The day has arrived; iPhoto is retiring and Photos is arriving to replace it. Don’t be scared.
Every time I tell someone about this impending change, they immediately respond with dread. If you have felt this way, I understand why you did. Change is difficult, and change in technology is even more so. When it comes to something as sacred as your photographs, you very likely only see the downsides of such a change.
My purpose in this writing is to describe the nuts and bolts of the upgrade, the reasons you may want to, the reasons you may not, the process of upgrading, and the way it will work if you decide to upgrade.
First off, Photos for OS X (henceforth, “Photos”) is for your Mac only. None of what you are about to read directly involves iPhones or iPads.
Photos requires that your Mac be running OS X Yosemite.
You can learn what OS your computer currently runs by clicking the (Apple logo) in the top left corner of your screen, then About This Mac.
You should see Version 10.something.something.
If you see Version 10.10.something, your computer is running Yosemite and Photos is available for you to install if you choose to.
If you see Version 10.9.something or lower (10.8.something, 10.7.something, 10.6.something, 10.5.something…), you need to install Yosemite to get this new Photos app.
To this point, I have recommended that many of you do not install Yosemite on your machines. Yosemite performs fairly well on machines aged 3 years and younger, but on Macs from 2011 and older, Yosemite brings overall performance down. The new features and the cosmetic changes make the background tasks about 10% harder for the computer to perform, and thus everything feels a little more sluggish. In my opinion, Yosemite’s new features and look weren’t enough to justify the decrease in speed. Photos might just be that new feature that swings the balance to the positive.
Why you want this upgrade
The Photos app has three main goals:
• Increase speed
• Decrease confusion
• Full library iCloud sync
Every single one of you knows the story about speed. When you launch iPhoto or Aperture, you have enough time to go make coffee between the time you click the icon and the time the app is ready for you to actually scroll through your photos and organize or edit. For those with large libraries (in the many tens of thousands), you can almost make breakfast.
Conversely, Photos is fast. Expect the opening time to be cut in half (or better). Once open, scrolling the library should be quite fast. Opening a single photo should be quite fast. Editing should be fast.
My testing took place on my 2012 retina MacBook Pro, which is not a slow computer. If you are running a 2010 iMac, it will not be as speedy, but I’m convinced that Photos will beat iPhoto in a drag race every single time.
As iPhoto evolved from 2004 to 2015, it gained a few new features each year. Print projects, Smart albums, Photo Streams, Faces… Finding the thing that you wanted got dicey. Even worse, the organizational structure of iPhoto has NEVER been clear, and nearly every person to ever use iPhoto has gotten it wrong through no fault of their own. The Event/Album parallel sorting structure confuses everyone (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry).
Photos is simpler. It performs the primary sorting for you. You can’t change it. If you wish, you can create Albums on your own to group specific photos together, but Photos makes it clear that user-created Albums are a secondary level of organization. Primary organization is on auto-pilot, and I find this liberating. Basically, when you import photos, the app looks at location information (if you shot on your iPhone/iPad) and date information, and breaks photos into groups based on those criteria. That’s it. No more Events, no more sidebar with an endless list of Albums. For better or worse, you no longer have the responsibility of organizing photos. I think this is better. No one has time or real interest in sorting all their photos. The computer knows the dates and places. Just let it do the heavy lifting.
I have drawn The Map for many of you. The Map tries to explain how a photo traverses the ether between your phone and your computer automatically. More importantly, it explains why you have copies of each picture everywhere. You take a picture, it copies to My PhotoStream, travels through iCloud to your computer, where iPhoto makes a third copy in an Event. If you haven’t seen this Map, you’re lucky; it’s a mess. If you have, you can finally forget about it.
With the Photos app, there can be uniformity between all your devices. You take a picture on your phone, and it’s on your Mac and your iPad nearly immediately. Delete it from your iPad, it’s gone from your Mac and phone. Crop a picture and apply a filter on your Mac, and the changes are visible on your phone and iPad. Everything syncs. As far as you are concerned, you have one set of photos that looks exactly the same (number of photos, Albums, edits) on every device you own. And all of this syncing occurs over WiFi. No cables required.
As a bonus, you also have access to all your photos when you log into iCloud.com on any computer in the world. So if you are with a friend and without your personal technology, you can borrow theirs to show them your photos if you like.
In testing, the time required to sync a photo between all my devices was less than twenty seconds. Deleting, cropping, and adjusting color all took less than a minute to sync to all my screens.
Why you don’t want this upgrade
It’s not all rosy. There are a few reasons why this may not be for you. Here they are in no particular order.
Like I said, Yosemite doesn’t do too well on older Macs. If yours is old (in computer years), you can have this software at the cost of slower performance all around. I feel that this new app is good enough that it justifies some slowdown, but if you just can’t take any more spinning beachballs, Yosemite may just not be worth it.
Yosemite is free and Photos is free, but the iCloud space required to sync your entire photo library will not be free. Apple gives everyone 5GB free in iCloud. Some of you may be paying 99¢ per month for 20GB of space. Most people will need to bump into the next tier – $3.99 per month for 200GB of space. The next bump is 500GB for $9.99 per month. If you are a true picture packrat, 1,000GB for $19.99 per month. I think that most people will fall into the 200GB / $3.99 tier. So your photos are about to cost about $50 per year. Remember though that iCloud syncing is optional. You do not have to pay for anything if you don’t use iCloud for syncing.
Some people (with good reason) don’t like the idea of their personal photos sitting on an iCloud server out in the world. The only things keeping your photos out of the hands of hackers are the strength of your Apple ID password (groan) and the diligence of the security teams at Apple.
If you are uneasy about the thought of your pictures floating around on the internet (and please understand that your photos are normally completely private, but hacking is a possibility), you still can run Photos and not sync them to iCloud. iCloud syncing is optional, and Photos will work quite happily without iCloud sync.
I really don’t think this one is much of an issue. The initial response to any new software is fear and fatigue, because learning is hard. In this case, I feel that Apple has designed a piece of software that is simpler than the one it replaces and friendly to the newcomer. If you could make iPhoto work at all (even just the very basics), you can use Photos.
Should you choose to proceed, here’s what needs to be done.
If you have already installed Yosemite, just wait for a software update notification to appear. OS X Version 10.10.3 is what you’re looking for. Install that. It will take about 10 minutes to install and will require that your computer restart.
Once it’s done, look for the new Photos icon. The icon is circular and contains a sort of flower. It should look familiar, since it’s the same icon for Photos on your iPhone and iPad.
If you have not yet installed Yosemite, do this:
1. Click the (Apple logo) at the top left corner of your screen.
2. Click App Store.
3. Near the top right, click OS X Yosemite.
4. A big graphic of Half Dome (or is it El Capitan?) will appear. Click Get in the upper left.
Yosemite will take a while to download (an hour, maybe two). When it has downloaded, it will take another hour to install. The installation requires all the computer’s attention, so go find something else to do for a while.
The Photos app should be included in this installation. When Yosemite has finished, you will have Photos.
When you launch Photos for the first time, it will take you through a migration process. It welcomes you to the app, requires that you agree to terms you won’t read, and asks if it should import photos from iPhoto. You do want this to happen. It also asks if you want to sync with iCloud. If you do, do it. If you don’t, you can opt out. If you want to sync with iCloud but lack space, it should give you an opportunity to spend more money. If you see something about optimizing space, do it.
The copy between iPhoto and Photos is automatic and will take a while. For my ~10,000 photo library, the copy took about forty minutes. Call it an hour per 10,000.
When that is complete, it begins the process of copying all your photos to iCloud. This could take days. Seriously. It took my machine about thirty-six hours to move everything up. For the larger libraries, expect a solid week before everything is there. You can use the computer normally during this time.
Once your library has made the big move, your iPhone and iPad should start to fill in with all your pictures. What is clever is that since your photos live on iCloud, they don’t have to live on your phone and iPad. So your mobile devices might actually gain free space as part of this upgrade.
When everything is done, you’ll see your photos in one nice long series that you can scroll through. Along the top of the window are a few buttons. Double-click a photos to enlarge it. Click Edit to crop, straighten, and make color adjustments. Click the back button to return to the grid view. Click the back button again to zoom out to an overview. Click the back button yet again to see a bird’s-eye view of your entire library.
What I like about this new app is that it might just be easy enough to make your pictures enjoyable again. When I sit down to iPhoto with clients these days, there is always resentment and disappointment. Things go too slowly and photos are never where they should be. Pictures are a burden.
Maybe, just maybe, this new software will make photos fun again. So when you upgrade, take a moment to look through your memories.
As always, my advice is this: WAIT.
I’m writing this the morning of Wednesday, April 8. Photos is just about to release, and when it does, millions of people will download it intentionally or unwittingly. Millions of people will start the migration to Photos, become enraged that might have to buy more iCloud space, roll their eyes at the amount of time spent copying and uploading, and then criticize Apple brutally when something goes wrong.
If you wait a little (my typical wait period is two weeks), you can avoid the grief of this cycle. Let someone else discover whatever bug will be discovered this week. Let the tech press tear the process to pieces. Let Apple respond with a fix to whatever the issue is. THEN do the upgrade. This happens every year. It will probably happen this year. Just wait it out.
If you have questions, please let us know. Please also understand that photos are the biggest reason that anyone cares about their computer, so I expect that we will be very busy making sure this all works for many of you. Demand will be high, and many of you will have the same questions. So please bear with me. Follow us on Twitter (twitter.com/keylabsf) to see timely updates. Check our blog for longer news. And let us know if we can be of assistance.
Thanks for reading, and happy shooting!