Google Photos and Bar Snacks

One of the larger announcements at Google’s I/O conference today was that Google+ Photos were being spun off as a separate product, Google Photos. Sorry, “+” I guess you didn’t add a lot of value.

A big deal was made about unlimited, free photo uploads. There are some caveats that they have not been super clear about, so you’ll read varying things from news outlets about when they compress, or resize images, and under what conditions, so go to the source. From Google’s support site:

High quality * Unlimited free storage * Regular cameras: Recommended for phones or point-and-shoot cameras that are 16 megapixels (MP) or less. * Uses: Good for typical printing and sharing. * Size: Save high-quality photos and videos while reducing size.

Original * Limited free storage: Uses your Google Account’s 15 GB of free storage. * DSLR cameras: Recommended if you take photos with a DSLR camera and want to maintain the exact original quality. * Uses: Recommended for printing large banners or to store your original files. * Size: Store your photos and videos exactly as you captured them.

Most importantly, you can change your mind at any time. Confusingly, it affects storage sizes going forward and won’t resize items you’ve already stored. Uh… So… Does that mean I can pay for one month, upload 4 TB of UHD video, and 3 TB of 24 MP images, and then switch to the free plan and it’s all there, and not resized or altered? That would be weird.

This also differs from Apple’s iCloud photo storage which divvies up everything from the same bucket as device backups, media, and application data. Google’s plan doesn’t lump this together with Google Drive’s data plan. They’re separate silos. Unless you use the ‘Original’ plan. In which case, you technically have 15 GB of free space with the ‘Original’ plan before you have to pay for anything.

In fact, many people use all their free Google Drive space to upload photos. Drive does have 15 GB of free storage, and won’t do anything to compress, or alter, your photos. You can even toggle on an option to show your images stored in Google Drive in Google Photos. It is not toggled on by default though. That might be because it didn’t work great under a few simple tests.

Test Drive

I made an edit to a test photo and it wasn’t reflected in the local copy in my Drive folder. I deleted the image from the Drive folder and it still showed on the site, but it had a weird gray box where the thumbnail was. Refreshing the page removed the broken thumbnail.

Next test was opening the Google Drive site, where there’s now a Google Photos button — which doesn’t take you to, but shows some text “Stay tuned! Your photos are coming soon.” If I restore the deleted file from Drive’s “trash” the image returns to Photos. Confusingly, the photo that’s restored has the editing adjustments from before I deleted it still applied in Photos, but not in Drive on the web, or in my Drive folder. This is possibly because Google is storing the adjustments as metadata and applying it on-the-fly in the Photos interface — but that is confusing, and not really “syncing”. Also there’s no versioning for those edits, you can only restore to the original, even though Drive is perfectly capable of saving many revisions. Stranger still, it asks if you want to keep changes if you adjust something that was already edited. Not a modern save-as-you-go workflow. The editing options are also a total joke, so I’m not sure that’s a huge loss for me.

What was also bizarre, was opening Google Photos for the first time and seeing images I put up in 2008 … which I guess was Picasa, or something. I’m really not even sure.

Storage Wars

As Jason Snell mentioned on Twitter, “Would be nice if Apple felt some pressure to lower its iCloud photo storage rates, which are twice Google’s.”

Amazon also offers unlimited photo storage for Amazon Prime members, and some paid plans. However, I haven’t really noticed this gaining traction, even though every tech writer in the universe is an Amazon Prime member. You’d think people would be writing about it nonstop.

Dropbox also wants all of your photos. It put a “please let us upload all your iPhone’s photos” button in their iOS app. How else can people fill up the free, two gigabyte tier and pay $9.99 a month (or $99.99 a year) to upgrade to one terabyte?

Flickr has taken some controversial twists and turns over the years (the last turn seems to have been into a ditch). They introduced a free, one terabyte tier a few years ago. It serves gross ads, and offers no first-party syncing, or downloading, off the service. The pro account now offers unlimited photo uploads at $24.95 a year. That’s a great value – if Yahoo hadn’t defecated on Flickr, set it on fire, and tried to put out the fire with urine-soaked novelty T-shirts that say, “We Hate You” in purple Optima.

How Does Google Pay For Photos?

It is not fear-mongering to ask about how this service, and associated apps, are financed by the company. Especially if it is Google, a company that makes most of its income from collecting information and displaying targeted advertising. They have offered no indication how their photo service is paid for, but several reporters have been told that it does not collect personal information to sell ads.

Pete Pachal, writing for Mashable:

The thrust of the new Photos, as described by product lead Bradley Horowitz, is to provide a “private secure, safe place where all of my memories can live without compromise or agenda.”

From the “agenda” part, Google wants to make clear this isn’t Gmail: the Photos app isn’t scanning your photos to sell you things via ads (although it is scanning them for other reasons). Others, including Apple, Dropbox and Lyve, are trying to solve the immensely difficult problem of photo management, but Google thinks it has the best approach, and from a look at the new app, they might be right.

CNN’s Heather Kelly, and my request for a clarification:

From an interview with Bradley Horowitz on Medium’s Backchannel:

The information gleaned from analyzing these photos does not travel outside of this product — not today. But if I thought we could return immense value to the users based on this data I’m sure we would consider doing that. For instance, if it were possible for Google Photos to figure out that I have a Tesla, and Tesla wanted to alert me to a recall, that would be a service that we would consider offering, with appropriate controls and disclosure to the user. Google Now is a great example. When I’m late for a flight and I get a Google Now notification that my flight has been delayed I can chill out and take an extra hour, breathe deep.

Now, those of us that skew a little more to the cynical, or paranoid, might read in some hedging. Once all the worlds’ photos are uploaded the trap will spring! Targeted ads for diapers based on your baby photos! MWAHAHAHA!


I don’t see this as being a major concern, or a major obstacle, for most people. Particularly for the billions of Android, and Gmail, users that already agree to actually agree to actual data collection. NBD – as the kids say.

I have a Gmail account. I use Google Maps every day to go to and from work. I’m not going to get on a high horse about the photos, except that there is a certain intimate knowledge that can be gleaned from photos which we’re not used to thinking about. As Horowitz notes in that same media piece, people want the vast majority of their photos to be private.

Loss Leader

Since there are no (current) plans to do anything with the data collected from the photos, and to offer a lot of free, or discounted, storage, then this is paid for by money from other parts of the company. That’s perfectly justifiable. It immediately increases the value of any product Google has which can take, or view, photos.

It’s like snacks, and food, at a bar. You can pay for some sodium-heavy food items, that make you crave paying for a refreshing beverage, or you can just grab some complimentary, salty nuts.

The salty nuts are unlimited.

2015-05-29 09:00:00

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