Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

Om Malik on Google Photos vs Apple Photos

I’ve finally found some time this morning to read Om Malik’s post on Google Photos vs Apple Photos – a post that has been sitting in my Unmark queue since the day he published it.

Om Malik:

The improvements in Google Photos and lack of magic in Apple Photos sometimes make me wonder if I made the right choice by buying to Apple’s ecosystem and its ideology around software, data, and privacy.

I urge you to read his post. He’s very good at writing (he’s also terribly thoughtful, which I’ve covered here several times). Oh, and the day I met Om in San Francisco in 2007 I took a grainy photo of him on stage using an original iPhone. I wish I wrote posts like he does. But I digress.

Many of you reading this know my history with both Apple Photos and Google Photos (and several other cloud-based photo library services). I have torn these services down to their bare metal and tried to make them work for me. I have uploaded hundreds of gigabytes to both of these services. Multiple times. I’ve paid for both for several years as I’ve attempted to mold them to my liking.

So I know how Om feels when he watches a Google I/O keynote and wishes he was a Google Photos user. And then, subsequently, watching an Apple keynote and ending up wishing I had used Photos instead. This is somewhat akin to technology FOMO – wherein I simply wish I had the best features of every available service.

Currently, my process for storing our family’s photos is about as messy as it has ever been in my adult life. And I hate it. But I’m living with it until I find the mental strength to take yet another swing at making it work. As of today, I’m storing all of our photos within a single Apple Photos Library that exists on Eliza’s iMac. It is also backed up to two external hard drives. One that sits on her desk and one that stays with me in my laptop back. Our library is no longer backed up to the cloud anywhere*.

I told you, I hate it.

I won’t take the time to go into what I would consider the perfect service – but I think I can describe it like this – if Google Photos had a Mac / Windows app that also allowed me to have local copies of the files, that were stored in a simple directory structure, and stored the photo library meta data (like tags, or people, etc) in an open format like a documented JSON file, that’d be the ideal set up. Apple Photos allows some of this but it is so locked into Apple devices that it is no longer usable by me. I’m on Android today and I believe I’ll be on Android at least a few more years. (I love it)

All of this is to say, I feel you Om. And I understand the battle of wanting Apple’s principles of privacy applied to my photos but that I too am a human and I want all of these amazing things that Google Photos affords.

* My Google Pixel 2 saves photos to Google Photos automatically and Eliza’s iPhone X saves photos to iCloud automatically. So at any one point, several thousand photos are in the cloud, but the entire library is no longer stored online.

Finally opened a support thread in Google’s Photos forum. I still have tens of thousands of photos missing in Google Photos and my storage meter only shows 55GB used when it should read over 400GB used. I hope Google answers.

Warning: Gmail affected by Google Drive space

A few months ago I gave Google Photos a trial. I wanted to give the service a real, honest test so I purchased one of Google’s larger Drive plans (1 TB) and started uploading.

Google Photos is great. In fact, the only reason I didn’t stick with it was because — like so many Google things — it had no desktop component. No Mac app. No way of managing or backing up my Library locally. So I’ve opted to use Apple’s iCloud Photo Library and Photos apps.

During my short trial of Google Photos I had uploaded 30 or 40 GB worth of photos and videos. I then cancelled my Google Drive plan which would expire that extra space once that plan’s expiration date came along. Once cancelled, my account would degrade back to what Google offers for free on Drive… a very generous 15 GB (especially compared to Apple’s free offering of 5 GB).

Perhaps you see the problem coming down the tracks already. Well, I didn’t. I didn’t think that my email would stop working because my Google Drive account was overfull. Well, that is exactly what happened.

This would be OK if Google Drive would have let me know that my email would stop working in a for more clear way than it tried to. Here is the email I received when I cancelled my Google Drive plan:

This message confirms that your storage plan of 100 GB for has been canceled. You’ll be moved to the free storage levels for Google Drive, Gmail, and Google+ Photos on the day your subscription ends.

Aside: Pretty cute that Google still calls it Google+ Photos. Hanging on by their fingernails.

So I guess you could say I was warned. But not quite strongly enough I’d say. It doesn’t say that I may want to free up some Drive space immediately so that Gmail would continue to function.

To make matters worse, once the subscription ended, it wasn’t like Google could send me an email to let me know my email wasn’t working. It wasn’t until a day or two later that my sister sent me a SMS saying that my email was bouncing. I then had to log into Gmail to read the warning banner saying that I was out of space. I almost never use so I wouldn’t have seen this. Also, Mail on macOS or iOS wasn’t erring either. It probably should so at least I’d look into the issue.

I quickly logged into Google Photos, deleted a bunch of videos first, and email started trickling in. The email that trickled in was only from those with mail servers that were willing to continue to try to send the message through rather than giving up entirely. For any other email, it has been lost.

Live and learn. So I’m sharing this here so you don’t have the same issue.