How I Got all My Photos on all My Devices all the Time

Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves
Episode #137

I have what I think of as a real first-world problem: I have too many photos — nearly 100,000 — to synchronize among my Macs and iDevices. What I want is to be able to look at any picture I’ve ever taken, on any device (or on the Web) at any time. That’s a tall order and until recently an order I was unable to fill to my satisfaction.

To be fair, Apple has offered a potential solution for at least a year, but it’s pricey. For me it would run US$19.99 a month for a terabyte of iCloud storage. That’s the biggest storage option currently available on iCloud; sadly, my photo collection is already 1.06TB and growing, so it won’t all fit. Last but not least, $239.88 a year is a lot more than I’m willing to pay to see all my pictures on every device.

Then, earlier this year, both Google and Flickr introduced new services that offer up to a terabyte of free photo storage along with the ability to view all of your photos on all of your devices. I’ve been testing both services for a couple of months now and so far I have no major complaints about either (and you can’t beat the price – they’re both free).

The services are more alike than different: Both have basic Mac and iOS apps to automatically upload your photos to their respective clouds; offer free and paid storage options; and keep all uploaded photos private unless you say otherwise.

Both Flickr (left) and Google (right) offer bare-bones Mac apps to automatically upload your photos to their clouds.

They also both perform some very cool back-end magic that identifies subject matter in your photos, then categorizes them, making it easier to find the proverbial needle (or photo) in a haystack (or tens of thousands of photos). That last feature is very cool. It means you can search for photos by subject matter like, “food,” or “dog,” or “skyscraper,” and both services find your photos of food, dogs, skyscrapers, and many other subjects. And both let you browse your photos by subject, albeit in slightly different ways. Google Photos offers three main sections — People, Places, and Things — each with eight sub-categories.

Browsing Google Photos by category.

Flickr’s rendition is called Magic View and it has 11 top-level categories such as Architecture, Landscapes, Food, and Animals, each with half a dozen or more subcategories.

Browsing Flickr's Magic View.

The search-by-contents features and automatic categorization features work like magic on both services, so finding one special picture you took years ago has never been easier.

There are subtle differences in what you get for free. With Google, you get unlimited free storage, but your photos (and videos) might be compressed (i.e. resized or resampled), so they won’t be the same as the originals. That makes it questionable as for offsite backup of your photos. You can pay Google $1.99 a month for 100GB or $9.99 a month for 1TB of uncompressed photo storage, but Flickr is the better deal, giving you up to 1TB of free storage for photos up to 200MB, with no compression, resizing, or resampling.

That being said, Google Photos offers a neat feature called The Assistant, which I like a lot. What does it do? Every so often it takes multiple photos of a similar subject, and then assembles them into something completely different — a collage, movie, animation, or multi-picture storyboard. It’s not always great but it’s almost always interesting and surprisingly cohesive considering they were assembled by a computer with no human intervention.

Not all of the Assistant’s creations are great, but they’re often better than you’d expect from a robot.

You don't have to decide between one and the other; since both are free, I plan to use them both unless or until I find a good reason not to. I'll keep you posted.  

And that’s all he wrote…