WWDC: Let's explore what's inside Apple's new Photos app

The new Photos is a stroke of brilliance

Apple, WWDC, iOS, macOS, Sierra, Photos, software

Here's a lovely snap I took on my holidays last summer..

Credit: Jonny Evans

Photos is certainly among the most important applications on Mac or iPhone, so Apple’s decision to improve it in iOS 10 and macOS Sierra will impact all of us. The new and improved Photos is smarter than ever before.

[Also read: First look: A week with macOS Sierra]

A quick guide to navigation

I’m focusing on the macOS Sierra version of Photos in this report, but much of what is noted here is the same or similar on the iOS equivalent.

  • Navigation is primarily through five items:
  • Photos: All your images.
  • Memories: AI-assisted image collections
  • Shared: Shared albums
  • Albums: Probably your primary view, offering All Photos, Favorites, People, Places, Videos, Selfies, Panoramas Time-lapse Slo-mo, Bursts, Screenshots and Recently deleted images, as well as your own self-created albums.
  • Projects: The space in which you’ll create books, cards, calendars, prints or slideshows to print or share with others.

You’ll find the views to be cleaner and more modern feeling, with rounded album tiles, photo and video counts. When you hover over an album it will let you scrub through a short preview of what’s inside.

I’m going to assume most of these are familiar to most readers, so I’m going to focus on what’s new.

Smart memories

The biggest addition is intelligence. The Memories feature (controlled by a new Preference item, all preferences otherwise the same) helps you look back at photos you may not otherwise have looked at, surfacing forgotten moments that may have become buried in your collection as it grows.

When you are in Memories view you’ll see images appear with a title and date, the people in the collection will be identified and where things took place will also be shown on a Map.

At the bottom of each Memory you will find Related photos which help you find hidden gems, such as images taken in similar locations, or featuring the same people or subjects. You will find Memories at work all over the place in Photos, offering up related imaged in other albums, including your People and Places albums.

To help it build these memories and perform intelligent search, Photos is able to identify as many as 4,432 objects and up to 7 different facial expressions, a recent Medium post claims. Identifiable facial expressions apparently include smiles, suspicion, scream, neutral, greedy and disgust.

Memories scans the content of your images and will automatically group them into albums and slideshows. What’s super-smart about this is that this process takes place even if you aren’t online, because none of your information is shared with anyone else and all the calculations take place on your Mac or iOS device.

This is a big step forward for privacy, as it offers much of what you get from some other image analytics services, but doesn’t require you share any data with anybody else – even on iOS devices.

The capacity to identify objects is amazing – I ran searches on things like dogs, beaches and castles and was delighted with the collections Photos created for me. This is because Photos is also smart to recognize and search for images based on generic words such as, “house”, “baby” or “dogs”. In each case it quickly identifies images containing that word, you can also look up people (once you’ve tagged them in the People Album, which replaces ‘Faces’). One thing I’ve not yet been able to figure out, however, is how to assign images to perform as key items in the way collections are articulated.

photos mac2 Jonny Evans

Places view

The new Places view puts your image collections on the map – pictures captured in London will be on the map there, while the ones you took in Lisbon will also be visible. Click on the icon that represents your images and you’ll be directed straight there.

[Also read: 6 Apple Photos tips you need to know]


People replaces Faces and is much smarter at identifying people. The album is arranged by how frequently each person appears in your library, but you can make someone a Favorite by dragging their photo to the top after which they’ll always appear at the top of the album. Click on a person and you’ll be rewarded with a beautifully presented album of images featuring them, with links to selections consisting of your images of people they have been photographed with and a Places map showing you where on the map you have been together. You’ll also find suggestions for Related albums. Right at the bottom of this page you’ll find tools to confirm additional images and Add to your Memories selection.

Editing and under the hood

Markup tools (familiar to Preview users) have also been bought into Photos, so you can add scribbles, text and other items to your images.

brilliance Jonny Evans

The Brilliance tool is available in Photos

The new Brilliance editing tool (made available in both the Enhance and Light section) brightens shadows, tones down highlights, and modulates contrast to help make fine details clearer and create and make images more vibrant.

Apple has also introduced image stabilization and Live Photos editing features within Photos, answering a big user request. While you wait for the final version to ship in Fall you can edit these images now by following these simple tips.

Another welcome enhancement, Photos supports RAW image files from over 400 cameras. As you might expect, this support is built on top of a range of powerful improvements at the core of how macOS Sierra handles images.

Core Image and Metal are supported throughout andpowerful new AVFoundation Capture APIs enable the capture of Live Photos and RAW image data. Apple is also opening up, so developers will be able to create extensions to exploit all the under-the-hood Photos features, including the Live Photos Editing API.

Where we are

Where we are now as a work in progress (for example, I would like a small icon to distinguish images that have been downloaded to the device from those that have not), Photos looks pretty interesting. I think it will become even more interesting as developers create new extensions that will bestow the app with ever more powerful editing tools.

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