First Click: Google can ‘surprise and delight' just like Apple

June 2nd, 2015

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As unofficial corporate mottos go, “Surprise & Delight” is to Apple as “Don’t be Evil” is to Google. Apple cites the phrase regularly at earnings calls, company emails, and most prominently in Steve Jobs’ “antennagate” address to the press.

I guess that’s why I’m surprised that Google Photos is the most delightful software I’ve used in years. To say I’m impressed is an understatement — I can’t stop demoing it to friends: I’ve glimpsed the future and feel compelled to proselytize.

I’ve been testing Google Photos with a few thousand pics from recent holidays and family events. The behind-the-scenes Assistant feature is downright magical (to borrow another Apple buzzword). It combined five separate videos I shot of my daughter’s gymnastics competition into an almost perfect one-minute highlight reel set to music. Amazingly, it identified her amongst all the other children of the same age and wearing the same uniform, culminating with a still photo of her on the trophy stand.

I was blown away, again and again. First by easily shareable GIFs of my son scoring goals at a recent tournament, auto-generated from over 300 photos I had uploaded earlier in the day. Then again by a "Story" (as Google calls it) of a recent family holiday in Spain, complete with timeline, photos, videos, animated maps, and specific hotels, restaurants, beaches, and museums we visited. Mind you, I didn’t have to do a thing. What would have taken me hours to build was done automatically by Google’s impressive neural network operating in the background. I’d call it creepy if it wasn’t so damn useful.

I haven’t committed my entire photo collection to Google Photos for two reasons: 1) because the free, unlimited storage option would compress my library of RAW images, and 2) I’m not sure I trust Google with all the data it would cull from a lifetime of my personal photos.

It's not Ex Machina, but it's astonishing to see what Google has already learned to do in its quest to organize the world's information. As a long time consumer of Apple hardware and software I have to say that Photos has made me think different about Google’s ability to surprise and delight.

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