I have a problem. I can never quite settle on a solution for storing and managing the massive collection of personal and professional photos I’ve amassed over the years.
One thing is for sure: I want to store it all in the cloud. I’ve had enough bad experiences over the years with failed hard drives and corrupted backups to know I need to leave the data management side of the solution to experts who will deal with all that boring crap.
But I can’t find the right combination of storage, software, and quality of service to satisfy my needs.
Apple has come closest with the new Photos app and iCloud Photo Library. But that system suffers from terrible quality problems that completely destroy the user experience. Turning on iCloud Photo Library on my iPhone 6s Plus and my iPads significantly degrades their performance to the point of sometimes making them unusable. The Mac Photos app feels like it’s barely out of beta, it’s so sluggish and buggy. The iOS Photos app was apparently designed by amateurs. And the the iCloud Photos service on the web…? Just put it this way: Apple should be ashamed of it.
I really like what Google is doing with Photos these days. Every aspect of it, from web to mobile apps is fast and easy to use. (The Google Photos web app loads and performs significantly fast than even the native Mac Photos app on a MacBook Pro.) The ability to save your photos within the opaque Photos catalogue itself, or as naked files on Google Drive is ingenious. And the stories, animations and effected photos the service creates automatically and on the fly are simply fabulous.
But Google Photos is very feature limited. You can’t add keywords to photos, for example. And the functional limitations of Google Drive make it difficult to use. The selective syncing capability that’s common to every cloud drive service is too handicapped for real use so you can’t, say, temporarily sync just a folder of photos in your collection to your desktop. And then there’s Google Photos’ inability to do any sort of duplicate photo detection, so you’re almost guaranteed to amass massive redundancy in your photo collection.
You’d think Adobe would have a handle on this, but it doesn’t. Let’s start with the fact that the Creative Cloud Photography package only comes with 2 GB of cloud storage, which can’t be upgraded. There’s not much you can do with that. Then there’s the slow sync service, and the confusing catalogue/collection architecture that had me delete photos accidentally more than once. Lightroom is a great app, on iOS, on Mac OS, and on the web, but the cloud system that binds those things together is a slow, severely limited ball of confusion.
So what’s the fix?
Apple needs to make the iCloud Photo Drive work without any degradation on the performance of users’ devices. It’s truly shameful that turning on iCloud Photo Drive on an iPhone 6s Plus makes the device run like an iPhone 5c. The Apple Photo web service (well, the entire iCloud web service, actually) needs to be brought up to modern standards; as it stands it’s like something a computer science student cooked up in 1998. The Mac OS Photos app needs a massive performance boost that doesn’t grind a user’s system into the ground. (Applying a keyword to a selection of 10 photos uses 180% of my CPU resources and makes my whole machine pause, unusable, for 10 seconds.) The Photos app for iOS needs a complete overhaul. What’s the difference between the “Photos” section and the “Albums” section? Nobody knows; it’s too confusing right from the start.
Google needs to add more basic features. Its Photos service relies too much on artificial intelligence, which has already gotten it into trouble more than once. It also needs to add in duplicate detection, so users who might be uploading the same photos from multiple locations, like their Macs and their iPhones, won’t be uploading the same photo twice. And Drive needs to be tweaked to enable users’ with more fine control over how their photos sync to their desktops. Apple’s Photos service is magnificent in how it can selectively sync limited selections of photos to various devices on the fly, quickly and imperceptibly. If Google Photos can’t do this – and it can’t – it needs to let users have really fine control over how this syncing takes place.
As for Adobe, that company needs to join us in the 21st Century where 1 TB of cloud storage is the norm. People want all of their stuff in the cloud. The company also needs to simplify their applications’ architectural system and accelerate their syncing services. The Adobe suite of Creative Cloud photo apps is magnificent, the best of all. But they are blocked from greatness by a weak cloud infrastructure. Alternatively, the company could piggyback the Lightroom cloud service on one that’s more established, like Google Drive.
Where are my photos right now?
They’re on Apple’s iCloud Photos Drive, but I’ve had to turn off syncing to my iPhone and iPads because of the performance hit they take. I’ve also got them all backed up into a formerly-great service called Picturelife, but the quality of that service has degraded recently and I’m planning to remove them soon.
Ideally, Apple will make the needed improvements to its Photos system and I can just stay put. But I suffered through iPhoto for 13 years and watched friends’ photo libraries die slowly under the company’s mistreatment of Aperture. I’ve learned that Apple’s commitment to its users’ photo libraries comes with limitations and caveats. I don’t see any improvement coming in the near future.
So I’m exploring other solutions. I haven’t quite found the right one yet, but I think I’ll start posting more frequently with the details of my neverending research.