Apple plans to replace its 13-year-old iPhoto with a new application for Mac desktops and laptops called, simply, Photos. It looks and works much like the streamlined Photos app already on the latest iPhones and iPads, and is designed to make Apple’s subscription iCloud storage more relevant in our lives.
The tech giant gave the new Photos software to developers Thursday, and says it will be a free download later this spring for people who have Macs running OS X Yosemite.
I had a chance to preview Photos for a few days on a laptop filled with photos on loan from Apple. I’m an avid photographer, but I abandoned iPhoto a few years ago because it was too slow and limited for managing and editing my large collection. From what I’ve seen so far, Photos is a significant improvement for people who stick with Apple for all their devices.
Apple’s overhaul reflects how much has changed over the last five years in the way we take, edit and share photos. Once a niche pursuit, photography is now everybody’s thing. At the same time, PCs are no longer the central hubs of our digital lives—our photos live on phones, tablets and social networks more often than on a hard drive back home. Many of us have just given up on cataloguing our thousands of shots.
The new Photos application is built around iCloud, so you can get to all of your images, wherever you want them. No more keeping—or losing—track.
Using Apple’s iCloud has been rather confusing in the past, but the approach in Photos finally makes some sense. If you choose to turn it on, all of your Apple devices feed all their full-resolution photos into iCloud, making them all available over the Internet to the Photos apps on all your Apple devices. (Apple built some behind-the-scenes intelligence to prevent large collections from eating up all the storage space on your Mac, iPhone or iPad.)
You can see the advantage to all this when you edit photos. With iCloud, any change you make on one device will show up moments later everywhere else. If you don’t like what you did, the original gets saved in the cloud, too. Unfortunately, there isn’t a way for family members with their own iCloud accounts to share a common Photos database.
What if you take photos on a non-Apple device like a dedicated digital camera? Just offload those shots, including RAW files, into the Photos Mac application, like you might have done with iPhoto in the past. Photos will take care of syncing them to iCloud.
And what if you want to view your photos on a non-Apple device? You can access them on iCloud.com, and also easily export pictures and albums to social networks or shareable Web links.
If you’re waiting for the catch, here it is: The Photos application may be free for Mac owners, but iCloud storage isn’t. Apple whets everyone’s appetite with 5 gigabytes of storage for free, but then charges $4 per month for 200 GB, or $10 for 500 GB. And it caps out at 1 TB for $20 per month. And you can’t use competing services such as Dropbox or Google Drive with Photos.
Apple Photos has new features that promise to make organizing your photo library easier and quicker. Source: Apple
If you don’t want to store and sync your photos in the cloud—or don’t trust cloud services in general—you can still use Photos as a standalone photo organizer and editor on your Mac. Even without the cloud connection, it’s a big step up from iPhoto’s old knobs and menus. Apple has simplified photo editing, making it as intuitive as snapping a shot on an iPhone.
Perhaps my favorite thing about Photos is that Apple rebuilt it to address some of the sluggishness in iPhoto, especially with larger collections. It certainly felt much zippier to flick through the samples that Apple loaned me, though I’ve yet to be able to test it on an older computer or with my own collection (121,875 photos and growing).
Photos also has a clean, simple interface that dedicates more real estate to the images themselves, and should feel familiar to anyone who has used the iOS version. You can pinch on a trackpad to zoom out and view photos grouped by occasions or pinch again to zoom out to year view. As with iPhoto, you can tag and view photos on a map, and also organize and search for photos by computer-recognized faces. (The Photos application still can’t automatically analyze scenes for content like sunsets, as Google photos and Microsoft’s OneDrive can do.)
One curious omission: Photos doesn’t let you assign star ratings, a tool I use to sort my collection. They’ve replaced it with a “favorites” button, good for calling out the crème de la crème, but I miss having star ratings to highlight my second and third tier of shots. (Star ratings imported from iPhoto libraries now simply get tagged with labels like “5 star.”)
Photo editing in Apple’s new software is more intuitive and powerful than it was in the soon-to-be-retired iPhoto. Source: Apple
Improving your shots in Photos is a delight thanks to some new tools that can essentially edit for you. There’s an auto-crop that will fix a crooked horizon line and attempt to make your composition fit photography’s golden rule of thirds. So-called “smart sliders” for lighting and color adjust photos across a number of sophisticated components—like exposure and black point—all at once, but a click-down menu lets you fine-grain adjust individual components if you want.
If you’re used to more advanced photo apps like Adobe’s Lightroom or Photoshop, you’ll notice some professional editing tools missing from Photos, such as the ability to remove noise, and correct for lenses. Apple has said it is retiring its professional editing program Aperture. People who liked its controls or need to manage multiple libraries of photos will be happier skipping Photos, and switching to Lightroom.
One thing even the pros might like, however, are some new options to create books and prints of their most stunning photos. Apple offers some attractive new themes, as well as the ability to print square books and panoramic prints in auto-sized canvases up to 36 inches wide.
When Photos becomes widely available this spring, installing it will automatically transfer over your existing iPhoto collection, including your old albums and events. But it will leave the old iPhoto app on the computer just in case you don’t like the change.
Apple is a master among tech companies at creating an ecosystem that rewards people for buying and using more of its stuff. At a time when we have strong, growing options for storing and managing all our files online, Photos is the best reason I’ve seen yet to consider ponying up for iCloud storage.