Google Photos is Google's third attempt at photos. While Picassa and Google+ photos were good products in their own right and attracted a considerable user base, they were not adopted by users at Google scale.
This time, Google is offering an incredible value proposition with it's new product in Photo management, catching our imagination. It has certainly caught mine.
The ever growing data set
We carry amazing cameras with us everywhere. We take more photos everyday. Thanks to the smartphone, everyone is now a photographer.
Some of the pictures we take are immediately shared with our family and friends using social networks and messaging apps . But the majority remain in our gallery or photos app, waiting for an illusive backup and sorting. They get deleted eventually when the storage or our love for them runs out.
Once in a blue moon, we browse through our photos and take a backup on a USB drive or a hard disk, where they are quickly forgotten.
Once in two blue moons, we take a heroic effort to organise our photos. We make a mental process of how we will sync up our collection and keep it pristine. This system usually holds up till the next data dump.
We take more pictures than ever, share a few and forget the majority. All too often, our pictures are littered across devices. Smartphone pictures are on the phone, some are backed up on a hard disk. Older pictures are on the computer.
Storing and reliving our memories is a very ordinary experience.
To solve this problem, Google has taken the most popular feature of Google plus and made it a standalone independent app. In addition it has slapped the best price it can, free.
Google allows you to store all your photos and videos in the cloud, accessible through apps and the browser. They are stored and synced across devices, without eating into the storage limits of your well endowed phone.
For pictures below 16 MB, Google promises minimum reprocessing and optimisation but keeps the originals. This limit is a clear boundary for the product. This is not a backup service. It's a consumption service. While this means there is some optimisation, the alternative to most people is the hard disk. This will do just fine.
You can store the original that are above 16 MB against your account's storage limit, but that misses the point of Google photos. Organising and sharing is simple and easy. Google offers an assistant feature that attempts to create interesting collages, gifs and albums for you. Editing and retouch is also easy.
Why is this free?
As smartphones become more and more popular, people are spending less time in their browsers searching. This does not help Google. For Google to earn more money through its main business of advertising, it has to either show you more ads or earn more per ad. Google photos focuses on the second set.
After search and messaging, photos and videos provide a rich dataset for Google algorithms to build a better advertisement profile. Photos contain location information, equipment, time, subjects and observed behaviour like favourites, sharing etc are very helpful. Googles algorithms can identify objects, people and so much more. This helps Google create a better profile of you for ad targeting.
This is something only Google can do, as is evident from the lacklustre response to the competition in this market. Flickr tried this first, but it's perception as a public photo sharing site has not changed. Apple photos app is for Apple customers only. Dropbox is not viewed as an app for sharing memories. And you can't put all your photos on Facebook. Facebook is only for the most curated and self appeasing pictures. Instagram is more a social network than a photos app. And only Amazon photos knows what it's for.
Google's intentions are clear when you install the app on your smartphone (iPhone for me). Without access to the Photos app, Google Photos does not work. Plus, the price offered makes it a proper Google product. It will become more and more difficult for its competition to charge for photos storage.
Other advantage with this knowledge is customisation. Google Now and Google Search can clearly benefit from more signals. Besides, having all your photos in Google is the biggest moat ever. Even if you stop using other google services, chances are Google will be able to build a pretty accurate profile of you based purely on your photos.
There has been a lot of debate over privacy. People wrongly believe that Google will share your pictures with advertisers. They forget that Google looses all credibility if that ever happens. It's golden goose is the profile it makes of you. Google sells targeting as it's main product, not data. Google will provide as much security for your pictures as somebody who is charging you to store them. This is Google's bread and butter business.
With search going down, this is yet another app that feeds the Google data dragon and helps it build a better profile for ad targeting. Android offers a big market, but apps like Google photos are cross platform, targeting all the users.
So give this a spin, but with one caveat. Put your photos on it but don't ditch your hard drives yet. Remember Google Reader?
Going forward, I would not be surprised to see features like Face Detection, APIs, auto edit features and even better search than we need. Let's see how this goes for Google and for it's competition.