Google Photos has Won

A year ago, I was trying to use a handful of services manage my private photos collection. Each service had its plusses and minuses, but since most were cheap and/or free, the right strategy was to redundantly use all of them and see which ones stayed relevant.

Well, a few things happened.

  • Dropbox ended up killing their Carousel app. It had great UI, but it had to deal with Dropbox’s own hampered functionality around limited storage space.
  • Flickr turned off its desktop sync app for non-pro users, which killed one of my workflows. More worryingly, the fate of Yahoo itself is uncertain, which calls into question the longevity and reliability of Flickr itself.
  • Facebook cares less and less about being just a social network, and has its ambitions set on a huge variety of things well-beyond posting pictures and having your friends see them. Photos storage on Facebook was a weak use case to begin with, and it’s very unlikely at this point that it’ll be emphasized by the company.
  • Both iCloud and Amazon Prime’s storage services let you store pictures, but that’s about it. I guess iCloud can boast about its integration with iOS and OS X, but neither service is pretending to be much more than remote file repositories.
  • Lyve got acquired by a hard drive maker, and it’s no longer clear that photos storage is what they’ll be focusing on moving forward. Even the initial product had some fatal flaws at launch: their Lyve Home hardware has a touchscreen that’s still mostly useless, the apps are slow in uploading and downloading pictures, and having multiple devices (phones + laptops) try to sync all their pictures to the Lyve remains buggy. I had high hopes for Lyve, and I’m bummed that their service isn’t making progress and is likely on the verge of being shut down.

That leaves Google Photos as the photos service of choice. It’s fast, it has practically unlimited storage, it understands videos as well as pictures, and Google has built useful features on top around the assistant and contextual search. Google Photos does have an annoying tendency to suck up every picture on my phone’s camera roll, even the ones I end up deleting, but that’s likely due to its imperfect integrations with iOS.

At this point, I’m not sure if anybody else should even try to get into or remain in the photos management business. Google Photos leverages Google’s strengths so well — scale in servers and storage, plus advanced machine learning — that no one can really catch up. Let’s just hope this remains a major service and area of focus for the company.

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