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Google just announced that their Photos app that comes preinstalled on a variety of Android devices now has more than 500 million users. Google also announced upcoming features in the Photos app that will integrate machine learning right inside the Photos app.
If you read any of that coverage, or you’ve seen Google’s ads about helping you reclaim storage space on iPhones, you might be wondering: should you be using the Google Photos app on your iPhone?
Google Photos Does a Lot
Google Photos has been available on the iPhone for more than a year now and while it doesn’t have the same feature set as its Android counterpart, the app has gained quite a lot of features over that time. Google Photos is an app, while iCloud Photo Library is a feature baked into iOS. That means it has privileges that an app doesn’t.
Google Photo’s differentiator is its smarts and its free forever policy. You can upload unlimited photos to Google Photos (although compressed), without paying a dime. Also, once your photos are in there, you can do a lot of interesting things.
You can search for elements inside photos (including places, objects, and people) and Google Photos gets it right a surprising number of times. Apple added this to its Photos app in iOS 10, except Apple’s implementation takes place on the device rather than the server.
Google Photos also has an extensive editing feature set. You can turn your photos into GIFs, animations, collages, slideshows, and even videos. What’s better is that Google Photos now has an integrated Assistant feature (which is different from Google Assistant) that will do all those things for you, automatically. Getting a notification about an animation Google Photos made from your photos from your weekend trip is a pure joy.
You can easily create a shared album to share photos and videos with a specific group. Everyone in the group can add photos and you can even turn the album into a website that anyone can view.
You can upload unlimited photos for free (compressed). If you choose to upload high-res photos, without any sort of compression, they’ll count against your Google cloud storage. You get 15 GB of space for free and after that, you can pay $1.99 per month for 100 GB (iCloud gives you 50 GB storage for $0.99 per month).
Google Photos has a fully fledged web client where you can search and organize photos, but no native Mac app that like Apple’s Photos. It also has an Android app and Mac uploader for grabbing any new photos in a given directory. If you’re struggling for space on your device, you’ll find the Free up space feature helpful. It helps you delete photos that are already uploaded to Google Photos so you can get some storage space back.
Google Photos Offers a Delightful Experience
There aren’t many apps or technologies that provide a consistently delightful experience. Google Photos is one of the rare apps. Google Photos understands that it’s not about the photos but about the people and the memories and the app has features that cater to both reliving the nostalgia and sharing with your friends.
And this is the part where Apple Photos fall short. Apple has the search feature but it’s not as good. The sharing feature is unnecessarily complex and only works on Apple devices.
iCloud Photo Library Is More Utilitarian
iCloud Photo Library is a built-in feature and it’s the easiest photo backup system on iOS. Just turn it on from Settings > Photos, make sure you have enough storage space in iCloud, a reliable internet connection and let it do its thing.
There’s no inherent problem with using iCloud Photo Library other than the fact that it costs you a monthly fee for anything over 5 GB. For most of us, that can be taken care of by paying $0.99 per month for 50 GB storage. But if you’re looking for a completely free option, iCloud Photo Library is out of the question.
But when it comes to the smarts, Google gives Apple (and iCloud Photo Library) a run for its money. Apple’s Photos does face and object recognition but it’s just not as good. Because Apple is big on privacy, the scanning and tagging take place on the device and that’s where the data stays.
As a result, tagging data can vary for each device. This can get annoying. When it comes to searching inside photos, Apple’s object identification library isn’t that exhaustive. On the plus side, you don’t have to upload your entire photo library to Google’s servers if you opt for Apple’s solution. For many uses, the security implications of handing over all those images just isn’t worth it.
Both iCloud Photo Library and Google Photos have a web component, with your iCloud Photo Library accessible from iCloud.com. It also integrates with Apple’s core Photos app on iPhone, iPad and Mac. Google Photos is also available on Android (of course), and you can probably access photos via iCloud.com using an Android browser if you really wanted to.
Apple Photos lacks transparency or control over the sync, which means you can’t manually start or pause the sync process. It’s the same story with iCloud Photo Library’s Optimize Storage feature where it automatically deletes old, already uploaded photos from iPhone to make room for when you’re running out.
Should You Use Google Photos on iPhone?
Probably, if you see value in the benefits. Ideally, you should be using multiple ways to backup your photos: on-site, off-site, and online. Google Photos can be just another backup of your photos. The ability to search through photos, Assistant’s creations, easy sharing features, and the unlimited free compressed backup are all tempting prospects.
But of course, because this is a Google app there are a few caveats. First, in my experience, Google Photos’ backup hasn’t always been reliable. That’s because Google Photos is ultimately an app and can’t control the background processes like it can on Android. This is one thing iCloud Photo Library never fails at. As long as your iPhone is connected to the internet, the photos will be backed up.
At the end of the day, Google is an advertising company while Apple is a hardware company. They make their money in different ways, and its worth remembering that when considering one over the other.
The Future of Google Photos
Google Photos is going to get a lot more appealing in the upcoming months. Google is integrating Google Lens, its machine learning engine right inside the app. Google will get even better at identifying and categorizing photos — but so will Apple. It will also help you remove unwanted objects from photos. The suggested sharing feature will automatically identify your friends and will give you an easy way to share the photos with them.
Google is also bringing shared libraries to make sharing photos with your extended family a lot easier. The feature essentially integrates the family’s photo pool inside your library so you can search and navigate through them without going to a particular shared album.
Do you use Google Photos on your iOS device?