Apple updates iOS 12 Photo search, yields photo innovation leadership to Google

Buried under the announcements of the recent Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) hosted by Apple Inc. were several enhancements to the iOS Photos app. Overall, the WWDC coverage mentioned how mild the announcements were – and we will leave you to delve into the live-blogging and extensive articles by others – they were especially true for photography. Compared to some of the fast-paced innovations offered by Google, it’s clear to this writer Apple is losing ground in mobile photography leadership. When it comes to mature products, like MacOS, there isn’t much to do beyond the new “dark mode,” I guess, but photography is a key differentiator between Apple and its competitors. Just look at the camera-related ads the company is spending millions to air.

First, the announcements Apple did make. Top among them was the new “For You” tab, which the company says

Apple iOS 12 sharing suggestions

surfaces favorite moments in one place, combining Memories and iCloud Shared Albums. A new sharing suggestions feature makes it easier to share photos with friends, and friends who receive photos are prompted to share back any photos and videos they have from the same trip or event. Search suggestions surface the most relevant Events, People, Places, Groups, Categories and recent searches, and new search functionality lets users combine multiple search terms to find just the right photos.

Another new photo feature was improved search suggestions, that presumably make it easier to find photos or unearth the rare gem photo.

Certainly, AR Kit 2 is an important innovation, but some could argue Snapchat is doing more to encourage AR adoption than any other company. And don’t even get us started on Memojis.

Google is the new Kodak… in a good way

If there’s anything the traditional photo industry benefited from was the leadership of Eastman Kodak Co. For decades, the company provided a central focus for various players, from photofinishers, for retailers, for vendors and even competitors. It was very hard for a new innovation to break through to the mass market without Kodak’s endorsement, either implied or overt. For better or for worse, that was the way of things.

In the digital photography era, however, the leadership in photography was ceded to other companies who had specific expertise in segments. Shutterfly, Snapfish/District Photo and others consume the majority of the photo printing business, while compact cameras have been subsumed by smartphones. Kodak made a play at both of these segments but was an also-ran.

So who’s the leader now in consumer photography? Arguably, the answer is Google, not Apple. The Cupertino giant’s WWDC announcements reveal when it comes to Photos, the leadership just isn’t there. Even the improvements to camera hardware, usually announced in the fall, seem lately to be geared to FaceID, Animojis or AR. (Yes, Portrait Mode is cool, but it’s a mode, after all. Not a strategy.)

On the other hand, Google is continually releasing enhancements to its entire Google Photos experience, whether it’s on the web or with its cross-platform app. Just this week, Google released its Google Lens as a standalone app on the Google Play Store.

As hardware becomes less distinguishable and more uniformly excellent, the difference is going to be made in software and in services. And this is where Google is trouncing Apple. As a casual user, Google Photos is a superior iOS photo storage and sharing app, compared to Apple Photos, which has saddled with iCloud storage limits and, until the iOS 12 update, a passing interest in photo sharing. Apple does take a greater interest in privacy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have privacy with Google Photos.

The difference, of course, is artificial intelligence (AI). Google’s greater prowess in this technology leads to on-going rollouts of innovations at a dizzying pace. Just this year, Google Photos has added pet recognition, VR tools, a Partner Program, and now can automatically colorize your black-and-white photos. Given the third-rate performance of Apple’s AI platform Siri and obsession with a walled-garden approach to its best services, there’s not a lot of reasons to believe Apple will unseat Google as the photo/imaging technology leader.