Photos for OS X Yosemite: Explained

Photos for iOS 8 brings significant enhancements to the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, including the new iCloud Photo Library, favorites, smart search, smart editing, custom photo and sharing extensions, and PhotoKit so developers can get in on al the action. Apple announced it at WWDC 2014, and then they did something unexpected — they announced Photos would also be coming to the Mac. Rebuilt from pixel to bit, Photos for Mac won't arrive with OS X Yosemite this fall, but will arrive sometime early next year. So what does all of this mean for existing iPhoto and Aperture customers, and, going forward, photography on the Mac?

iPhoto, Aperture, and OS X Yosemite

The first and most important thing to understand is that, when OS X Yosemite ships this fall, both iPhoto and Aperture will continue to work just like they do on OS X Mavericks today. Both will still be available in the Mac App Store. Existing iPhoto and Aperture libraries will all still open, and existing iPhoto and Aperture tools will continue to "just work". Everything will be right in the universe.

Next year, after the new Photos app for Mac is released, Apple will remove iPhoto and Aperture from the Mac App Store. You'll still be able to keep and run your old copies, but Apple will no longer be updating or improving them. However, at some point in the future, they'll be outdated enough you'll want to move on.

Moving from iPhoto and Aperture to Photos for Mac

Come early next year, you'll be able to migrate your existing Aperture library to the new Photos app for Mac. When you migrate, all your albums, folders, keywords, and captions will move from Aperture to Photos. All the non-destructuve edits you've applied to your Aperture photos will be preserved in Photos, and preserved non-destructively. Likewise, if you use iPhoto, you'll be able to migrate your library over to the new Photos app as well. (Aperture and iPhoto libraries are already compatible, and have been shareable since versions 3.3 and 9.3 respectively.)

In terms of organization, Apple has shown that the same, automatically generated Years, Collections, and Moments views that currently exist in Photos for iOS will be implemented in Photos for Mac, as will Albums. How existing iPhoto Events get mapped, be it to Moments, to Albums, or to something else, remains to be seen.

Shared photos will keep track of all your Shared Photo Streams, likely including the automatic shared family album set up as part of Family Sharing on iOS 8.

There's also a Projects tab in Photos for Mac, though we'll have to wait and see how that maps to projects as they currently exist in iPhoto and Aperture. Likewise, Apple hasn't said how "special" albums like Faces or Places will be handled, but hopefully more information will be made available about that as Photos for Mac gets closer to release.

The important part here is that, wherever you're accustomed to finding a photo or video in Photos for iPhone or iPad, that's where you'll be able to find it in Photos for Mac. When it comes to learning and remembering, less really is more.

Bringing Photos to the iCloud

iPhoto and Aperture are, by modern standards, old apps. They were built in an era before iOS and before iCloud and while they've had some interface and compatibility layers bolted on, they were never rebooted the way iMovie and Final Cut Pro were in terms of interface, or Pages, Numbers, and Keynote were in terms of compatibility. Not until now.

With Photos, Apple is saying pictures and video — our memories — are so important they're going to make them an integral part of iOS, OS X, and iCloud at the system level. They're going to make Photos not just an app but a service for everyone on every Apple device.

Hundreds of millions of people own an iPhone, iPod touch, and/or an iPad. Increasingly, more and more of them own a Mac as well. Apple wants to make sure that anyone with both an iOS device and a Mac gets a seamless experience with their photos, same as they already get with everything from their iCloud mail to their iTunes music to their iWork documents.

To accomplish all this, Apple is introducing iCloud Photo Library. Built on their new CloudKit service, iCloud Photo Library will make sure every picture and video you take, import, save, or otherwise bring into Photos is synced to all of your Apple devices, including iCloud.com, along with its organizational information and any and all non-destructive edits you've applied to it.

What's more, all your pictures and videos will be stored (and backed up) on Apple's servers, at full resolution, in its original format — including RAW. Apple is using "nearline storage" for this, so the most recently added and accessed pictures and videos are kept locally, optionally at device-optimized resolution, and immediately available to you. Older and less frequently accessed pictures and videos are kept online so they don't end up consuming all your local storage, but can be re-downloaded quickly any time you want them.

Think about it as a hybrid drive, but instead of HD/SSD fusion, it's local/cloud fusion. It's concept that's been employed in data management for years, and it's something Apple's been doing for music for a while with iTunes Match. While it might not sound as important on the Mac as it does on smaller capacity iPhones and iPads, MacBooks are mobile devices too. A MacBook Air starts at 128GB of SSD storage, so photo library size matters on OS X as well.

Making Photos smart

Apple has only provided a brief demo of Photos for Mac. Exactly how much of Photos for iOS 8 makes its way into Photos for OS X Yosemite, and what Mac-specific features are implemented remains to be seen. However, based on what was shown off at WWDC 2014 — understanding that features in pre-release software can and will change — auto-enhance, crop, filters, redeye removal, retouch, and rotate tools are all in place.

Being able to find your photos is also a high priority for Apple. The ability to hit a heart-shaped button to favorite a photo or video is visible in the demo, as is a search box. Photos for iOS uses a similar search box to access smart filtering — nearby, one year ago, favorites, and home — that let you quickly find photos and videos geotagged close to your current location, taken a year ago from the current date, those you've hit the heart button on, and those geotagged to where you live. It also includes the new smart search feature which lets you find photos and videos based on based on months of the year, city and other location names, and the titles of your albums. Both make just as much sense on the Mac.

Apple did demonstrate the same smart editing tools on the Mac as on iOS. With them you can perform quick adjustments to light, color, and black and white, or to dive deeper into exposure, highlights, shadows, brightness, contrast, and black point, into saturation, contrast, and cast, and into intensity, neutrals, tone, and grain.

Depending on your time and interest in a particular photo, you'll be able to go from a single click to a couple of sliders to detailed, granular adjustments. And any and all changes you make will be non-destructive and synced via iCloud Photo Library to all your other devices.

Extensions are the new plugins

The Extensibility feature coming to both OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 is like a new, more visible, more accessible version of plugins. They're system wide but can also be content specific. With sharing extensions, social networks and upload services like Pinterest will be able to appear inside the default Share Sheet alongside Messages, Mail, Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr. Any social network or upload service that wants to can make a share extension so, very literally, the cloud's the limit when it comes to options. Whatever you choose to use, you'll likely be able to find for Photos.

Although Apple hasn't said anything about photo-specific extensions for OS X, they have said action extensions will be there, and it's hard to imagine a plugin-like architecture for filters and transformations won't evolve around Photos as well.

Bottom line

With Apple bringing Photos to the Mac, and with the eventual retirement of iPhoto and Aperture to follow, some level of concern is inevitable. For casual photographers Photos will almost certainly end up being a better, more consistent, more approachable app to use than anything that's come before. For professional photographers, however, the answer won't be as clear.

I've been using Photoshop for decades and Aperture for years. I don't use Lightroom because, for me, it doesn't make as much sense as either Photoshop for pixel-level editing or Aperture for more general editing and organization. Rather than try to force myself into moving from Aperture to Lightroom pre-emptively, I'm going to use the time afforded by Aperture's OS X Yosemite compatibility to wait and see. I'm going download Photos for Mac when it arrives early next year, I'm going to give it a fair try, and I'm going to determine for myself if and how much it can replace Aperture for my needs. My guess is quite well, because a seamless experience between iOS and OS X is incredible valuable to me.

Other people's needs will be different, of course. Just like when iWork was relaunched with compatibility between iOS, OS X, and iCloud, some features were lost. A few of those, including major ones, have since been added back. Extensibility support might take the edge off. Developers could come up with extensions that not only fill gaps but add entirely new capabilities. However, while Photos will likely end up being better for the vast majority of people, it may not end up being better suited for everyone, no more than iPhoto or Aperture are today.

The important part is this — Photos for Mac isn't stuck with an aging codebase from a bygone era, struggling to keep up. It's new and built for now. Apple is working on it and it'll benefit from all the effort and attention they're pouring into not only the Mac but iOS and iCloud as well. Photos is their new foundation for picture and video handling.

Photos is the future.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

48 Comments
  • A big thanks to Rene for this article. I've been trying for ages to get more info on the new Photos for Mac app, and this is by far the most comprehensive I've yet read. Truly, there is no place to go but up with photo management on the Mac. iPhoto is just dreadful. The copies of originals, the inability to manually organize smart albums, Events in all sorts of disarray - Photos cannot come soon enough. I have about 20K in my collection, and I've spent the last few weeks organizing by keyword and smart albums based on those keywords, and when Photos is finally released, I plan on exporting each smart album to external memory and then adding to Photos. It's a lot of work, but I don't trust iPhoto to export with all of my hard work intact, so I'll do manually what I need to do. iPhoto always seemed to me the strangest piece of Apple software, but I never found a decent replacement. I understand that Apple would like us to get away from the old "select a file and open it" process. Surely they can find a better way.
  • "iPhoto always seemed to me the strangest piece of Apple software, but I never found a decent replacement." Did you look at Aperture? Its the best DAM available and does exactly what you're trying to do. As well as countless other apps available from countless other developers.
  • Actually I did try Aperture, when I thought I would be doing more editing than I currently do. I was essentially looking for something that worked like (I can't believe I'm writing this) the Windows photo viewer on my old Vista system. A file system that I could access, view my picture, and manipulate as I saw fit. (Preview does t really cut it for me, either). That's my main complaint with iPhoto, is that is seems unnecessarily proprietary. But, once you import the pics, it is indeed pretty effective at sorting based on your preferences. Again, though, on a personal level, it has been hard for me to get past the separation of the iPhoto app and the picture files themselves. I'm the first to admit that this is one piece if software where I want things to work exactly as I want, whereas with other apps I'm perfectly fine accommodating the limitations.
  • How can i install photos app on mavericks?
  • This is one of the features I'm most excited for and have wanted for years. The ability to do non-destructive editing on my iPad, and have it automatically sync back to my Macbook will be so awesome!
  • You've already had it for years. PhotoStream, spend 5 minutes learning how to use it and you have your non-destructive edits.
  • Sigh, no kidding. The problem with photostream is multiple duplicate photos are created when you do edits. Additionally, I'm looking for a 1-to-1 sync of all photos and the ability to organize albums and do clean-up from the iPad.
  • As a photographer I long ago migrated to Lightroom to have seamless integration with Photoshop. From what I see Apple is focused on having a superior consumer experience with photos within its ecosystem, and dropping Apeture allows that focus. Since Adobe, PhaseOne, others are competiting to provide professional solutions, Apple is free to ensure best-in-class consumer experience. For 90% of Apeture users they probably fall into the consumer category and will be aptly served by Apple Photos. For the professionals, I so far fail to see how it will be sufficient. So, as a professional, I'll use Adobe products but hope the new openness in Apple Photos allows Adobe to build some third party integration via extensions.
  • My muscle memory is still programmed for Photoshop as well. Hopefully Photos will be better for that 90% mainstream stuff though.
  • Perhaps in the world of wedding photogs that's true where workflow is of paramount importance. However, looking at high end pros, there's certainly no shortage of Aperture users. I am continually surprised how many recognized photographers are using Aperture. Perhaps more so for DAM and the excellent initial renders Apple Raw provides as edits are done with more specialized and demanding apps.
  • Nice breakdown. The fact that it's 2014 and there's no way for me to get a video I record on my iPhone on to my Mac (at full res) wirelessly is mind boggling. I still need to connect via USB and upload it into iPhoto. Hopefully the new Photos app (which oddly enough will also handle video I'd imagine) will fix this.
  • Should do. iCloud Photo Library will sync all photos and videos, all at original resolution.
  • There's no shortage of wifi transfer apps that will do this. Or, Image Capture with a cable.
  • I don't want some janky third-party solution to wirelessly transfer video into iPhoto, and I don't even want to manually do it over USB, so it will be nice to have it seamlessly integrated into Photos.app.
  • I just hope they don't dump the "Photo Books" and other physical products feature. Those Photo Books make for great gifts and I can't think of a year that's gone by in the past 5 years where I haven't made one.
  • Thanks for the great article! I was nervous when I heard they were doing away with aperture. My biggest concern is not have the same editing power that Aperture provides. However having the syncing features cross device will make life much easier. Will I have to purchase additional editing tools to make the new Photos app function like Aperture? I wish Apple would have been able to layout all the features of Photos before they told the world Aperture will no longer be supported after the next OSX update.
  • My guess is Photos for Mac will have similar editing features, at launch, to Photos for iOS 8, but with the addition of Touchup. I'm not sure what that'll include yet though.
  • Rene, thanks for a good write-up. I wish Apple would not be so secretive at times, particularly when they know their changes will affect their users who have a lot invested in their hardware and software. You say that your guess is that Photos for MAC will have similar editing features to Photos for iOS 8. Since most of us haven't seen iOS 8, can you please expound on how the editing features in Photos for iOS 8 compare to Aperture's editing features? I use Aperture to extensively edit my photos and from what I've seen in the photo apps for iOS, I would be hard pressed to edit a photo as I currently can with Aperture.
  • What if I don't want to store my photos in the cloud and still want them only accessible on my local devices? Can you still do that?
  • You'll be able to turn off iCloud Photo Library in settings and then your photos will only be on your local device. (You will increase your chance of losing them if anything happens to that device, though.)
  • Does this mea