We’ve been enjoying a time of relative calm since October. Big iPhones and Yosemite caused some excitement, and then the bloggers and Apple pundits seemingly went into hibernation. Aside from rumors of an Apple Car on the horizon, winter has been quiet.
But now Spring is here.
On Monday, I downloaded the pre-release for Apple’s long-awaited successor to iPhoto. Photos for OS X is now installed on my machine, and I’m happy to report that I find it a significant improvement over the increasingly creaky iPhoto.
First off, you can’t download Photos for OS X yet. It won’t be available to the public for a few more weeks (maybe a month), and even once it releases, I recommend waiting a few more weeks to let the dust settle and the overly hyped bug (whatever it is) to be discovered, heavily criticized, and resolved. That cycle happens with every single release of every single product, and the tech press loves to reverberate whatever scandal they can find.
Once all the angst dissipates, I think you’ll like the new software.
The second caveat is that Photos for OS X requires Yosemite, and I am recommending that many of my clients do not install Yosemite. Until now, the benefits of Yosemite (Handoff and the cosmetic overhaul) have not justified the decrease in performance that Macs older than 2012 experience. I still feel that Yosemite is for the young machines, whose internals have enough horsepower to handle the increased demand. But Photos may prove good enough to counterbalance the performance hit.
The upgrade process, should you choose to do it, is simple. When your Mac pops up a nagging “Software Update” notification, do it. If you see a banner for OS X Yosemite, click it and install. Photos for OS X will come along for the ride.
The update process took about 15 minutes for me.
Once updated, Photos needs to inherit all the snapshots from iPhoto/Aperture. For my 10,000 photo library, this process took another 40 minutes.
Next comes the controversial part. If you want your photos to live on iCloud (and you likely do, since it allows all your devices to view and sync all your photos and edits and albums), you need to have enough space in your iCloud account to accommodate them. The free 5GB level will not be sufficient. The first paid tier — 1$ per month for 20GB — will not be sufficient. The price of admission for most will be $4 per month for 200GB. If you are a digital hoarder (no judgements), you can bump up into the 1000GB tier for $20 per month.
Note that iCloud syncing is optional. If you want your photos to live exclusively in your Mac, you absolutely may. Photos for OS X is still a better software than iPhoto, even without syncing.
If you do choose to use iCloud and have sufficient space, the next phase will take days. Photos needs to send every single photo and video up over your internet connection to an iCloud server.
For my 10,000 photo library, this process took 14 hours. During that time, everything on the computer is usable; I was not restricted in any way by this process. But for those of you with photos numbering in the hundreds of thousands, I expect you’ll be waiting for a week while your photos crawl up into the clouds. To compound this trouble, I can’t help but wonder what the net effect will be of millions of people undergoing this process at launch. Will the iCloud servers hold up under millions of Mac owners uploading billions of pictures simultaneously? One more reason to wait for the buzz to subside.
Once you have successfully migrated to Photos and uploaded your full library, the syncing is fast. Take a picture, make an album, fix some red eyes, title a photo… all changes arrive on all your other devices within 60 seconds. And each device is smart enough to maintain internal storage. This means that your iPhone will start deleting local copies of photos if it becomes full. If you want to see that picture again, it will download again from iCloud in the moment.
Opening the app takes seconds, not minutes (another vast improvement over iPhoto), and the confusing storage architecture (Events, Albums, and Folders) is gone. Automatic sorting based on date and location is quite good. Facial recognition seems to be improved. Most importantly, beachballs don’t spin when making an edit or loading up an album.
Photos for OS X seems lean and mean. A long onboarding process aside, setup is a snap and the benefits are large.
So keep your eyes out here for updates and remember that patience is a virtue, especially in technology.