Why you want Google Photos

Google has improved the killer photo tools in Google+ and set them free

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My own searching has found that it can distinguish between different kinds of food. For example, searching for "tacos" or "pie" or "pizza" brings up photos I've taken of those foods.

You can combine searches to make them super powerful, and search for, say, "pizza in Chicago" or "lions in Kenya" or "rain on the beach."

Google Photos finds people, too. Once you search for a certain person, the search result shows every picture of that person you have going back in time even to infancy.

The result of this incredible technology is that you can for the first time instantly find any photo from among thousands with a simple search.

Editing

Cloud-based photo editing tools are pretty common these days. I've said for a couple years now that Google+ photo editing has been the best available (best, as in easiest to use for great results).

google photos Mike Elgan

Google Photos gives you a "People," "Places" and "Things" view based on advanced machine learning.

It turns out that Google has continued to evolve these tools in the direction of increased control and better ease of use and has unveiled the most evolved version in Google Photos. (The less evolved Google+ photo tools will be around for a while, but they will be removed at some point.)

The "edit" button brings you to a radically simple five options: "Auto," "Light," "Color," "Pop" and "Vignette." Each option gives you a slider bar. Unlike normal slider bars, moving the control from one side to the other does more than make a linear change to the photo. Each single slider may do multiple jobs.

For example, the "light" editing slider bar does different things to different parts of the photo as you move the single slider. At one point in the sliding, you'll bring more brightness just to the faces in the photos. Keep sliding, and the shadows are brightened.

Another example of the editing intelligence of Google Photos is that when you select "vignette" (which darkens and blurs the outside edges of a photo to bring attention to the subject) it doesn't center the vignetting on the photo, but on the faces in the photo. So if a person is off-center, the vignetting will be off-center, too, automatically.

The real magic happens on the "Assistant" page, which appears when you swipe to the right in the app. The first thing you see is that Google Photos has already made automatic changes to many of your photos, turning them into albums, movies, scrapbooks (called "Stories"), animated GIFs, collages or panoramas. In Google+, this feature is called Auto Awesome.

However, with Google Photos, you get more control. By tapping the "plus" icon, you can choose which of these modification types you want, then you choose the pictures to which you want to apply those modifications. (You can't choose to make panoramas -- if a group of your photos lend themselves to a workable panorama, Google Photos will automatically make it for you.)

After you edit a photo, the original is still available to you, as is the case now on Google+.

"Stories" combines pictures, maps, animated GIFs and videos into an event-based scrapbook you can modify. In Google+, "Stories" are automatically created. In Photos, you can also now create Stories from scratch.

Videos and movies

Videos play automatically when you bring them up or share them, and they also loop endlessly.

Google Photos can also automatically create movies when you take multiple videos at a single event. It will create a kind of edited video, complete with visual effects, cuts music and other enhancements. You can go in later and change all attributes of the movie. You can even, for example, toggle on or off the sound initially recorded, which will go along with the music. You can also change the music from a list of songs.

Your Google Photos-created movies appear when you swipe to the left in the app from the main screen under the "Collections" heading. These include "Albums," "Movies" and "Stories."

Sharing

Sharing directly from Google Photos is easy and facilitated. You can upload directly to Google+, Twitter, Facebook or any social network you have installed as an app on your phone. You can add to your list of one-tap sharing apps, including messaging apps, email apps, cloud storage apps, like Evernote, and more.

You can even get a URL that takes people to a Web page filled with the photos you selected, and anyone with an Internet connection can view these. It's like an instant photo Web page that Google builds for you on the fly and free of charge.

Google Photos isn't perfect. Some people might feel uncomfortable with the compression of files or with the adding of precious memories into Google's all-seeing, all-knowing machine intelligence system. People may fear lock-in, though that fear may be unfounded. While Google Photos is advanced and mature in many ways, it still suffers from minor glitches (for example, the Web editing view crashes my Chrome browser consistently).

With all that in mind, Google Photos is by far the easiest photo app or service I've ever encountered.

More importantly, it solves all the major problems associated with taking thousands of pictures over time -- problems of discovery, storage, management, editing and more. And it does all this free, ad-free and without the baggage of a social network.

That's why I think you're going to want Google Photos.

This story, "Why you want Google Photos" was originally published by Computerworld.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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