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

June 2nd, 2015


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.

Five stories to start your day

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  2. Ford's Sync 3 connected car platform debuts this summer with the Escape and Fiesta

    Announced late last year, Sync 3 is perhaps the biggest departure for Ford's connected car ambitions since it first started putting touchscreens in dashboards — and now, we know when and where you'll be able to get it. The company announced today that Sync 3 will come first to the 2016 Escape soft-roader and Fiesta subcompact, both of which will be available in dealerships this summer.

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    The Transportation Safety Administration's sole mission is to protect aircraft and their passengers from airborne threats, but an upcoming Department of Homeland Security report reveals that the agency is failing at that basic task. According to ABC News, the TSA failed to detect banned weapons and fake explosives smuggled in by undercover Homeland Security agents a whopping 95 percent of the time.

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