Federico: Google Photos is the company’s new foray into photo management, which features a free tier (with some limits), cross-platform compatibility across iOS, Android, and the web, plus an impressive natural language search that can recognize people, things, places, activities, and more.
Google Photos is free to use if you want to store all your photos and videos with the Unlimited plan, which optimizes photos at 16 MP and can keep videos up to 1080p. For most iPhone and iPad users, this should be okay to use Google’s locker as a decent secondary backup solution on top of iCloud. Where Google Photos shines is integration with the iOS Photos app and machine learning. On iOS, the app can upload items from your local library, delete photos from the camera roll, and even sync deletes from other platforms – so if you prefer to manage photos from a desktop web browser, the iOS app will prompt you to match deleted photos locally on the iPhone the next time you launch it. It’s quite handy.
The automated intelligence of Google is surprising, sometimes unsettling, and powerful. You can search for items like “pizza” or “computer screen”, and Google Photos will bring up photos matching that query. You can do complex searches such as “sunglasses at the beach” or “children on a boat”, and Google’s algorithms will know what to look for. Furthermore, Google Photos comes with a built-in Assistant, which will scan your photo history and offer automatic enhancements and creations such as edited photos, collages, stories, and GIFs.
For those willing to keep a backup of their photos in Google’s cloud, Google Photos is a great service and app. Search makes it easy to find photos by any imaginable criteria, and the Assistant saves a bit of time while also producing delightful creations without any interaction.
Favorite WWDC 2015 Announcements
Federico: The most important announcement from WWDC for how I get work done on a daily basis, multitasking on iPad is going to deeply change the role of the iPad as a computer. By enabling power users to interact with multiple apps at once, iOS 9 will enable use cases that blend the best of traditional computing platforms like OS X with the rich ecosystem of the App Store. Apple has announced three different multitasking modes: Slide Over, Split View, and Picture in Picture. I'm most interested in the ability to split the screen to interact with two apps at the same time and PiP, which will allow me to continue viewing videos with a floating popup as I'm doing something else. I can already imagine how multitasking will improve the way I take notes, research articles, and put together links for podcasts and this newsletter. The iPad is growing up.
Federico: Safari is also getting a fair share of welcome improvements later this year, both on El Capitan and iOS 9. On the Mac, Safari will be able to pin tabs to the left side of the tab bar – a feature I've always liked in other browsers and that allows me to keep important sites always open in Safari. On iOS, develpers will gain access to a Safari view controller, essentially a way to use a mini Safari – will all the benefits from Apple's browser such as autofill and data security – in their apps instead of web views. Safari will also be eligible for multitasking, so it'll be possible to pin a Safari panel next to other apps and open links directly in it.
Federico: I depend on the Health app and HealthKit on iPhone and Apple Watch to keep track of my fitness data and activity, so I'm happy about the changes Apple is bringing with iOS 9 and watchOS 2. On the Watch, third-party apps will be able to run natively and access the heart rate sensor in real time. This will allow apps to read heart measurements during workouts and save the results in the Workout app. On the iPhone, Health is getting more detailed graphs in landscape mode and an expanded set of categories, such as reproductive health, water intake, and UV exposure.
Graham: I enjoy music, but I'm terrible at finding new albums and artists that I enjoy listening to, which is why I'm cautiously optimistic that the human curation element of Apple Music might be something of value to me. Beats 1, the live radio station that is launching with Apple Music is also fascinating to me and I'm curious to see if Apple's first major foray into the creation of media content expands over time, and perhaps into TV? Lastly, I need to give kudos to Apple for launching Apple Music in over 100 countries simultaneously later this month. (But at the same time, I'm disappointed at the lack of international focus for Apple's other WWDC announcements).
Graham: I'm interested to see the launch of Apple News for a few reasons. One is that I really would like a good, general purpose, news service/app and if publishers also adopt the Apple News Format, reading articles in Apple News could be a really great experience. The other reason is more out of intellectual curiosity. When Apple launched the iPad, it was heralded as the potential saviour of the newspaper industry but then Apple faced a number of failures and setbacks, most notably being the messy implementation of In App Subscriptions, Apple's partnership with News Corp to launch The Daily (now dead), and the much derided Newsstand app/folder which will be removed in iOS 9. With Apple News, Apple is starting fresh and with a new approach that might just work. Although, I don't think it's a good start that Apple News will only launch in 3 countries (US, UK, Australia) at launch.
Tips with Graham
Tips and tricks to master your apps, this week by Graham.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been going to InterfaceLIFT every few weeks or months to get a new wallpaper. I’ve yet to find a website that has a better collection of great photography from around the world, and InterfaceLIFT helpfully has versions of every wallpaper resized and cropped to fit any display you have. If you’re curious, I'm currently using “Empire Nights” as the wallpaper on all my devices.
But if you know of another great wallpaper resource, please email me and I’ll feature the best suggestions in a future issue of MacStories Weekly.
A photograph might look great on the Lock screen of an iOS device, but I really dislike using a photograph on my Home screen because typically it distracts from the icons and just looks messy, in my opinion. Yet I really like having my Home screen and Lock screen wallpapers match with each other. So a couple of months ago I started to heavily blur the photograph for my Home screen so that it didn’t interfere with the icons, but matched the colours and general tone of the Lock screen wallpaper. I think the result looks great and I use Blur Studio on my iPhone and Maat on my iPad to quickly create the blurred version of a wallpaper.
Federico: Following their 2012 breakthrough record My Head Is an Animal, Icelandic indie pop-folk band Of Monsters and Men is back this week with Beneath the Skin. Similarly to Mumford & Sons’ Wilder Mind, Of Monsters and Men has used the past few years – largely spent touring for the album – to reevaluate their sound and consider the approach they wanted to take with this record. The result is a more open and introspective vibe throughout the 11 songs found in Beneath the Skin, starting from the opening Crystals (“Cover your crystal eyes, And feel the tones that tremble down your spine”) to the quiet and melancholic Organs (“So I take off my face, Because it reminds me how it all went wrong”). Of Monsters and Men has cut back on several indie folk paradigms and cliches – both lyrically and technically – to employ a larger variety of acoustic and electric guitars, deep bass lines, and pianos that accompany co-lead singers Nanna and Raggi. Their new formula works, providing an elegant mix of their early work and more mature songs. I love what Of Monsters and Men have done with this record, and they’re one of the few bands that I’d like to see play live in Rome this summer.
If you’re a long-time MacStories Weekly subscriber, you may recall my recommendation in Issue #9 of the StartUp podcast. Season 1 of StartUp documented Alex Blumberg’s journey in building Gimlet Media, a media company that focused on creating narrative podcasts.
I say all that because Gimlet’s third podcast, Mystery Show, recently started and it really deserves your attention. The gist of the show is that each week, host Starlee Kine solves someone’s mystery - whatever it is. It sounds silly, but Starlee Kine is what makes the show shine and you’ll find yourself completely captivated by the rich stories she tells about mysteries that at first seem incredibly mundane to you (e.g. the story behind a belt buckle found on the side of a street). I will admit I wasn’t completely enthralled on the first episode (it’s still good) but the second episode is great and the third is amazing.