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Google throws Photos + into the battle

That’s it. It’s official. After months of maybes, wild rumors, executive defection, Google finally announced the splitting of Google + into independent platforms, Stream and Photos. While there might be a future for Stream, we are only interested in the development of Photos, possibly named Photo +.

The trigger of this announcement is certainly Apple’s imminent launch of Photo for OS X, already available in beta release. Due to replace the clunky iPhoto and the well liked Aperture, the Apple service will use iCloud as its central repository for all digital photo files, wether coming from mobile or stand-alone cameras. The core idea is to offer a seamless storage and organization cloud-base tool easily accessible cross-platforms. In other words, Apple wants the users of iPhone, iPad, and laptop/desktop  to access the same set of images without having to transfer them between each other.

Google could just not let that go. Already distanced by Facebook/Instagram in the photo sharing space and challenged by Amazon, Microsoft and Dropbox in the photo storage arena, the search giant could not passively see its market share continue to erode. While greatly appreciated by photo aficionados thanks to its photo centric features ( large thumbnails), Google + never succeeded in sucking the traffic out of Facebook, making it far less appealing than its competition.

In its effort to lure-in photo enthusiasts, it has however built a strong feature set, including auto-cropping, auto-editing, auto-classification among others. To the point that it is now easy to spin it off as stand-alone app, rich with photo delicacies. This will put Google in a direct collision course with Instagram, the clear leader of the photo sharing space and Apple, the up and coming challenger for the photo storage space.

Comparing each service show a clear picture of how close they are to each other. Apple’s weak point is the lack of a sharing platform ( it has even made sharing a little bit more difficult in Photo for OSX) which could, at term, frustrate the majority of its users whose primary reason for taking pictures is to share them ( moms, teens,  travelers, friends, guests, etc). The Cupertino company has two choices here : either partner more deeply with an existing platform or create its own. The first would devalue its brand image and the latter could seriously deplete its resource if unsuccessful. As we have seen, Apple’s attempt to build social platform within its highly successful iTunes app ( you didn’t remember, did you ?) was a complete fiasco.

Instagram’s weak point is its lack of any photo management tool. While useless throughout its growth, it is now becoming clearer, based on recent trends, that users appreciate the ability to find and resurface photos taken a while back. Trying to do so today, and unless if you remember the hashtag, is a painful exercise in frustration. The fire and forget generation has moved on to Snapchat and faithful Instagram users would certainly appreciate a more powerful management/backup offering. Otherwise, they will use Google Photo + or Apple’s Photo for OS X, if not Amazon, Dropbox or Microsoft. It would be unwise for Instragram to leave that leak unintended.

Google’s Photo + has the huge opportunity to come pre-installed in all Android devices, a far larger park than iOS, and with similar, if not better features than Instagram. But “Being Google” offers no guarantee of success, especially when it enters the market much later then everyone else and little wow effect to power it to the top.  It can still be beaten at its own game.

Because whomever controls the flow of images, incoming and outgoing, will ultimately control the internet, the next 3 to 5 years will reveal who will be the winner of this “Titanesque” battle for photo control supremacy and ultimately win the prize of master of the internet.

Photo by Jonathan Kos-Read

Author: Paul Melcher

Paul Melcher is a highly influential and visionary leader in visual tech, with 20+ years of experience in licensing, tech innovation, and entrepreneurship. He is the Managing Director of MelcherSystem and has held executive roles at Corbis, Stipple, and more. Melcher received a Digital Media Licensing Association Award and is a board member of Plus Coalition, Clippn, and Anthology, and has been named among the “100 most influential individuals in American photography”

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