|Initial release||May 28, 2015|
|Operating system||Android, iOS, web|
|Type||Photo storage and sharing|
Google Photos gives users free, unlimited storage for photos up to 16 megapixels and videos up to 1080p resolution. The service automatically analyzes photos, identifying various visual features and subjects. Users can search for anything in photos, with the service returning results from three major categories: People, Places, and Things. Google Photos recognizes faces, grouping similar ones together; geographic landmarks (such as the Eiffel Tower); and subject matter, including birthdays, buildings, animals, food, and more. Google implements different forms of machine learning into the Photos service, particularly its recognition of photo contents, as well as enabling features that can automatically generate albums, animate similar photos into quick videos, surface past memories at significant times, and improve the quality of photos and videos. In May 2017, Google announced several updates to Google Photos, including reminders for and suggested sharing of photos, shared photo libraries between two users, and physical albums, with Photos automatically suggesting collections based on face, location, trip, or other distinction.
Google Photos received critical acclaim after its decoupling from Google+ in 2015. Reviewers liked the updated Photos service for its recognition technology, search, apps, and loading times. Nevertheless, privacy concerns were raised, including Google's motivation for building the service, as well as its relationship to governments and possible laws requiring Google to hand over a user's entire photo history. Google Photos has seen strong user adoption. It reached 100 million users after five months, 200 million after one year, and 500 million as of May 2017, with Google announcing that over 1.2 billion photos are uploaded to the service every day, with the grand total of all uploaded content measuring over 13.7 petabytes of storage.
Google Photos has two storage settings: "High quality" and "Original quality". High quality includes unlimited photo and video storage for photos up to 16 megapixels and videos up to 1080p resolution (the maximum resolutions for average smartphone users in 2015). Original quality preserves the original resolution and quality of the photos and videos, but uses storage quantity in the users' Google account.
The Photos service analyzes and organizes images into groups and can identify features such as beaches, skylines, or "snowstorm in Toronto". From the application's search window, users are shown potential searches for groups of photos in three major categories: People, Places, and Things. The service analyzes photos for similar faces and groups them together in the People category. It can also track faces as they age. The Places category uses geotagging data but can also determine locations in older pictures by analyzing for major landmarks (e.g., photos containing the Eiffel Tower). The Things category processes photos for their subject matter: birthdays, buildings, cats, concerts, food, graduations, posters, screenshots, etc. Users can manually remove categorization errors.
Recipients of shared images can view web galleries without needing to download the app. Users can swipe their fingers across the screen to adjust the service's photo editing settings, as opposed to using sliders. Images can be easily shared with social networks (Google+, Facebook, Twitter) and other services. The application generates web links that both Google Photos users and non-users can access.
In December 2015, Google added shared albums to Google Photos. Users pool photos and videos into an album, and then share the album with other Google Photos users. The recipient "can join to add their own photos and videos, and also get notifications when new pics are added". Users can also save photos and videos from shared albums to add them to their own, private collection.
In March 2016, Google updated Photos to include automatically generated albums. After an event or trip, Photos will group the best photos together and suggest creating an album with them, alongside maps to show geographic travel and location pins for exact places. Users can also add text captions to describe photos. In October, Google announced multiple significant updates; Google Photos will now surface old memories with people identified in users' recent photos; it will occasionally highlight the best photos when a user has recently taken a lot of images of a specific subject; it will now make animations from videos as well as photos (photo animations have been present since the start), displaying the most memorable moments in videos; and it will now find all sideways photos and help the user easily flip them to normal orientation. For all of these features, Google touts machine learning does the work, with no user interaction required. In November, Google released a separate app - PhotoScan - for users to scan printed photos into the service. The app, released for iOS and Android, uses a scanning process in which users must center their camera over four dots that overlay the printed image, so that the software can combine the photographs for a high resolution digital image with fewest possible defects. Later that month, Google added a "Deep blue" slider feature that lets users change the color and saturation of skies, without degrading image quality or inadvertently changing colors of other objects or elements in photos.
In February 2017, Google updated the "Albums" tab on the Android app to include three separate sections; one for the phone's camera roll, with different views for sorting options (such as people or location); another for photos taken inside other apps; and a third for the actual photo albums. In March, Google added an automatic white balance feature to the service. The Android app and website were the first to receive the feature, with later rollout to the iOS app. Later in March, updates to the service enabled uploading of photos in a "lightweight preview" quality for immediate viewing on slow cellular networks before a higher-quality upload later while on faster Wi-Fi. The feature also extends to sharing photos, in which a low-resolution image will be sent before being updated with a higher-quality version. In April, Google added video stabilization. The feature creates a duplicate video to avoid overwriting the original clip.
In May 2017, Google announced several updates to Google Photos. "Suggested Sharing" reminds users to share captured photos after the fact, and also groups photos based on faces and suggests recipients based on facial recognition. "Shared Libraries" lets two users share a central repository for all photos or specific categories of images. "Photo Books" are physical collections of photos, offered either as softcover or hardcover albums, with Photos automatically suggesting collections based on face, location, trip, or other distinction. Towards the end of the month, Google introduced an "Archive" feature that lets users hide photos from the main timeline view without deleting them. Archived content still appears in relevant albums and in search. In June, the new sharing features announced in May began rolling out to users.
Google Photos is the standalone successor to the photo features previously embedded within Google+, the company's social network. Google launched the social network to compete with Facebook, but the service never became as popular and Facebook remained the Internet's preferred website for social networking and photo sharing. Google+, however, offered photo storage and organizational tools that surpassed Facebook's in power, though Google+ lacked the user base to use it. By leaving the social network affiliation, the Photos service changed its association from a sharing platform to a private library platform.
On February 12, 2016, Google announced that the Picasa desktop application would be discontinued on March 15, 2016, followed by the closure of the Picasa Web Albums service on May 1, 2016. Google stated that the primary reason for retiring Picasa was that it wanted to focus its efforts "entirely on a single photo service"; the cross-platform, web-based Google Photos.
In May 2016, one year after the release of Google Photos, Google announced the service had over 200 million monthly active users. Other statistics it revealed was at least 13.7 petabytes of photos/videos had been uploaded, 2 trillion labels had been applied (24 billion of those being selfies), and 1.6 billion animations, collages and effects had been created based on user content.
At the May 2015 release of Google Photos, reviewers wrote that the service was among the best of its kind. Walt Mossberg of Recode declared the service the best in cloud photo storage, against its competition from Amazon (Amazon Drive), Apple (iCloud), Dropbox, and Microsoft (OneDrive). Jacob Kastrenakes of The Verge wrote that the release made Google a major competitor in the photo storage market, and that its pricing structure obsoleted the idea of paying for photo storage. Sarah Mitroff and Lynn La of CNET wrote that the service's phone and tablet apps were particularly good, and that Google Photos had a more streamlined design than Yahoo's Flickr and more organizing features than Apple's iCloud photo service.
Kastrenakes described the service's May 2015 release as evidence that Google was spinning out the "best features" of its Google+ social network. He stated that the Photos service was "always excellent", and liked that users would be able to use the service "without signing up for a new social network". Mossberg described the release as "liberation day" for the photos features that were "effectively hidden" in the "widely ignored social network". The service's strategy, as described by Josh Lowensohn of The Verge, was to put all data on Google's servers so that it can be accessed universally.
Mossberg liked the service's search function, writing that a search for "Massachusetts" "instantly brought up loads of photos of subjects". Lowensohn noted the service's speed and intelligence, especially in its ability to sort unorganized photos, as well as its photo loading times, search speeds, and simple photo editing tools. Kastrenakes compared the service's new image analysis to technology unveiled by Flickr earlier in the same month. Mossberg thought the face grouping feature was "remarkably accurate", but was most impressed by the subject-based grouping. He was surprised that a search for "boats" found both Cape Cod fishing boats and Venetian gondolas, but also noted errors such as a professional photograph registering as a screenshot.
PC Magazine's John C. Dvorak was concerned about the service's privacy. He was particularly concerned about Google's motivation for building the service, the company's relationships with existing governments, and potential laws that would require Google to provide a user's entire history of photos upon request. Dvorak compared such a scenario to inviting others to "scrounge through your underwear drawer". He criticized the service's sync functions, and preferred folders of images over an unsorted "flat database". Dvorak also highlighted the service's poor choice of photos to animate and lack of longevity guarantees, considering the company's abrupt cancellation of Google Reader. He ultimately suggested that users instead use a portable hard drive, which he considered safer and less expensive.
In June 2015, Jacky Alcine, a 21-year-old African American programmer, noticed the new Google Photos app had filed a number of photos of him and his black friend in an automatically generated album named "Gorillas". After reporting, Google removed the controversial "gorilla" tag from the app and made an apology.
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