by Jim Lynch

Why I’ll pass on Google Photos for iOS

Jun 01, 201510 mins
Cloud StorageiOS

Read the fine print before you sign up for Google's new Photos service

Google has been very busy at its I/O developers conference, and one of the biggest announcements concerned its new Photos app. The app provides free cloud storage for photos and videos, but with a few caveats. Here are the details about Google’s Photos app for iOS from the Wall Street Journal:

…Google will offer free, unlimited cloud storage of photos and videos. There is a catch, of course. If photos are over 16 megapixels, they will be stored in a compressed format. You can also store full 1080p videos for free, though anything 4K would be downsized.

Photographers and videographers who want to secure every pixel can select the “original” option, which stores all files whole but requires premium Google Drive space. Google provides 15GB for free, and its cloud storage pricing is better than Apple’s: $10 per month gets you 1TB from Google, but only 500GB from Apple.

Once the app has sucked up the photos on your phone, tablet or computer (Mac and PC uploader tools will be available), you’ll be able to search for photos with simple keywords. It’s like your own personalized Google Image search.

More at Wall Street Journal

Here’s a peek at what Google’s Photos for iOS app has to offer:

I suspect that the free option will be quite popular with most users, but Google was smart to link its free Photos for iOS storage to its premium Google Drive space. There are bound to be some users who will prefer that and it will bring in some extra money to Google’s coffers.

Google Photos for iOS is free, so you are the product

Remember when Tim Cook talked about Apple’s commitment to privacy? He noted that if a product is free then the user is the product. And that’s really the case here with Google’s Photos for iOS. Yes, the user doesn’t have to pay anything to use it but Google will certainly use the information in Photos to profile the user and then target ads toward him or her.

Some folks will probably be fine with that, and will happily use Google’s Photos app for iOS. But it’s not really something that appeals to me, particularly when it comes to photos and videos. Privacy for those two things are very important to me, and I have no desire to have that private information used to develop an advertising profile so Google can line its pockets with more money.

Don’t misunderstand me here, I have nothing against Google’s business model. I think it’s perfectly legitimate as long as users understand that they are the product, and that their information will be used to target advertising toward them. In that sense what Google is doing is more or less a fair trade for the users that want to take advantage of it.

But I’ll pass as I value my privacy, particularly when it comes to my photos.

Read the fine print: Google compresses your images

Another problem with Google’s Photos for iOS is that it compresses your images if they are more than 16 megapixels and your video if it is greater than 1080p. It also doesn’t save the original versions of your images. iCloud Photo Library, on the other hand, retains the original image and lets you save images that are up to 16 gigabytes.

As the WSJ article I quoted above notes, Google will let you save pictures at their original resolution via a different version of its Photos service, but you’ll need to pay the company for that privilege. So the “free” part of Google’s Photos for iOS is really not quite what it seems to be on the surface.

None of this should surprise anyone, there’s definitely no such thing as a free lunch in this life. So if you want your images and videos saved at their original resolution, you’re going to have to pay Google or Apple to be able do so. There’s really no way around it if you are going to use either service.

Personally, I would rather not have my images or videos compressed by a cloud storage service. But your mileage may vary in that regard, and I can see that it might not matter to some users if the service doesn’t cost them any money anyway.

Google Photos app for iOS lacks a desktop counterpart

One of the other problems with Google offering free storage in its Photos for iOS app is that the company still lacks a desktop counterpart (there will be a tool to upload photos and videos from Macs but not a full-blown desktop app). Apple, on the other hand, has its Photos app that comes with OS X Yosemite.

While I understand that some users won’t care about having a desktop photos app that integrates with Google’s iOS app and cloud storage, it is an important point for me. I like the convenience of having a desktop app on my Mac, and I can’t see trying to use a Web interface instead of it.

Will Google make a desktop version of its iOS photos app? I suppose it’s possible, but I doubt it. The company isn’t known for doing such things, and I can’t see Google suddenly changing its ways to please desktop users.

So for me, the lack of a desktop Photos client from Google is definitely a big strike against using their Photos for iOS app. And no, free storage isn’t enough to make up for the lack of a desktop application that would run on my Mac in the way that Apple’s Photos app currently does.

Apple redditors react to Google’s Photos for iOS app

The news about Google offering free storage for its iOS Photos app caught the attention of some Apple redditors and they shared their thoughts about it:

Bounty1097: “Just tried the new Google Photos on my iPhone. The face recognition is just mind blowing. much better than apple’s face recognition.”

TheSmokeyBear: “I like the integration of Photos and iOS.

However, Apple is really behind on the storage aspect. I pay for 200gb/month, but I’m expecting them to bump that considerably in WWDC.

Apple makes money on hardware – the service aspect should be free, that’s the whole point. OS is free, Pages etc are free, cloud storage should be free. It’s so cheap at this point.”

ElBoludo: “It looks really nice. The unlimited storage is cool too. But whether or not I will use it depends 100% on its integration with iOS and OS X. For example if there is no native desktop client I probably won’t switch. A lot of times I need access to pictures when I don’t have Internet. If I can only access those through a Web interface that would be a pain.”

Apriljune1441: “Not a chance. Apple sells products….you are the product for Google. They can go get bent.”

Rockybbb: “It’s tempting but Photos works far too well for me. The integration is too valuable and the native client performs great with all my photos across different devices combined with the automatic storage option. If it was all about free storage, I would’ve already moved to Flickr.”

Ottles: “I’ll probably augment iCloud Photo Library with Google Photos, but at the moment I have no plans to switch completely. Free with Google is never free. There’s going to be some unpleasant byproduct that ends up being detrimental to my privacy. I have no problem paying Apple a few bucks a month because they are on the opposite end of the spectrum from Google: They completely respect my privacy and won’t turn around and sell my information.

And besides, I’m very happy with how iCloud Photo Library has worked for me so far. The editing tools work great, everything syncs quickly and all my photo edits are nondestructive. Not sure yet if Google Photos edits will be nondestructive.:

Smpx: “Why not both?

I’ve been using Google photos on Google Plus for awhile now as a backup option and Photos as my main usage. Google photos live in the cloud and they’ve made it really hard to actually have the files to organize. They also make it damn near impossible to delete (you can either delete the whole account or delete it photo by photo).”

Fivetoedslothbear: “Not going to Google Photos.

First, in general, I like to pay money for my services. Then, I know that there’s probably a sustainable, stable business model. And I know what I’m paying is money, not in some other way like my privacy or being advertised at.

Second, Google isn’t stable. I used to store my photos in Google’s Picasa Web, but that got messed up when it got the Google+ treatment. Strange restrictions showed up on YouTube. They keep changing their lineup, and how it works. They cancel popular features (Reader). You never know what’s going to stick around, and what’s some kind of odd experiment (Wave, Buzz).

So I pay Apple a few bucks. When I want to share photos, I use Flickr. Videos go on Vimeo. Paid accounts on all of ’em.”

Techsupportvictim: “Beware of the fine print before you cheer too loud. That’s unlimited photos that will be compressed. If you want full resolution you cap at at 15 gigabytes for free and you can pay for up to 1TB.”

CraigularB: “Nope. I’m waiting for WWDC to see if they announce better storage plans, but if not I’ll start paying for storage through Apple. I mean, it sucks that it’s not free, but Google is compressing the photos (even if they’re under the limit) and I’m just not okay with that, even for phone pictures.”

More at Reddit

As you can see, Apple redditors had a wide range of reactions to Google’s free Photos for iOS storage offering. Some were interested in it, while others immediately dismissed it. I suspect that Google is going to have to prove itself with this new offering in order to win over some of the folks that remain suspicious about the company’s commitment to privacy, and its long-term commitment to its Photos app for iOS.

Google Photos for iOS may force Apple to lower iCloud prices

One possibly good thing about the free cloud storage that comes with Google’s Photos for iOS app is that it may force Apple’s hand in terms of lowering pricing for iCloud storage. If Google’s Photos for iOS app attracts enough users away from iCloud, then Apple may rethink how much it charges for iCloud photo storage.

Here’s a list of Apple’s current monthly prices for iCloud storage in the U.S.:

20 GB: $0.99 200 GB: $3.99 500 GB: $9.99 1 TB: $19.99

As you can see, Apple’s current iCloud pricing is not terribly expensive, but it’s also not particularly cheap. And the default amount of free storage space in iCloud is a very small 5 GB. And that 5 GB is all you get regardless of how many Apple devices you buy, you don’t get 5 GB each time you purchase a new Apple device.

So far Apple has not said anything about Google offering unlimited free storage space for its Photos app for iOS. But you can bet that that announcement has probably caught Apple’s attention, and that some folks inside the company are no doubt talking about it.

We’ll have to wait and see what impact Google’s free unlimited storage in Photos for iOS has on Apple’s iCloud pricing. But I’m hopeful that Apple will make some adjustments to its offering to either lower the current prices or add more value by increasing the amount of cloud storage provided in each pricing tier.

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