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Google PhotoScan turns your prints into high-quality digital images

A new app from Google Photos

The team behind Google Photos has released a new app for turning your old prints into digital photos, letting you save them to the cloud with a single tap. PhotoScan, which is being made available today on iOS and Android, lets you quickly scan a large number of photos using a novel, almost game-like interface. The tradeoff for the speed of the scans is quality — it’s slightly lower than what you might expect to get from a traditional flatbed scanner.

PhotoScan’s interface is admirably simple, and doesn’t even require a login. The app opens to the camera and instructs you to position a photo within the frame. When you do, four dots appear over your photo. To scan it, you move your phone over each of the dots and hold it until the circle is filled in. Once you’ve covered all four dots, the photo is scanned — and you can immediately slide the next photo under your phone and repeat the process.

Photos are automatically cropped, rotated, and color corrected. You can save them to Google Photos with one tap — and then, when you want to find them, you can just search for “scans” inside Google Photos and they’ll all come up. (You can also save them to your camera roll or share them to other apps.)

David Lieb, who leads product development for Google Photos, said the goal of PhotoScan is to persuade people to digitize their old photos before they lose them. “These photos are at risk,” he said. “They’re at risk of being lost when you move, they’re at risk of fires, floods, and theft. And with every day that passes they fade away a bit — they literally fade away.”

Of course, PhotoScan is also a move to persuade more people to transfer their entire photo library to Google Photos. The company hit 200 million users earlier this year, but it faces significant competition from the likes of Apple, Amazon, and Facebook. A dedicated scanning app offers users a powerful tool for bringing their photos online.

PhotoScan is being released as part of a broader update to Google Photos today that also includes new editing tools and automatically generated movies. The core Google Photos app now has a new “auto-enhance” feature that the company says does a better job in touching up your photos with one tap. It also now has a series of filters, called “looks,” that make different adjustments depending on the content of the photo. Photos with faces might get one treatment; landscapes will get another. You can also make fine-grained adjustments to your photos using new sliders under the existing “light,” “color,” and “pop” tools.

Google Photos is also expanding the number of automatically generated movies it will make on your behalf depending on the photos you have in your library. The movies, which made their debut in September, will soon have three more kinds of movies in their repertoire: one for the first few months in a newborn’s life; one for formal occasions like weddings; and one called “through the years” that offers a slideshow of photos from annual events like Thanksgiving and Christmas. New movies should start popping up in users’ Google Photos accounts over the next few weeks and months, the company said.