29. May 2015

Hooray, it’s the end of May and that means another round of the Google I/O software developer’s conference is happening right now. Or, as I like to call it nowadays, Don’t Panic Time, because there are always a lot of new and exciting things being announced which almost inevitably will get lots of people annoyed, angry or both So, let’s see what’s going on this year from my humble perspective – which means that this is part observation and part rant. Of course you can also watch the recording of the whole keynote address on Youtube, including the very astronomy-themed intro animation.

The biggest thing announced was, of course, Android M, to nobody’s great surprise. I don’t really have much to say about the new mobile OS since my new phone still runs 4.2 Jellybean and even my new tablet has “only” 4.4 Kitkat – it’s just one of these inevitable incremental updates that will probably mostly benefit new devices. But despite bringing out a new version of Android every year, a lot of apps including those from Google themselves remain backwards compatible with only a few exceptions, but I’m confident that it will take a long time for older Android versions to become completely obsolete and unusable. One noteworthy update which I will be probably a bit jealous about is the new app permissions system Android M will apparently not grant an app a list of permissions during installation, but the user is asked with a popup to allow access for permissions when the app requests them, so there is also the option to actively deny permissions. What moniker Android M will actually get is still a mystery – is it going to be Macaroon, Milky Way or Mars? Considering the astronomy-themed intro of the keynote address, it’s surely going to be one of the latter two.

Yesterday’s bombshell was, however, the introduction of Google Photos, which had long been hinted at and nobody really expected much of. Actually, it’s “just” the photo section from Google+ separated into its own product, but Google has given it a great new website and mobile app… and went the additional step to make photo and video storage completely free up to 16 megapixels and 1080p! This is the actual amazing news and a real declaration of war to all other photo storage providers like Flickr, Amazon and others – previously unlimited storage was only available for photos up to 2048x resolution.

The new Google Photos website is appropriately simple and easy to use. It’s a huge improvement over the somewhat convoluted and clunky interface within Google+, which still continues to exist at the moment. The Google Photos app is also available for Android and iOS and while I have some minor grievances with it, overall I like it as a replacement for the G+ version, which it is already automatically replaces when it is installed alongside the main program on Android. The new website itself also works perfectly in a mobile browser and is blazing fast even on my over ten year old notebook.

As usual, there are some legitimate, but also some very unfounded fears about the new Google Photos. Some users seem to be under the impression that Google Photos will be so far detached from Google+ that it won’t be possible to directly post photos anymore, but at the moment it does not look like this will be happening anytime. It is still possible to share photos as usual directly from the post box and Google+ still has the usual access to all your photos in your account and will continue to do so. Google Photos is actually just a new frontend for the old Google+ Photos, which themselves were once the Picasa Albums. Same thing, new and (really!) improved frontend.

There has also been some concern about Google searching through private photos, grouping and indexing them for better access, but this has actually been part of Google+ for a long time in the background. Hasn’t anyone noticed how good the keyword search in the albums is? The system has always been able to find stuff in photos even if they have not been labled in any way, so photos have been analyzed for content before. If privacy is a concern, then there is a simple solution: don’t upload all your photos to the cloud, just those you are comfortable with. The photo auto-backup has to be activated manually and Google Photos is not just going to grab all your photos blindly from your device or computer.

Even if you don’t need all the features made for the casual photographers and the masses of users, Google Photos is simply a great tool for organizing photos even if you like to do your actual photo processing on your own computer. Nobody is forcing you to use all the features and after all, this is a completely free (and ad-free ) service. Myself, I will still continue to upload my photos on my own website and Google+ in tandem like I have always done in the past few years – I’m just happy that the photo management on Google+ has now become even more comfortable than before.

Many other nifty things like an enhanced Google NowAndroid Pay, better support for wearable devices with a new hybrid OS called Brillo, a new version of Google Cardboard for bigger devices and more options and features for developers have also been announce – and I guess I forgot half of the things which were announced. Google+ itself was barely mentioned on the first day of the conference and nothing has changed so far… apart from that the web frontend seems to have become dramatically faster even on old and slow computers, so Google must have done some heavy improvements in the background – and that is certainly good enough for me.

Bottom line: DON’T PANIC and enjoy the new, old and free stuff. And read this interview with Bradley Horowitz, the current head of Google+, about what’s really going on.

Kategorie: Android, Google+
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