Google Photos – A new innovation from Google

by Jörgen Eriksson on June 6, 2015

 “…we have become so accustomed to see the galloping horse in art that it imperceptibly dominated our understanding, and we think the representation to be unimpeachable, until we throw off all our preconceived impressions on one side, and seek the truth by independent observation from Nature herself.”
– Eadweard Muybridge (1898)

Last month, Google released a disruptive new software innovation. The implications of this has not reached mainstream news media yet, so I decided to write a brief article about it.

Nice EtoileA long, long time ago, I used both system and compact cameras and took pictures on 35 mm real film, and went to Nice Etoile in the centre of Nice to print them. Then I placed my pictures in photo albums. The pictures in those albums are by now losing their colours, and I wonder what the state is of the negatives, that are saved in canisters in the garage?

Since around 2001 I have been using digital cameras, and today like everyone else the camera built in to the iPhone. In my early days of photography I carefully selected motives and took few pictures. A roll of 36 pictures could last for a several week long holiday. Today I often take more than 36 pictures in one day, and so do we all.

In the “new” time of digital photography we no longer need to worry of how long our prints will last. We can always print new ones, or keep the pictures on computers, iPads, phones and digital frames. But with the massive volume we get over time most of us runs into two problems.

The first problem is storage. I have more than 100 gigabyte of pictures by now, which I store on a server at home. The server has a raid system so if one hard drive breaks down, the same pictures are always stored also on a second drive. But still this is risky. What happens if someone breaks in and steals the server? Or if both hard drives break down? The later is quite common for hard drives that are installed and taken in use at the same time. They are mechanical devices and with age they break down.

phillip glass photosThe second problem is how to find pictures. In the vast amount of images we make and save today, the old expression “one cannot see the tree for the forest” becomes quite appropriate. So what do we store them for? Just to accumulate data, or to somehow document our lives for those rare moments when we actually want to look back, or show memorable moments to our kids? And when we have those moments to look back, then we rarely find what we are looking for.

Cloud storage has become a solution to the first problem, but it is expensive. To store 100 gigabyte of pictures o the cloud has until now been quite expensive. The second problem could only be solved through careful discipline in how to save the pictures and organise disk based storage in the first place, or painfully time consuming manual sorting later on.

Then in September last year (2014), Apple released their Apple Photos new digital photo editing and storage app for IOS and it was later also released for Mac computers as a part of the Yosemite upgrade of the operating system. Photos is intended to be simpler and less complex than its predecessor apps and pictures are organised by "moment", a combination of time and location metadata attached to the photo by digital cameras.

Apple PhotosApples iCloud storage  picture library is heavily integrated into the program, keeping photos and videos in sync with various Apple devices, with free storage of 5GB and paid options ranging up to 1 terabyte of storage. I have automatically uploaded my 100 gigabyte photo archive to the app and I now have 58,241 pictures in the cloud, and visible  through the iPhone, the iPad and various computers. I can quickly find historic pictures as the app sorts them on year, location where they were taken and on who is pictured in the photo.

Through the Photos app, Apple solved the second problem that I mentioned above, but still cloud storage was expensive.

Google PhotosThen last month, Google announced the Google Photos app. The new app seems to do everything that the Apple app does, plus it includes unlimited photo and video storage, and apps for Android, IOS, and the browser. Yes, that is correct, unlimited cloud storage for free.

With this new app Google seems to have solved both  main problems with storing our photo memories and the problem of .finding them when we want The table below from Wall Street Journal compares the two apps.

Apple - Google comparison

The idea of paying for photo storage has now become obsolete and our memories can be preserved, catalogued and easily found on a range of user interfaces for eternity. Pretty cool, isn’t it? This is truly an innovation to cheer for, but how can they give it to us for free?

All of us who have studied economics knows there are no free lunches, so what is in for Google? It is to get access to all our data. Using visual analysis, Google assigns attributes to the photos so we can then search by keyword. Searching for  “food” returns an embarrassing amount of dining photos, and searching for a location like “Venice” brings up pictures from Venice. By storing all our pictures and analysing us, Google will get a large amount of data about us and our lives, interests and preferences.

So Google’s business model is to provide the function for free, to get data from us and about us that it can use in its main streams of revenue, advertising. If we can live with that, then Google Photos is a wonderful way to keep track of our digital memories.

If you want to know more about the functionality of Apples and Google´s two apps, here is a good comparison of functionality and features by MacWorld.

Screenshot 2015-06-06 11.34.25

Below is a video about the future of Google, as explained in an interview with Sundar Pichai.

The future of Google with Sundar Pichai

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