Why I'm moving to Google Photos

Google has suddenly made Apple’s Photos obsolete and irrelevant

selfie wine
Credit: Maëlick/Flickr

Managing photos is not as challenging as many people want you to think. I actually enjoy organizing my photos because to me, that’s art. When I return from a trip I invest around 30 minutes in editing or organizing my photos. I think my week long trip deserves a 30 minute investment in organizing and polishing those memories.

I load my images to Adobe LightRoom (image and video editing are the only tasks for which I use the Mac) then weed out the 'not so good' shots. I run a Linux file server at home and export the edited images to the images directory on the server where they are saved in Year > Month > Event format. I also mass rename my images during export so they are easy to find even after years from across devices and platforms. If I want to find the first images of my son when he was born I can easily find them.

If I'm so organized with my photos why do I need Google Photos?

What problem does it solve?

In most cases I take pictures to share to memories with either a close circle of people or with the world. Though sometimes I do take pictures for my own pleasure too.

In order to share these pictures I do need a platform; and for obvious reasons I don’t trust the closed Facebook Net. That’s where Google Photos enters the frame. Photos makes it extremely easy to either back-up photos for your private use or share with a select few or even with the rest of the world.

Google has integrated various social networks with Google Photos so you can share them immediately through those networks, or a few people, or grab a link to publish them on the web for everyone to see.

That’s one of the two problems that Google Photos solves. The second problem it solves is by offering an amazing ‘backup’ service with unlimited storage space. There are two ways in which you can use Google Photos as backup. If you want to keep your images in the original high res format that you took, then you have to stick to the storage plan where you have to pay for extra storage and Google won’t compress your images. However, if you want unlimited storage, Google will compress images which are over 16MP and videos over 1080. In its demo, Google showed no quality loss by its compression technologies.

There has to be a limit

One of the greatest advantages of Google Photos, especially if you use your phone to take pics, is freeing up space on your device. The time will come when the storage on your device will be full and you won’t be able to take or save any more images. Until now, the only option was to download those images locally and delete them from the device, thus losing access to those images from the device. Google has changed that.

Once your device is full, Google will offer to delete some images from the device to free up space on the device. Just make sure that the images are backed up on Google Photos. Once you delete those images from the device you will still see a thumbnail of those images and you can open those images and Google will pull them from the server.

Some awesomeness

Google goes beyond backing up your images and offering a tool to share them. It also offers a basic editing interface to work on your images on the go. I hope soon they will integrate Snapseed (while keeping it independent) with Google Photos to give users direct access to the best-of-breed editing tools.

In addition to manual editing, Google is also offering an ‘Assistant’ that will do magic with your images and videos. It will automatically create albums, videos and stories from your photos. It will add music to your movies (of course you can manually edit them for further polishing).


On the Photos app there is a search feature that does an incredible job at searching within your photos. Using machine learning, it can identify the subject of an image. When I searched for ‘cats’ in my Photos it pulled all the images that had my cats in it. It also takes advantage of meta data such as location of any image to further refine searches.

So why free?

For the same reason Google started offering 1GB of storage with Gmail when players like Hotmail were offering 2-4MB: increased market share. Google was paying for the storage as the cost of customer acquisition. As a result, today Gmail is one of the larger email providers; it beat Hotmail back in 2012. Nothing is different with Photos. By offering unlimited storage, Google is attracting those who are heavy uploaders.

The catch

People may look at Google Photos with skepticism. If they are telling you that Google is somehow going to directly 'monetize' your photos, they are wrong. They simply don't understand Google's business model. Google is the world's biggest and the most successful ad agency. Their primary cash cow is advertisements. Period. They build products around this model; to feed into this model.

Most skeptics think about it from traditional advertising model where you buy huge billboards at the busiest spot and shove your ad irrespective of whether people want them or not. Google has a different approach. Google wants to show you ads that may actually help you. They have mastered the art of targeted advertisement. All of their services: Gmail, Google Maps, Google Now learns from users and then provides very precise data to its advertisers. Keep in mind that Google is not ‘selling you out’ to the advertisers. Instead, based on your usage of Google services they point the appropriate ad to your IP.

Google Photos will also be used to help Google in profiling you to polish their targeted ads. They are not going to blindly shove ads in Photos.

They haven’t shoved ads on the home screen of Android or the desktop of ChromeOS. By comparison, companies like Amazon and Microsoft, which charge you for services, have done exactly that. Amazon ‘subsidized’ its Fire Tablet by showing ads on the lock screen. Microsoft despite charging heavily for its OS shoves ads on Windows.

Surprisingly I find targeted ads to be good for both consumers and advertisers. Google shows relevant ads: we are looking to buy a house, for example, and Adsense shows either houses around me or ads from real estate agents. This kind of ad may actually get a realtor a customer.

A piece of advice

While using Google Photos or any such services, my only advice would be to never upload any sensitive image or data to such third party services. Once your data leaves your local machine, you lose ‘sole’ ownership over it. Now it’s subject to various laws and vulnerable to snooping by spy agencies.

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