What’s missing from Apple’s iOS8 photo features

A big chunk of Apple’s iOS8 announcements centered around iCloud Photo Library, signifying a renewed focus by the company on making photos viewable and accessible on any device.

As we discussed in our Survey: How apps can solve photo management study, consumers not only care about being able to access photos “anytime, anywhere,” they also value safe and easy backup of their photos, which they think is hard to accomplish with the products and services currently on the market.

And if this doesn’t motivate file syncing solution providers to provide more photo features, image files are getting larger and larger (more megapixels, more files in raw format). This means that users who sync photo files are more likely to run out of their free cloud storage plans and are prime candidates to migrate to paid plans. It is no surprise that vendors such as Dropbox (Carousel), Google (Google Drive), Microsoft (OneDrive), Amazon (Fire Phone) and now Apple, are all adding photo features to their cloud storage and syncing solutions.

So how did Apple beef up their cloud photo syncing features in iOS8?

First, they listened to users for whom cloud backup of their photos is so important. While not positioned as a backup service per se, iCloud Photo Library does store a permanent copy of all the user’s photos in the Apple cloud – as opposed to Apple’s current iCloud Photo Stream, which only stores a 30-day rolling collection of up to 1,000 photos.

Second, Apple makes it easier for a user to find their photos on any of their devices: it syncs the user’s own organization of photos (albums), as well as lets the user search by certain metadata types (date, time, and location).

So what’s missing?

  • iCloud Photo Library only syncs photos stored on different devices; it does not┬ásync photos that reside on a user’s various social media, photo sharing, or storage sites, the way services like Picturelife and Woven do.
  • Apple’s new photo search functions are not particularly innovative, especially in light of the rapid speed at which not only giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon, but also startups like Clarifai, Catchoom and many others are developing “deep learning”-based image recognition products and services. In fact, image recognition is completely missing from the iCloud Photo Library, as far as we can tell.

Helping end-users to aggregate photos from multiple devices is a good first step, but there are many good solutions already out in the market place. Helping users to find that perfect photo among thousands of aggregated photos is the true remaining challenge. That’s where there is plenty of opportunity for innovation, e.g. by intelligently combining metadata with social graph data and, most importantly, image recognition data. And that’s where iOS8 photo features are falling short.

For more about the impact of rapidly advancing image recognition technologies on various market, see our recent Image recognition: Consumer products will drive enterprise breakthroughs report.