Apple previews its cloud-oriented iPhoto replacement for OS X

Apple announced a new cloud-oriented app called Photos last June at its developer’s conference, which we later learned would replace iPhoto and Aperture. The new Photos app for iOS came as part of iOS 8 last year, and on Thursday, Apple previewed its OS X counterpart in a new pre-release preview version of Mac OS X Yosemite.

Developers can download the beta version of OS X that includes Photos now. For non-developers, Apple had promised that the new Photos app would be available in “early 2015” — which we now know includes April, according to Apple. Previously, users could check out the web version of Photos at

The key to the new Photos app is that is relies on Apple’s iCloud storage to sync photos from a user’s iPhone to her computer and vice versa. Cloud storage isn’t required for Photos to work, and all photos can be stored locally. But iCloud integration is likely to be most users’ favorite part of the new Photos app and the area where Apple has made the biggest strides. According to the Wall Street Journal, the new Photos app includes “some behind-the-scenes intelligence to prevent large collections from eating up” limited built-in storage space — like the relatively tiny 128GB hard drives that come with most entry-level MacBook models.

In many ways, the new Photos app is the completed version of the photo-syncing vision that Steve Jobs presented in 2011 and was internally called “Hyperion” at Apple. If it works as promised, it’s likely to convince a lot of people they need to pay for extra iCloud storage. (Only 5GB is free.) The increased number of synced photos Apple will be handling may be why it’s investing $2 billion in a new data “command center” in Arizona.

The Photos interface appears to be simplified and streamlined from iPhoto and the professionally-oriented Aperture. While it might be a godsend for many amateur photographers snapping shots with their iPhones, pros will probably move to Adobe Lightroom. (Adobe even recently released an export plugin for Aperture users.) But for consumers, has Apple finally cracked the problem of photo backups and syncing on smartphones? We’ll find out when Photos is officially released to the public later this year.