That’s it. It’s official. Google photos is now free from G+ and starting a life of its own. For those who subscribe to our weekly newsletter, you might have noticed that we called what would be the key differentiator: free unlimited storage. With so many of the other features ( with variations) available via competitors, it was the only true unique play Google could make. And while a major draw for any mobile user, it is not the only attractive feature. Let’s review.
Not really free
First, let’s make a point clear. The unlimited free storage is only valid for photos up to 16MP in size and 1080p in definition for videos, meaning perfectly fit for your cell phone snaps/videos but out of reach for your DSLR’s and other 4K videos. Google’s logic here is that the service is free for consumers but paying for professionals ( who tend to use the larger formats). Also, as users upgrade to camera phones with more pixel power, they will be forced to add the paying feature to fit the larger formats. Having already all their older photos in the system, they will be somewhat mouse-trapped into upgrading instead of having to migrate thousands of photos to another provider. By delaying the inevitable fee, Google craftily manages to create a very strong appeal while strengthening its future income.
Google Photos delivers on a battery of expected features. The auto-classification by date, for example, is nothing new ( Picasa and other sites have been offering a variation for years) and the minimum for any photo storage platform. Adding discreet auto-labeling, however, puts it in between the Apple service ( which has none) and Flickr ( which has too much). With Google, the content recognition module, seemingly coupled with GPS and EXIF file classification, serves another layer of organisation, for the sole purpose of the user ( at least for now). Instead of publicly exposing the auto-generated tags, which lead to PR nightmare for Flickr, Google probably bets that any false positive will be quietly corrected by individual users since complaining about errors would force them to make images that they would rather keep private, exposed to public scrutiny. In other words, there will be errors, we just will not hear about them so much.
Free lunches and data farming
Google is making sharing easier. Now that it free from being the promotion engine of G+, Photos can expand its reach to all social media. With intuitive sharing tools like the multi-photo select ( previously seen on Flickr app), Google Photos announces loud and clear that it intends to be a big part of the social media interaction. Not as a platform, but as a provider of content. Since it offers a link to share, the search giant will certainly take advantage of it to start quantifying which types of images are shared the most and why. For those of you that might be shocked to read this, remember, there is nothing like a free lunch, especially with Google. If they offer you something for free, it is because they make money with the data you provide them. And photos provide a huge amount of extremely valuable data. In fact, as content recognition gets more accurate, researcher are actively developing tools to better understand what is in the 1.8 billion images we share every day, something we heard over and over during the last LDV Vision Summit. Google is a the forefront of this research, along with Yahoo and Microsoft.
The Assistant tool which will help build experiences around visual content, will certainly have strong appeal, especially with millennials : The last 3 years have seen a high growth of added layers on visual content ( Gifs, Stickers, Text) and Google wants to take advantage of it. It is also a key differentiator from other services like Apple, Flickr or Dropbox’s carousel.
While the official announcement of Google’s Photos might not have revealed anything we didn’t already know or expected, it is still a very important milestone. Lest we forget, Google owns the operating system of the majority of mobile in the world. With its seamless auto-upload feature, it is extremely well positioned to becoming the default photo storage provider if only by sheer user laziness. After all, a service that automatically backs-up, beautifies and organised all photos/videos might be the only thing people need, especially if it’s free ( at first). Furthermore, it is offered by a company that will not suddenly crash and burn overnight, taking with it your life’s memories. That alone can be the number one reason to choose a photo storage solution. What Google Photos is not is an Instagram/Snapchat killer. In fact, it seems Google has completely dropped the ball on the social media aspect and focused entirely on providing very strong organisation foundation. At least for now.
Photo by Michelle Garayburu
Author: Paul Melcher
Paul Melcher is the founder of Kaptur and Managing Director of Melcher System, a consultancy for visual technology firms. He is an entrepreneur, advisor, and consultant with a rich background in visual tech, content licensing, business strategy, and technology with more than 20 years experience in developing world-renowned photo-based companies with already two successful exits.