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Product I Love: Google Photos

Kevin Bralten

Kevin Bralten

Head of Engineering

May 21, 2019

Google Photos app open on cellphone

At Connected we are obsessed with great products. We often talk about the great products we worked on and the ones we wished we worked on. We sat down with our Solutions Engineer, Kevin Bralten to ask him about his favourite product. Funnily enough, once you finish reading this post, you’ll understand how we found it ironic that he was wearing his Google Cloud sweatshirt during our interview.

Not too long ago, my young son asked me a question about the CN Tower. Even though he’s seen it and we’ve talked about it before, he just couldn’t picture it. Without thinking twice, I pulled out my phone to open my favourite product, Google Photos. All I had to do was type “CN Tower” in the search bar, and the pictures that I took of the landmark were instantly displayed on the screen. It was as simple as that. 

When I was looking for a new image service to use (before I started to use Google Photos), one thing that I wanted was a more passive sharing experience instead of manually having to create web albums using, for example, Picasa or uploading to Facebook. I also wanted to use non-Apple devices so iPhotos was out of the question, and Dropbox was amazing for bulk storage but didn’t “understand” the photos themselves (not to mention the fact that my existing library would have moved me into the “premium” pricing). 

Google Photos checks all the boxes – a native mobile client, easy transfer of my existing photo collections, auto-tagging/organizing (which used to be a huge project), and easy sharing with both users of Google Photos and people not using the product. Because of all of this, Google Photos is the product I love.

Searching up "CN Tower" on Google Photos
Searching up “CN Tower” on Google Photos

1. Easy to Use, Easy to Share

I could never find a photo management product that gave me the exact experience and services that I needed until I landed on Google Photos. I started to use Google Photos as my primary image product in 2016, the year my son was born. At its core, the beauty of the product is that it gave me what I wanted – the simplest, most intuitive solution to my photo-related needs. Unlike iPhoto, which makes the experience clumsy if you don’t have an iOS device, Google Photos is device agnostic, making it easier to use on any device I own.

Photography is a hobby of mine, so I like how after I use my DSLR camera for “serious pictures”, I can easily insert the SD card into my computer and all of the pictures (and movies) will automatically upload onto Google Photos, making it accessible on both my computer and phone. I have Google Photos set up to boost import speed from the SD card but then also import photos after I’ve edited in Lightroom or Photoshop to make the edited photos easily shareable.

2. It Has Evolved Dramatically

Google Photos is a great example of an evolving product – its core use case has never changed but the delightful added features make it a keeper. Google has figured out the optimal way to lay out photos. There’s a smart blend of user-centric needs being met with engineering-enabled features like AI object recognition in search, video stabilization, and seamless scrubbing through thousands of images. The scale of how people use photos is always a challenge, but Google has found a way to solve it. 

It has very intuitive tech that can organize everything for me from an event, its location, and the people in the photo. Its facial recognition technology is extremely accurate, and it can filter out pictures like receipts to clear the clutter from my photo albums. I generally let Google Photos do its job to sort my photos because it’s intelligent enough to do it by itself. It has already made albums for me, sorted by categories like “Best of New York”, “Kitties”, and “Little Ones.”

A screenshot of Google Photos and how they've sorted my images
A screenshot of Google Photos and how they’ve sorted my images

Initially, the service allowed you to search for dates, people, and locations. Now, however, it has expanded its capabilities so that it can recognize objects and emotions in a photo too. Toddlers make weird requests. I’ve never wanted or needed to search for “happy” photos, but my son was adamant that he wanted to see the “happy” picture we took. With the vagueness of this request, I would have had a difficult time searching for all my “happy” moments but luckily for me, like everything else it does, Google Photos seamlessly completed the task.  

3. A New Way of Interaction

The main question for the photographer used to be, “How do I back up my photos?” With Google Photos, this is no longer an issue. Another cool feature of the service is that it has a retrospective on things that happened years ago today. Other photo memory functions like Facebook Memories and Timehop focus on the day of the month, whereas Google is much more intuitive. For example, if it’s Easter, Google Photos will show me pictures of Easter last year – even if it wasn’t on the same day. It’s smart enough to recognize that the significance is not that it’s the second Sunday of March, but that it’s Easter. This is the simplicity and perceptiveness that separates Google Photos from the competition. 

Funnily enough, Google Photos recently made a montage of one of the rooms in our old house which showed how frequently it was repainted. This helped me to convince my wife that we didn’t need another colour change, saving me a lot of time and energy… Thanks Google Photos! 

Now, I think of the photos I’ve taken as a lifetime of snapshots and memories rather than an imposing digital archive that I have to manage. Increasingly, I think of Google Photos as not only a way to share photos, but to communicate what’s going on in your day-to-day. Other services don’t seem to give collaboration its due, but with Google Photos you can share folders seamlessly with multiple people. For example, my wife really likes to shop at Winners. She used to send me a lot of photos through text, causing my phone to blow up with notifications. Once we started using Google Photos and took photos whenever we found objects or points of interest, it immediately popped up on both our accounts. I find that Google Photos is smart enough to have some of the same features of a social network; however, it still feels private and personal. It’s very reminiscent of a lo-fi version of Instagram.

Whenever I buy a new phone or a new computer, all I have to do is use the app and all of my photos and videos will just be there. All the photos I’ve ever taken so far are there, even things from the early 90s, which I can attest were mainly pictures of animals and mountains. 

Forks of the Credit Provincial Park in my Google Photos Library when I search ‘Nature’

Google Photos took what one would think is a simple service–photo management–and made it into a robust product which retains its simplicity. It’s one of my number one apps on my phone, it’s collaborative, and it’s taken my hobby of photography to the next level. If I could recommend an app that you should download for both your personal computer and phone, this would be the one.

If you want to hear about other products Connectors love, check out why Software Engineer, Mathieu Gosbee loves Mozilla.

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