The new Google Photos app for iOS and Android, which lets you back up an unlimited number of photos and videos from a phone or camera to Google’s cloud, has a bunch of nifty features, including an awesome search function.
But the best, and most useful feature in Google Photos may be something a little more subtle:
The Google Photos app can scan your photo library and offer to delete similar photos for you, potentially freeing up tons of storage space on your phone.
This feature was shown off at a press event near Google I/O developer conference, where a Google demo guy called it “the free-up space ability.” Hopefully, it will turn out to have a more catchy official name. Either way, in that demo, he was prompted by Google Photos’ “Assistant” feature to delete 3.5 gigabytes worth of duplicate photos.
Saving that space doesn’t matter much to Google, since it offers unlimited storage anyway, but it can make a big difference on your phone itself.
It’s worth noting that Google’s unlimited storage offer only extends to files of a certain quality. Google uses an algorithm to compress it down, making it look just as good with a smaller file size.
But if you’re a professional photographer with gigantic, ultra-sized photos, and you want to keep them that size, Google is going to count it against your Google Drive storage limit. No free unlimited storage for you. Google Drive costs $US10/month for an additional terabyte of data, so it’s still affordable for most.
Much of Google Photos is powered by Google’s expertise at what the industry calls “machine learning.” The more photos Google processes, the better it gets at picking between them. So by examining all your photos, it can tell which ones are out of focus or otherwise ruined and can probably be safely deleted.
The company uses this same behind-the-scenes magic for other cool features, too. Google can tell when a photo was taken near a major landmark, without the use of GPS tagging or anything — its algorithm just recognises it as, say, the Eiffel Tower.
There are more fun uses, too. Photos that are obviously taken in sequence might be detected by Google’s algorithm and turned into a short movie or even an animated GIF. It’s a little bit like Harry Potter’s moving portraits, and it’s very cool.
Google VP of Sharing and Photos Bradley Horowitz likens the app to Gmail for pictures — the app handles the hard part of keeping your stuff organised automatically, so you can focus on just taking and looking at pictures, with the expectation that you’ll be able to find it again.
The new Photos app recognises individual people, so you can search for every picture you’ve ever taken of them. That makes it a little easier to sift through reams of photos.
All the same, Google says that privacy is a key part of Google Photos — it’s your personal stash of pictures, after all — and so it has no plans to charge for the service.
“We have absolutely no plans to do anything from a monetisation or ads perspective,” said Google Photos boss Anil Sabharwal.