macs and set Google Photos uploading the lot. It was just a few hundred shots, but the next morning we switched on our iPhones and they were all there.

That is seriously excellent. Every photo you've uploaded is available immediately, on every device you own, as long as you're online. It really does feel as if each device has every photograph, you don't feel that it's waiting to download any.

We could not fault how well the uploading overnight and then the retrieval on our devices went. So we are uploading our full Apple Photos library, but we're having to do that by first exporting from Apple's app, which means it is currently soaking up our disk space. Once we get that all uploaded to Google Photos, we can delete the exported copies and recover a couple of hundred gigabytes of space.

We'll do it, too. We're that impressed with Google Photos, and we have that few DSLR shots.

What we're not so impressed with, however, is the syncing from our devices to each other. Naturally, once we'd seen our uploaded photos were on our iPhones, we took some more shots on those, and went to our iPads. The iPads had all the overnight photos, but as yet have not got the iPhone ones we took this morning. Or vice versa. This wouldn't happen with iCloud syncing.

Frustratingly, the website photos.google.com isn't showing any of those either. This all sounds to us like we've got the settings wrong but if we have, we simply can't see the problem. It's more the case that Google just is not as smooth as iCloud. It feels strange saying that, since cloud services have traditionally been Apple's weakness and Google's strength, but there it is.

We'd argue that Google's weakness is in design, and that does come across clearly in this new Google Photos app and service. For instance, you'll sometimes see a More button next to group of photos but if you click it, then the biggest change you're likely to see is that the button becomes "Showing all" and stops being a button.

The service has some unnecessary Windows-like flaws. As well as that belated skip error, we also found occasions when we'd fail to download a photo from the web version to our Macs because of "403 That's an error." There'd be some unintelligible words and then "Forbidden. That's all we know." We're not programmers, but even we think it might be an idea to check whether someone's logged in before you chuck a forbidden 403 error at them.

To be fair, we're not clear how we were logged out when we were still viewing an image, but we were. Actually, we've had that happen a lot with Gmail, especially since we started having multiple accounts, and none of this warms us to Google. And that's before we get to the privacy issue (stay tuned).

What does of course warm us to it is how Google is pretty much unparalleled in search. We've heard of Bing, but still, Google is the one to beat in this field. Google Photos promises much in this line too. So far, it's not delivering as well as advertised, though: we're hoping this is down to teething issues, but Google does say that not all services are available everywhere. Testing it here in the UK, for instance, we don't have the promised Faces search, wherein it identifies a person and displays all the photographs you have with them in. Like (Apple's) Photos does.

We do have Places and Things. Google Photos correctly identified which of our shots were in London and Paris, for example, and it even told us we'd been somewhere we'd never heard of in the States -- and it was right. Google was right, we were wrong. That's a little scary.

With Things, it told us about food we'd photographed, and posters we'd taken shots of, and there it was sometimes wrong -- so we feel a little better.

You don't mind errors in content like this: the fact that this shot was an accidental one of gravel in a garden and not muesli seems fine. What feels less fine, what feels like an actual problem, is when the errors are in what ought to be unmistakeable data. We have many photos that are displayed with yesterday's date -- the date we uploaded them -- instead of when they were taken. That's not a setting we chose: some photos are right, some are not and it isn't consistent.

Go in to an erroneous shot, and you can bring up an information panel which includes the correct date -- and time -- metadata. Still, it displays incorrectly when you come back out. That's just peculiar, and makes you wonder how Google is indexing this.

You do also need to wonder what else Google is doing with these images. It is analyzing them for People, Things and reportedly for Faces, plus it is apparently working out location data based on what buildings are in your photos. Your photographs are being paid more attention by Google than by you, and there has to be a question of how this fits in with Google's making money.

We don't know and we have previously been sanguine about it: if Google is giving us a service we want, it feels fair to pay. We are just wondering now about how much we're paying for this "free" service. This is a question we wish people would ask themselves more often.

Those security and monetization concerns are the same when you do pay Google Photos' fee, but then you're getting the ability to save higher-resolution images. If you need that, you need it, and again Google Photos is ahead of Apple on price.

Specifically, the paid options work out at between two thirds and one half the cost of Apple. The top tier for both is 1TB of storage, which costs $10 per month on Google Photos and $20 a month on Apple Photos. The other tiers available on Google -- which don't have matching Apple rates -- are 15GB free, then 100GB for $2 per month (Apple's iCloud Drive offers 200GB for $4 per month, so we'll call it a draw at that level).

You can change between the free and paid versions at any time, so do it: go with your gut and take up the free "high quality" version (just remember to back up your "full resolution" originals somewhere else). We'd so very much prefer it if Google would tell you on upload that a picture is going to be resized, and until it does you'll have to be aware of it for yourself.

Yet most people will be using it to store photos they take on iPhone and iPad, they're not going to be scanning in giant images on their Macs. For them, for most of us, Google Photos is great and a great, great bargain.

It's just not the total Apple Photos beater we're led to expect. We'll definitely put our images up on it as a backup, but we'll also carry on using Apple Photos -- at least on our Macs. Add an OS X app, finesse the design a touch more, and be transparent about what it's doing to our images -- in every sense -- and we'd call this perfect.

Google Photos 1.0.0 requires iOS 8.1 or later, and is a universal app that is free on the App Store. To use it on your Mac, go to photos.google.com.

Who is Google Photos 1.0.0 for:
If you don't have a DSLR camera, and you also never want to delete anything, go for it right now.

Who is Google Photos 1.0.0 not for:
Professional photographers will at least want to skip the free option, but they should examine the paid one very carefully -- particularly regarding whether Google gains any rights to any of the data or images you upload.

-- William Gallagher (@WGallagher)
( Last edited by NewsPoster; May 29, 2015 at 06:00 PM. )
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May 30, 2015, 01:48 AM
I'm surprised you would jump to this so quickly after reading the concerns and issues you had with the photos you did take and that did not apparently sync right away. Isn't that kind of a showstopper? Especially if it does not resolve itself?

It's another copycat of the naming convention too from iOS as well. Photos, Android Pay, I'm so tired of these endless ripoffs and nobody calling them out on it. It's crap.
Mike Wuerthele
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May 30, 2015, 09:24 AM
Jump to what? I thought that William was pretty clear on the shortfalls of the offering, and spells it out pretty specifically in the Who for/not for.
Aron Peterson
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May 30, 2015, 10:31 AM
The Mrs is loving it
Web dev, Poe, faux-naïf, keyboard warrior, often found imitating online contrarians . My stuff : DELL XPS, iPhone 6
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May 31, 2015, 12:56 PM
It seems to lack the most basic "rotate" feature. It doesn't seem to recognize EXIF orientation data, so all of my Android photos appear upside down. I can't find an export feature if I want to move on later, and worst of all, if I want the "unlimited" storage option I have to let it modify every photo I upload or be stuck with Gmail's 15GB limit. Not ideal.

Even Apple's Photo's is better than this, and I hate that product.
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May 31, 2015, 03:18 PM
Before uploading a single pixel or writing a single word about this service and it's myriad "features," I am surprised that MacNN didn't peruse the Terms and Conditions for Google Photos.

Anyone who freely gives ANYTHING to Google - most especially their personal data (email, photos, documents, etc) - is a fool. None of this is "free" - you and your data are the product that Google is selling.
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Mike Wuerthele
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May 31, 2015, 04:02 PM
William did mention that in the "who is this not for"

We're aware. There's ALWAYS a cost. Free is never free.
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Jun 1, 2015, 08:39 AM
This article reads like it was written by an unintelligible third grader. There are dangling participles, lack of correct punctuation... how did this person get a job as a writer?
In the end, its all about the composition.
Mike Wuerthele
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Jun 1, 2015, 09:36 AM
Feel free to submit your resume, if you're so inclined.

And be less insulting.
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