Photos for OS X: One week later

Last Thursday Apple released the first developer beta for their all-new Photos for Mac app. A public beta will follow at some point, and the a public release this spring. In the meantime we've published a Photos for Mac FAQ and a Photos for Mac preview. It's still in beta, so everyone needs to adjust expectations accordingly, but it's also the future, and potentially one full of promise. So, one week later, we're following up with a few additional thoughts.

Transitioning from iPhoto and Aperture

Ally: I've actually never used Aperture so I did a migration from plain old iPhoto. I've always used iPhoto for organizing photos, and Lightroom or Photoshop for everything else. On my iMac, the migration went great and it found my iPhoto library instantly. On my MacBook Air, however, it didn't find my library and I had to manually navigate to it. Considering it's the default directory iPhoto creates, not sure why that happened. For now, I'll just blame it on beta.

Peter: I can only speak to importing from an iPhoto library, but it went pretty effortlessly on my end. Conversion didn't take terribly long on my 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro, and I didn't get any weird problems or errors — always a welcome circumstance when using beta software.

Rene: I've only played around with iPhoto (iPhone) import right now. My main Aperture (DSLR) library is on a Drobo hanging off another Mac, and I'm loathe to do anything with it that involves beta software. The iPhoto import was smooth, however. I chose the library, it processed for a while, and then it was there, ready and fully functional. It's worked so well I've deleted the old iPhoto library on my MacBook Pro and am accessing it now exclusively from Photos. (Yes, it's backed up!)

Ren: Like my colleagues, my initial import was pretty seamless, with no real issues. I imported a fairly barebones iPhoto library and combined it with my current iCloud Photo Library; I'm waiting for the public beta before I move over my monster iPhoto library on my iMac.

Interface and navigation

Ally: I like the look the Photos app overall and how it's virtually identical to iOS. My only complaint is that I don't think tapping the back arrow in the main photos section is a very intuitive way to zoom out and scrub through collections. It just doesn't translate to me. It makes sense on iOS, but it feels awkward on the iMac. It took me a minute to figure out how to zoom out to larger collections because my brain just didn't comprehend that navigation. With a trackpad, gestures eliminate some of the button navigation quirkiness. For those using a mouse, though, it's just kind of awkward.

Peter: If you're already accustomed to the interface of Photos in iOS, it'll be a seamless transition to the Mac version. Even if you're not familiar with Photos in iOS, Mac Photos just makes a lot of sense, keeping thematically with the more austere interface interpretation we've seen Apple make with the introduction of Yosemite last fall.

Rene: I really, really like the look of Photos, but then I like the look of both Yosemite and the Photos for iOS 8 app, both of which heavily inform this interface. I did have some concerns that bringing over iOS elements wouldn't work on the Mac, but I should have had more faith in the designers and engineers — they chose and implemented wisely. The translucency, the vibrancy, the arrangement, the icons and glyphs, all of it works well to provide visual information without getting in the way of visual content. Likewise, the iPhoto-style gestures and keyboard commands make navigating the Photos views as easy as ever.

Ren: I talked about this a lot on the iMore show, but I'm really impressed by the app's visual simplification. There are still a bunch of the higher-level organization features you know and love from iPhoto and Aperture — including nested folders! Hallelujah! — but they're hidden in menus for only those that really need those features. I'll agree with Ally on the back arrow — for those who are used to tapping the Escape key to return from a full-screen photo, you'll be sadly disappointed.

Performance and editing

Ally: Scrolling through particularly large albums and events causes some stutter for me, even on a tricked-out iMac. However, beta. I'm also talking collections that have thousands of photos in a single album, and I'm an impatient person — so what I expect and what normal people will actually expect may be two different things here. Photographers will have larger libraries and albums, however, and I'm hoping scrolling gets a little less laggy. It's an issue I've always loathed with iPhoto.

I like the editing tools in the new Photos app and I love that they are consistent with iOS. Advanced users and photographers will still use Photoshop, Lightroom, and the like; what is great about these editing tools, however, is that they provide a consistent experience across platforms. For most people in most situations, that makes editing and managing their photos easier than ever, no matter what device they have at their disposal.

Peter: I haven't imported a particularly huge photo library, so I'll withhold judgment until I see how Photos handles libraries that are orders of magnitude larger than mine. Having said that, it does handle what I have without any issues, so that's good.

People who were hoping that Photos was going to fill the gap left by Aperture's demise are going to be disappointed. Apple clearly isn't aiming for the pro photo crowd; Apple has to figure they've all moved on to other products like Adobe's Lightroom software at this point. I do wish Apple had left iPhoto more able to integrate with external editors, for those of us who prefer to use Photoshop and other tools to tweak imagery. But the tools that are here are certainly good enough to improve most of the kind of photography I expect Photos users will be doing.

Rene: Performance in iPhotos and Aperture was always a challenge. Big libraries sometimes just didn't scroll as they should. By contrast, Photos for Mac is lightning fast. Again, I've only tested it with a 100GB library, not a 1TB or bigger library, so I can't comment on scaling, but so far, so great.

Editing is likewise very good. I do miss external editing options, because I've lived most of my life in Photoshop, but what tools there are are very good. They're non-destructive and scale from automatic to manual, from general to precise to suit beginners and enthusiasts a night. Again, that Apple didn't just port iOS options over, but kept some iPhoto options as well, makes Photos for Mac truly for Mac, and the app is much better for it.

Ren: My test library isn't gigantic, but it still has a few thousand photos in it — and let me tell you, it's much speedier than iPhoto's rendition. What I also appreciate about Photos is it's speedy across the board — editing adjustments are near-instantaneous, even on an 11-inch MacBook Air. With iPhoto, that process was laborious and frustrating, and made me want to chuck my laptop out a window.

Like everyone before me has said, the Photos app's editing tools aren't designed to replace a high-level editor like Photoshop, Pixelmator, or even Lightroom. But they cover a lot of basic and intermediate ground, which should make it a lot easier for the majority of users to quickly make the adjustments that they need.

iCloud Photo Library

Ally: I made a local backup of my entire photo library on my iMac and through a secondary cloud backup service before turning on iCloud Photo Library. And I won't lie, my palms got a little sweaty. However, I've had very little issues with iCloud Photo Library so far, despite its beta status. I wish streaming older photos when you've chosen optimized versions was a little smoother and faster, but everything's a trade-off. Streaming older videos even on a high speed internet connection can be painful, and I'd like to see improvements there. As an experiment, I put the same video in Dropbox, and the difference was huge. iCloud Photo Library took about 25 seconds to buffer while Dropbox took 4 seconds.

I also think more granular control over storing photos is much needed. I don't want all or nothing. For example, I'd love to be able to physically download my videos album and perhaps a few photos albums. Everything else I'd want to optimize for storage. I'd even be happy with a "per-album" basis, for now.

Ultimately, I'd love iCloud Photo Library to work for photo and video the way iTunes Match does for music. Let me download photo and video on demand, as I want them. I can delete them and send them back to the cloud whenever I want. Just show a small cloud icon next to items that are in the cloud. Anything that doesn't have a cloud icon, I know it's using my device's storage.

Cheaper price points would be nice as well, considering what competitors offer for storage. We have to value convenience in here too, however: Apple is offering a fully integrated solution, not just raw storage like Dropbox and services of the like. And for most people, that higher price may be justified.

Peter: I'd resisted the urge to switch to iCloud Photo Library before Photos for Mac came on the scene, but now that the developer beta is here, I've made the switch. It was a bit painful to wait the hours that iCloud needed to upload all my photos, but now that it's done, it's doing fine.

iCloud Photo Library won't be something that gets much use for the millions of users who stick with their free 5 GB iCloud allowance, but if you're into taking photos and accessing them and editing them from anywhere on any of your devices, it's worth the storage upgrade.

Rene: Because I take so many screenshots, and rely on My PhotoStream to sync them back to my Mac, I hadn't wanted to make the change until Photos for Mac landed. Now it has. I haven't gotten the settings the way I want them yet – or I haven't gotten the behavior I wanted yet — because so many devices, but I really like the way it's been designed. It feels like the way photo storage and sync should work, so it all comes down to Apple making it work.

And, yeah, I'd still love for Apple to figure out a way to provide both more free storage, and lower price points for paid storage.

Ren: I agree with pretty much everything my colleagues have said above: Transition to iCloud Photo Library on the Mac has been smooth, it's really nice to have all those images on the Mac, and boy am I going to run out of space quickly — even on the 500GB plan.

My main concern right now re: iCloud Photo Library is albums: Right now, for me, they're spotty on syncing between iOS and Mac. (For smart albums, that makes a modicum of sense — iOS just doesn't have the hooks to support them at present — but I'm really those bugs get ironed out before Photos is officially released later this spring.


Ally: My main feature request is on-demand iTunes Match style downloading and optimizing options, like mentioned above. I'd also like to see support for Photo extensions like Rene mentioned. However, I'm not sure how many Mac apps there are available that would support that right out of the gate, so maybe it's not where Apple needs to spend energy at right this second. And god yes, duplication detection, please!

Peter: I want Apple to focus on foundational stuff for Photos, making it as bulletproof and painless as possible for iPhoto users to transition to quickly and easily. After some of the growing pains we've seen with early Yosemite and iOS 8 releases, I'd be quite happy if stability and security were the only emphases for this build.

Further down the road, I'd like to see Photos add more pro-level editing and cataloging features, to help bridge the gap left with prosumers and full-on digital photo pros who are being abandoned by Apple's decision to stop selling Aperture.

Rene: I mentioned external editor support already. I don't expect it for initial release, of course. I'd much rather Apple take its time and absolutely nail the features they've already announced. In future versions, however, I'd love to see Photo extensions like on iOS, so developers could plug their filters and actions right in. I also agree with Ren, post-import dupe detection and de-duplication would be supperb.

Ren: There are many things I could request, including some of the aforementioned items, but really I just want to see more clarity from Apple to its users, as the company did for transitions like iWork and Final Cut for OS X. We heard back during Aperture's demise that photo extensions were a planned feature, but because they don't appear to be available at launch, it'd be nice to have some sort of timetable for those and other highly-valued missing features — even if it were as vague as "later this year," I suspect it would ease some of the former Aperture crowd's anxiety.

Bottom line

Ally: For a beta, the new Photos app is shaping up to be a great photo replacement for iPhoto. Perhaps not Aperture in an editing sense, but those users still have software like Photoshop to fill that gap. Photos for Mac completes the ecosystem I've been begging of Apple for years. iCloud Photo Library even lets me free up much needed device storage on my MacBook Air and iOS devices, which is just an added bonus. I'm sure more advanced and granular features will come later.

Rene: After seeing Photos for Mac demonstrated at WWDC 2014, some seven months ago, the beta version isn't what I expected. It's more. The transition has been easy enough, at least so far, and the functionality covers a really good range from beginner to intermediate. Pros might still want Lightroom or something similar, but everyone else is going to be happier with Photos than they were with any previous Apple product.

Ren: Photos for Mac won't be perfect for everyone, and it's still very much a beta at present. That said, it's incredibly impressive for where it is in the development cycle. It's fast, it's smart, and it has a great foundation from which to build upon. It won't be enough for professionals, especially at launch, but that's why dozens of other editing or photo management programs exist. And who knows where Photos can go from launch? Add in a few much-requested features like extensions, and you might see the basic-to-prosumer app get a lot more powerful for prosumers and pros, quickly.

Curious what iMore's editors think about other products, software, and services down the line? Check out the other posts in our Editors' Roundtable.