Passive apps

Google Photos has been widely discussed and dissected since being announced at I/O 2015, but most heated debate has been around its free price tier and the implications on your privacy and how it compares to iCloud Photos.

But since I’ve started using it, I’ve been struck by Google’s attempt to eliminate the need for manual curation.

The old way of doing things

In the past, I’ve typically always taken a lot of photos and done a quick sort to choose the 25% or so that are any good and worth sharing.

Then if it was a particularly memorable event, I might enhance and edit a few of those photos or create a short movie to share. But the majority of pictures didn’t get any special treatment.

Cloud curation

Google Photos goes through your images as they’re uploaded and attempts to curate and edit a few images for you, creating animated gifs, collages and even movie clips with soundtracks.
These generated attempts are not always entirely successful and occasionally they’re hilariously bad.

But Google doesn’t pretend they’re perfect: instead of dumping them into your library, they are offered as suggestions by a virtual assistant.

This is a great design: First, it gives Google a dedicated place within the app to delight you with the new generated content and secondly, it also gives you final say over what goes into your library.

All of this happens passively in the background while your photos are being uploaded. An occasional push message lets you know there’s something new to check out and surprises you be re-surfacing your own content.

Manually editing collections or creating a perfect video in iMovie feels like a complete waste of time by comparison. It takes forever and while the final result is better, Google Photos has got enough time to do this for all of your photos, no matter how unimportant.

Lazy and egocentric apps are the future

Photo & video apps today seem to fall into two categories:

1. Instant gratification and sharing (e.g Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, Hyperlapse)

2. Passive curation (e.g. Google Photos, Timehop)

The first category is all about sharing in the moment and typically skews slightly younger.

The second category is about helping you to re-discover your own memories passively: Nobody likes seeing other people’s vacation photos (honestly, we’re just being polite), but we rarely take the time to manage or browse old photo albums on our own.

Finding new low-effort ways to help people enjoy their own content seems to be key for new apps and products looking to displace traditional photo and media apps.