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Please, Google Photos, we need these features

I’ve been using Google Photos since it was first released in 2015 and I love it. My entire lifetime of photos (and videos) are in my Google Photos account and I can find any moment from my life in seconds. As soon as I learned enough about it, I took it on as my mission to help others do the same. Google recognized me as a product expert in January of 2016 and I have now risen to the status of “Diamond.” I say this to make it clear that I am not a whiner about Google Photos. I do think it is the best system out there for managing the tsunami of photos we take these days. But, it’s not perfect, and I want to go on record with my list of important features that are missing.

Google Photos’ mission is to provide one private home for all your photos and videos, organized and brought to life, so that you can share and save what matters.

People have different needs when it comes to their photos. Where are you on this scale?

This “IPO” scale is just something I made up to explain why some people love Google Photos and others don’t. If you are a 1, it means you don’t pay much attention to your photos. You’re thrilled to know that Google photos automatically backs them up to the cloud, in date order, and you can search through them any time you want. It will even remind you of fun memories. You don’t have to do a thing, Google Photos is made to order for you. If you are an ambitious photo organizer (#5), you’ve been organizing your pictures for years. You really like the folder/subfolder structure you have for your photos on your computer and you want to keep it. You probably also rename your photos according to a system you’ve developed and you manually tag every photo. You can’t do these things with Google Photos so you won’t be happy.

I’m a 3, and I think the majority of Google Photos users are also. We love that all our phone’s photos are uploaded and that they are automatically in date order, but we still do some work to organize them. We like to make albums that are meaningful to us, we like to add descriptions to our photos and sometimes we take pictures of old photos and change the date taken so the photo shows up when it was originally taken. We are not meticulous about deleting unneccessary photos, but we do like to be aware of our storage limits and delete bunches of photos when we’re in the mood. And, we definitely want to have a backup of our photos outside of Google Photos. That’s what people who care about their photos do! The symbol below means that feature is extra important to prevent unintentional loss of data.

The features we need

  1. Saving descriptions, date changes, and location changes to the metadata of the photo/video.
    I add descriptions to a lot of my photos. Like writing a note on the back of a print, descriptions can be very important in the future. I also change the date when I photo-scan old prints. But this data is lost when I download the photos to my computer for backup. I think that is just plain wrong. I understand the basic process – when you enter a description, it is stored in a Google database and it relates to that photo. It does not get saved to the photo itself. That keeps the system fast, and Google can’t be accused of damaging your original. But, when I take my photo out of Google, by downloading to my computer, I want that data! I think this is an essential element to “Save what matters.”
    Google’s answer is the Takeout backup utility. When you use Takeout to backup your Google Photos, it does make a copy of the descriptions, date changes, and location changes, but it puts them in a separate file with the .json extension. I have found it next to impossible to get that data back into the respective photos. If Takeout could give us the option to save the .json data directly to the photos/videos, that would be great.
  2. Visual clue of photos on device only: With most apps, if you open the app and you see content, it’s safe to assume that content is “In” the app. But, not with Google Photos. The app displays photos that are on the device as well as those that have successfully uploaded to your Google Account in the cloud. It’s hard to tell which is which. Too many people have been known to open the Google Photos app, see their photos there and assume they have been copied to Google Photos. They then go to the native gallery (Samsung Gallery, or Apple Photos) and delete all their photos. They may have just deleted the only copy of their photos because they misunderstood what they saw.
    I think this problem could be alleviated by displaying on-device-only photos as grayed out images, only becoming clear when displaying the cloud/Google account copy. Currently, there is a little badge in the bottom right corner that indicates a photo has not yet been uploaded. It’s a dashed circle around an up arrow. It’s faint and it disappears when you open the photo. And, if the backup setting is off, there are different indicators depending on your device.

    That’s not enough.
    If grayed-out images on device is not an option, maybe make the indicators the same size as the photo. In any case, get consistent in the icons. It’s vital that people understand what is in the cloud and what is on their device only!
  3. Free Up Space: This is another one where a misunderstanding can result in unintentionally deleting your photos! Free up space is a fabulous feature that allows you, with one command, to delete photos from your phone (device) after they have been copied to the Google Photos cloud. The problem is that people often think it is freeing up space from their cloud storage instead. It doesn’t help that the Android command for “Free Up Space” is located just below the Account storage data. The message is better on iOS, but still not good enough. On iOS, deleting photos from device will also result in deleting them from iCloud (the Apple photos cloud storage) and nowhere is there a warning that this will happen.
    They both should say something like: “Free up device storage by deleting photos and videos from this device.” Then, after selecting that, there should be further explanation like: This will delete xxx items from this device. They will be removed from the Gallery and/or Apple Photos as well as iCloud. They will remain accessible on your Google Photos account.
  4.  Filters: in order to manage a large library of photos, we need filters. I put my best photos in albums. In order to delete photos, I want to see all those that are not in any album. I also need to see them sorted by storage used so I can delete the largest ones. Just like we can filter for our Favorites, or Videos, we need to be able to filter for “in an album” / “not in an album.”
    It would be so easy to recover account storage if I could set a filter to show me all photos not in an album, in descending order by amount of storage space used!
  5. Search for albums when adding photo: Let’s say I just took a photo of an Alligator in Everglades National Park. I want to add it to an old album I have called National Parks. I open the photo and click Add To Album to see a listing of my hundreds of albums, and there is NO search here. There should be. Here is a video that explains the issue and offers one workaround. Problem adding photos to older albums.

I have lots more items on my wishlist, but the 5 above I think are the most important ones, especially #1 – 3 because they involve unintentional loss of data. If you agree, please use the Send Feedback feature on the Google Photos help menu. If you don’t know what to write, just say, “Feature requests: I agree with Chris in this article:” The more people that request the same features, the more possible that Google will hear us. Leave a comment below with your wishlist of features.