About Kicking Apple Photos to the Curb

Apple Photos and the iCloud Photo Library once promised to be these marvelous things that would unify all of our photos and videos across all of our computers, mobile phones and tablets.

Instead, they have turned out to be yet more confusing, slow, deeply flawed software frustrations from Apple.

Yes, the Photos apps and iCloud Photo Library are huge disappointments. And Apple shows no sign of improving them any time soon. It’s time to kick them to the curb and find other solutions. Which is what I’ve done.

Faulty by Indesign

Really, let’s not lie to ourselves about this “new” Mac app called “Photos.” It’s really just iPhoto with a fresh coat of paint in the colour Ive (and if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the years, it’s that Jonathan has no sense of colour). It’s slow and crashy and feels like it was designed circa 2006.

And iCloud Photo Library? It’s the molasses poured all over your iPhone’s camera app that slows its launch time to over 10 seconds. It’s the cludgy proof perfect that Apple still just doesn’t get the cloud.

Then there’s Apple’s boy-in-a-bubble syndrome. Apple Photos and iCloud Photo Library totally lock you into the closed, sterile Apple ecosystem. We’re cut out of engaging and collaborating with anyone who isn’t likewise willingly trapped.

One Platform to Rule Them All

If Apple sucks at software and services, it’s nigh-irrefutable that the company reigns supreme at devices and platforms.

Fortunately, because of the extensible spirit that Apple builds its iOS and Mac platforms with, iPads, iPhones and Macs themselves uniquely integrate with pretty much every other service out there. That represents tremendous opportunity, and there are plenty of alternatives to Apple Photos and iCloud Photo Library ready to be explored.

Google Candy

As Apple faded in my eyes, Google Photos grew on me pretty quickly when it was launched back in May. It does pretty much the same thing as Apple Photos, but better and cheaper. Plus, it has some candy-sweet features that bring your photos to life, like automated stories, animated gifs, and reminders of past events. Apple Photos seems veritably dead in comparison.

Even better, Google gives you options in terms of how your photos and videos get stored.

The quick and easy default choice is to have the service tuck an unlimited quantity of your pics and videos away for free in the cloud. There are some catches with this approach, of course, as there always are when things are free. First, it only saves lower-quality, lower-resolution copies of your pictures and videos (the average person wouldn’t notice the difference, however). Second, the files are locked away in a closed catalogue, just like Apple’s opaque iCloud Photo Library. Third, and most importantly, Google data mines your stuff for the purpose of profiling you and profiting from your photographic ventures.

The other choice you have with Google Photos is to have the full quality, original photo and video files saved directly into an open directory system on your Google Drive. So you’ll have full access to the files in your private cloud storage environment and can sync it with any device you like. There’s a cost associated with this option, but it’s notably lower than what you’ll pay for Apple’s iCloud Photo Library.

Unfortunately, beyond storage options, Google Photos offers almost nothing in terms of photo management. It is a service clearly aimed even more squarely at sucrose-hungry amateurs than Apple Photos. Not that I’m a pro photographer or anything, but I do like to at least add keywords and other metadata to my images. Google Photos doesn’t go there.

Fortunately, with the ability to save your files on Google Drive, you can expose them to cataloguing and management software from other companies.

Like Adobe Lightroom

Lightroom is way overburdened with superfluous features, but its excellent cataloguing capability is just what I’m looking for. Plus, it’s completely open in terms of letting me manually establish a location and structure for my photo files.

So I can combine the way Google Photos will save my photos and videos as files on Google Drive with how Adobe Lightroom enables me to catalogue my stuff, whatever file system it’s in.

My Own Personal System

This is were I’m moving my 90,000-plus, 500 GB photo library to.

Sung to the Happy Days song, "Pump Your Blood"

Sung to the Happy Days song, “Pump Your Blood”

Don’t freak out – it looks a lot more complicated than it really is.

The main parts of my photo-management process are represented by solid lines, and these are pretty much automated. The dotted lines represent backups or “bonus” parts. These are parts I’ll do manually, when I want to.

The Flow

I’m using both an iPhone 6s Plus and an Android device (a Nexus 6) to capture photos day-to-day. And I have a propensity to randomly use various other mobile devices as they fall into my hands. (I’m trying to get my hands on a Nexus 6P right now…)
I also regularly shoot with a Sony NEX–7 DSLR camera.

So I have three main photo input sources. Those are represented at the top of the illustration.

The Google Photos apps on both my iPhone and Nexus automatically sync all my photos and videos from each device directly to Google Drive.

After I shoot with my NEX–7, I use Adobe Lightroom to import the photos from the camera into a directory system on an external hard drive that’s attached to my MacBook Pro.

And that’s where the connection into Google Photos comes into play.

That entire external drive is my Google Drive sync point. So the photos that get automatically uploaded from my iPhone and Nexus are placed into the same file system that my Adobe Lightroom catalogues are based on. And, likewise, the photos that I upload from my NEX–7 are placed into the file system that Google Photos uses.
Google Drive automatically syncs all of the sources together. Effectively, Google Photos and Adobe Lightroom share the same file system and each software environment can see all the photos and videos.

Then I use Lightroom to manually manage my entire media library’s metadata, adding keywords and sorting them into collections while Google Photos automagically manufactures delightful stories, animations and reminiscences for me on the fly. It’s a nice balance of sugary treats that Google feeds me and the pro power that Lightroom provides me.

But Wait, There’s More…

On top of that, I get plenty of extensibility.

Because the files are naked in an exposed directory system, I can back them up as I see fit, both locally and in the cloud. For example, from Google Drive I use Mover to sync the photos and videos directly over to OneDrive and Dropbox. This saves me having to use my expensive local internet bandwidth to transfer files up to each cloud file systems from my computer. (Mover is one of the best services available to heavy cloud users like me. It’s free, but I’d gladly pay for it.)

I also mirror the local external hard drive that syncs with Google Drive to a second external drive as another backup.

Addicted to the Apple

Despite my Escape from Appletraz, I’m still dependent in some ways on Cloud Cupertinoo Land’s way of doing things. For example, I like the fact that my Apple TV can display a gallery of my photos in my living room as an eternal screen saver.
Similarly, I love the fact that my Apple Watch can show me a different one of my favourite photos every time I glance at my wrist.

Not surprisingly, I can only feed these Apple devices my pictures through the Apple Photos ecosystem.

So I manually export the very best pics I take from Lightroom into Apple Photos, and they sync from there over to my Apple TV and my Apple Watch.

Migrating is Hard Work

I’ve slowly begun the process of moving my photos and videos out of Apple Photos and into this Adobe/Google hybrid I’ve designed.

It’s a long, time-consuming process and there are downsides. The downsides, though, really just reinforce the fact that I need to get out of Apple’s walled garden.

For one, even though all of my photos and videos are already stored in the cloud in iCloud Photo Library, I can’t move them directly from there to Google Drive using Mover because, as I mentioned before, the Apple system is a closed black box.

Instead, I have to manually export my photos out of the desktop Apple Photos app into Google Drive and it all has to be uploaded again. That represents considerable time and lots of expensive bandwidth.

Another major problem is the fact that Apple Photos can’t include all – or, in most cases, any – metadata with photo and video exports. That means the hours and days of time I’ve invested in tagging and cataloguing my media using iPhoto are probably going to be tossed away during this transition.

That’s a painful reality, but one I’ve reconciled to in the interests of moving to a more open, extensible system.

Closing Thoughts About Opening Up

Whining aside, I understand why Apple builds their software and services the way it does. It’s all about catering to customers with a low skill level and moderate needs. Apple’s stuff is easy to use and, with low utilization, works relatively well. If you just shoot a few pictures from time to time and want to sync them between your iPhone, iPad and Mac, Apple Photos is great. That’s fine, from a marketing perspective. You can easily get up and running and locked in with Apple’s products and services.

Once you have tens of thousands of pictures, though, and start using devices that don’t bear an Apple logo, things break down very, very fast.

That’s where Apple is doing its customers a disservice by not enabling us to grow up and easily leave its walled garden when we hit performance problems caused by its software quality failings. Like a hyperactive parent, Apple is doing its customers more harm than good by smothering us under the blanket of its hermetically sealed information ecosystem. Show us you love us: set us free, Apple.

About Amazon’s Dirty Kindle Books

Amazon’s Kindle books are dirty. All of them. Every single one.

I don’t mean dirty in the Fifty Shades of Grey sense. I mean coal-mine dirty.

Amazon buys the energy for its data centres from providers who burn coal to produce it. The company has no plans to change this.

Google and Apple, on the other hand, use almost entirely self-produced renewable energy to power their data centres.

In their 2015 Click Clean report, Greenpeace identifies Amazon as being “stuck in [a] dirty energy past”. Apple and Google are “green internet innovators”.

To buy a Kindle book from Amazon is to support an environmentally-catastrophic, coal-energy supported system.

Yet Amazon dominates the electronic book market. Forbes estimates that 65% of electronic books sales are Kindle. (About 30% of all book sales were electronic in 2014.)

The internet infrastructure is invisible. When we buy goods electronically, there are really only two things that govern our decision making process: the experience and the price. We want cheap, and we want easy.

The fact that we’re supporting the single biggest source of air pollution in North America doesn’t factor into our decision making.

But it should. We should refuse to purchase books, or any electronic product for that matter, that isn’t powered by clean energy. Consumers should recognize the impact that their electronic purchasing decisions have on our environment.

Find a Comfortable Seat for the Future

The surface of BRC Designs' Binary Chair is completely covered with a collage of motherboards, computer chips, lcd screens and hard drive disks held in place by sheet metal screws. The chair also has an interactive quality as the hard drive disks can be spun, the telephone keys and other buttons can be pressed, and the antennae raised and adjusted.Credit: Benjamin Caldwell, BRC Designs

The surface of BRC Designs’ Binary Chair is completely covered with a collage of motherboards, computer chips, lcd screens and hard drive disks held in place by sheet metal screws. The chair also has an interactive quality as the hard drive disks can be spun, the telephone keys and other buttons can be pressed, and the antennae raised and adjusted.
Credit: Benjamin Caldwell, BRC Designs

A couple of years ago Benjamin Caldwell of BRC Designs introduced us to his Binary Chairs.

Arguably more sculpture than furniture, they are constructed entirely of second-hand computer guts – things like circuit boards, CPUs, hard drives, wires and data ribbons. While the chairs are inexplicably beautiful they don’t look particularly comfortable.

The Binary Chairs are wonderfully emblematic of our modern world. Just as they are totally built of tech detritus, so is technology itself now built into everything. It’s naturally part of the daily fabric of our world.

And while that fine weave of life and technology can be a beautiful thing, it’s also full of jagged edges and unexpected sharp surfaces.

That harmonious conflict between humanity and technology will be under the microscope at an important conference in Toronto this June.

The 2013 IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society will address “the social implications of wearable technology and augmediated reality in everyday life.”

Holy crap, sorry, that was a mouthful. So I’ll just paraphrase it a bit: as technology integrates itself ever deeper into our lives and alters our view of reality itself, how do we adapt to it and manage its effects?

Let’s start investigating that question with something familiar: the smartphone. Continue reading

Adveillance. Or, Trading Your Life for Glass

Surveillance, according to Wikipedia, is “the monitoring of the behavior, activities, or other changing information, usually of people for the purpose of influencing, managing, directing, or protecting.”

We’re almost used to it now. We seem to accept the fact that everything we do is captured and stored by some mysterious third party for review and sharing at some future date.

Consider then, sousveillance, which is defined at Wikipedia as “the recording of an activity by a participant in the activity,” typically by means of a wearable computer or video recorder.

The phrase sousveillance was coined by Stephen Mann, a University of Toronto professor who has in fact been practicing it for nigh on 3 decades using one form or other of homemade device.

Then there’s mcveillance, a term that describes (again, according to Wikipedia), “the ratio (linearly) or difference (logarithmically) of surveillance to sousveillance”. In other words, it’s where sousveillance and surveillance meet in conflict. We have this term thanks to Mann’s son who invented it after he watched his father get kicked out of a McDonald’s restaurant for practicing sousveillance in a strictly surveillance-only zone.

What about when sousveillance and surveillance meet on friendlier terms? Enter Google Glass, an unabashed rip off of Mann’s inventions. It enables the average consumer – or at least those of us willing to fork over $1000+ for half a pair of glasses – to practice sousveillance. But it’s a Google device so, just as with the other horses in that company’s stable, your every move is also being collected and analyzed for resale as ad fodder. In other words, you’re volunteering yourself for real-time, personal surveillance.

But everybody’s happy, right? So there, at the other end of the spectrum from mcveillance we have “adveillance“. You really have to wonder who’s getting the better half of that deal, though.

Politics and Technology Don’t Mix

Modern governance depends on the separation of church and state. Religious ideology must not influence public policy. It’s time for a similar concept in the world of technology. Companies need to separate corporate politics from their technical products.

The simplest example of this is a loathing shared by both Apple and Microsoft for Google. Instead of addressing the technical and business challenges presented by Google head on, the two older firms seem to prefer to pretend that the younger upstart just doesn’t exist. It’s that old ears-plugged, nah-nah-nah-nah-I-can’t-hear-you mentality.

For example, Apple and Microsoft have integrated the arguably non-competitive social media environments Twitter, Facebook and Flickr into their various technical platforms, but chosen to exclude Google Plus. You can’t share a photo directly to Google Plus (aka Picasa) from Apple’s iPhoto or the new Windows 8 Photos app, but you can to Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr. You can’t share content to Google Plus from iOS or Windows Phone, but you can to Facebook and Twitter. On all of Apple’s and Microsoft’s platforms it’s very difficult if not impossible to alter this behaviour.

Why? It’s simple: Apple and Microsoft hate Google. Like, hate hate. The many conflicts they have with this company are clouding their judgement. Their shared hatred is preventing them from thinking clearly and playing fair. In short, the political views of these corporations trump the interests of their customers. It’s too bad, because in many cases the services Google offers are superior to those offered by Facebook, Twitter and Flickr.

It comes as no surprise then that Google generally (naively?) takes the complete opposite approach. It is the anti-political company (consider the fact that Eric Schmidt just visited North Korea for a brazen example of the company’s complete lack of political sensibility). On Google’s platforms you’re free to share your stuff wherever you want (though Google Plus is the preferred destination, of course). If your sharing options aren’t available, Google’s stuff is designed to be hacked to satisfy your geek-heart’s desire.

In many other ways, though, Apple’s and Microsoft’s platforms are vastly superior to Google’s. It’s no small irony then that if those two companies could just learn to relax their politics they’d likely trounce their rival in short order. Instead, the laissez faire Google is eating their lunch by catering to customer interests, regardless of executive political conflicts.

To paraphrase Robert Browning, “Google’s in its Internet: All’s right with the world.”

iPhone Still the Best in a Crowded Market – Barely

As Apple introduces the latest generation of its iPhone this week, it’s important to put the company’s flagship device in perspective as just another smartphone in a crowded marketplace.

Long gone are the days when the iPhone exemplified the cutting edge in mobile computing. Now it’s well matched by competing products from other companies like Samsung and Nokia.

Even the iPhone’s long-vaunted iTunes media ecosystem isn’t as unique as it once was. Until just a couple years ago iTunes was the best way to buy movies or music on a mobile device.

No more. Superior competing services like Rdio, Netflix, and Amazon Prime have vaulted past Apple’s languishing media platform.

That leaves apps. Apple invented the concept of the mobile “app” and made it easy to install and use them. The iPhone remains app nirvana, but Apple is at risk of ceding leadership here too. Continue reading

Web 3.0: Kamikaze Business

Near the end of World War II, Japan began turning some of its aircraft into massive piloted bombs. Packed full of explosives, once in the air these planes would be unable to even land.

Their human pilots had one mission: blow up. Preferrably by ploughing into Allied sea vessels, of course.

It was a tremendous and ironic admission on Japan’s part. Unable to win the war on traditional terms, the country and its soliders needed to make the ultimate sacrifice: self immolation. Kamikaze.

That same sort of mentality seems to be gripping the business side of the technology industry these days.

Companies like Google, Facebook and Apple have grown into monstrous, seemingly unstoppable business behemoths. Startup businesses can’t possibly compete, much less beat them. The odds of success are against them from the start.

So instead of approaching business from a traditional standpoint, startups are adopting a kamikaze mentality. They don’t even plan to succeed. They plan to launch and crash. Preferrably into the pockebook of Google or Facebook or Apple, of course. Continue reading

Google Drive, Apple iCloud, Dropbox, Microsoft SkyDrive: Where There’s Clouds, There’s Thunder

Wow, what a thunderstorm this week, eh?

We heard it approaching on the horizon for a while, but I don’t think any of us expected anything like that!

What? Oh, no, I’m not talking about the weather.

I’m talking about those clouds on the internet.

You know, services like Apple iCloud, Dropbox, and Microsoft’s SkyDrive. And I’m especially referring to the new one that caused this week’s huge storm, Google Drive.

“Clouds” are basically places up there in the internet where you can put all your digital stuff. Think of them as online hard drives.

I’m not going to give you the run-down on the various clouds’ features, or even try to assess which might be best. I’ll refer you to, “Google Drive vs. Dropbox, SkyDrive, SugarSync, and others: a cloud sync storage face-off“, on The Verge for that.

Instead, I’m going to provide a primer on what these clouds are for, why you might want to use one, and what you need to be careful of. Continue reading