Sunday, October 08, 2017

Apple Photos Integration

I've gone all in on Apple through a series of semi-random decisions.  I bought a MacBook Pro back in 2011 and, thanks to my friend Brian who upgraded the memory and hard drive to an SSD, that machine still works great in late 2017 and I was able to upgrade to the latest Mac OS High Sierra without a challenge.  I have had several iPhones over the years and am on an iPhone 7 now.  My current iPad is an iPad Air 2 which also seems to have several years of life left in it.  Finally, I bought an Apple Watch and recently upgraded it to Watch OS 4.

I've also been moving everything to the cloud slowly.  I looked at my MacBook and it said I hadn't done a backup in over 1000 days.  I don't really care because I put the (relatively few) documents that I care about in iCloud (and can access them across any Apple device), my contacts are in the Apple Cloud, while my photos (the core of most of this post) are already in the Apple cloud and I gave up on physical music and moved almost solely over to Apple Music.  My email is in the cloud with various providers, as well.  So what's on the device that I really care about, anyways?  Cloud storage is also pretty cheap... I think I spend about a dollar a month on it for Apple (plus $9.99 for Apple music).  The only high space items I have (in terms of MB or GB) are photos, since I've given up on music.

It is a hard decision to put all your photos in the Apple cloud.  You need to make the move to put your photos up in the cloud and have that be the primary location, not the ones on your hard drive or your phone  While someone with more technical expertise might tell you that is not an irrevocable decision, from my perspective it seems like it would be exceedingly difficult to "go back". 

I came to this decision because I love the features that Apple Photos provides.  Specifically:

  • Once you tag faces to names, any new photos that you take are automatically linked to those same individuals.  The accuracy of this service has been increasing over time, both in terms of 1) matching different angles to people and also in 2) picking faces out of the crowd in the first place so that you can link them to people
  • Apple photos now synchs across devices so that if you link photos to faces on your iPhone it carries those same links over to the photos on your MacBook and on your iPad.  Incredibly, until the latest OS upgrade (on the iPhone / iPad as well as Mac OS) you had to do these independently (3 times).  I am also starting to play with synching to my Apple Watch with Watch OS 4 but this is in progress (and would be partial in any case)
  • Apple photos now has built in photo features that were present on typical photo editing software years ago, like auto-feature touch up (magic wand) and more tweaks.  I'm sure to a photo expert these features are minimalistic but to the vast, vast majority of photo users they are likely enough.  These features just came through with the latest upgrades
  • Apple photos makes it easier to synch faces to contacts and also appears to act more reliably across devices.  For instance, if I take a photo on my iPhone it won't appear on my iPad or Mac until I connect that phone up to wifi somewhere and put it in a charger.  But then they all appear right away (in a reduced quality image, when you tap on one it "fills in" the remaining elements to a high quality image.  This used to be spotty, at best, and unreliable (I would have to start and restart my devices sometimes for it to work)
  • Now that synchronizing works reliably across devices, I can use my Mac for more heavy duty tasks like editing and changing the date on old photos (for example I take iPhone pictures of old photos from my physical photo albums and then I edit them and change their date on the Mac so that they are in the proper sequence and don't show up at the top of your photo queue by date)
  • If you load older photos into iCloud it takes a while (probably faster now) because it attempts to add in all the AI (faces, locations, etc...) so be a bit patient.  I was an early adopter of this and somehow I had lots of duplicates that I am in the process of deleting but it probably is easier now
  • I tried making a physical photo book from Apple (to give to parents and in laws) and it worked great.  Now it is much easier to bring photos into the physical book or however you want to print them, and you have a huge variety of photos (edited, even) to choose from
What are the big benefits of going "all in" on Apple photos?  Some of the coolest advantages are "memories" that Apple makes for you of various trips that you've taken or by individual across the years.  Those are very cool and it is easy to just click and send them by iMessage or as an email to others.  

You also can see all of your photos in one place and start to go through them systematically.  It really allows you to kind of go through your life, including the older photos that you upload into the iCloud which you can tag by individual which go far earlier than those that you might have in your current phone.

Apple AI also gets stronger every day... you can do things like look for 'mountains' or 'lakes' or 'bridges' and it finds them across all of your photos.  Behind the scenes Apple is scouring your photos for various elements and then automatically creating categories that you can search.  If you just type a letter like R you can see all the search options that open up, for instance (like rucksack, river, and so many other ones).

Here is some advice for anyone considering going down this path:
  • Ruthlessly pare down your photos immediately after taking them.  Typically I take 2-3 photos of each scene and every so often at home I just pick the best one and delete the others.  If you don't do this your photo stream is just cluttered with photos and you can't really see the forest for the trees.
  • Go back through historical photos that you've taken and delete the duplicates that you have.  I've uploaded photos to the cloud and for various reasons there are duplicates and every so often I sit down for an hour or so and delete them.  Apple is smart and doesn't immediately delete them permanently (they sit in a queue for like 30 days) so if you over delete you always can go back and find them
  • Spend some time tagging faces and cleaning them up and linking to contacts.  The software will start to provide cool memories and the like and you also can link the photos to contacts.  Amazingly, until OS 11 / Mac OS / etc... the contact faces didn't synch up.  Now I am putting a "best" photo in contacts and in faces and it is starting to align across my devices
  • Use the right Apple device for the right job.  I usually delete duplicates off my iPhone, I like to organize and view meta items on my iPad, and for more heavy duty tasks like changing dates on photos and editing the best ones, I do that on my Mac
  • Look up how to do things online (don't sit there and struggle).  There is no manual for any of this and it constantly changes.  For instance, I could not figure out how to fix the "main" picture on faces.  I looked it up and there is a non-intuitive way to do this but now I know how it is done.  Make sure you are looking up a recent query (not something from 2015) because Apple has changed almost everything it seems over the last couple updates
Here are some likely "cons" that I will hear... as always, make your own decisions, and assess the "pros" and "cons" yourself.
  • You are a slave to the Apple ecosystem.  Yes, that is true.  Apple is the company with the world's largest market capitalization and is not going away anytime soon.  So at least I am going in with a giant
  • Don't you worry about being hacked?  Yes I do.  You need to keep your password updated.  But Apple is continuously updating all their OS on every device and you just stay up with patches.  It is what it is and has to be relatively compared to the risks of other devices and services.  This is much bigger than this post.  
  • There aren't enough features for professionals.  This is probably true.  But I'm not a professional and Apple seems to be putting some effort behind this area
Cross posted at Chicago Boyz



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