P for Photos, C for Creation, and F for Face Grouping

Google Photos, Google latest attempt on fixing what is wrong with their previous photo gallery — Google+ Photos.

Get real: how much space do pictures in your phone has taken? Mine, 1.5 years, 12 GB. My phone storage, 64 GB, available for use 56 GB, and 12 GB has already taken by camera roll. Not good. Looking at some of friends phones with 16 GB flash storage, my case must be a problem for them.

To free up space, people use cloud service to back up the pictures. It is more convenient to use cloud rather than external HDD, because you know that as long as the service is up and running, your photos are always available anywhere. Thus, I tried Carousel by Dropbox, and suddenly my Dropbox storage usage jumped to 97%. Not good.

Here comes Google Photos, and it has become my gallery-saver since June 2015.

The Competition

In a world where cloud storage become main competition, Google Photos provide an intriguing approach: Free, unlimited storage for those who is willing to use Google’s propietary compression method.

Features Google Photos Carousel by Dropbox OneDrive iCloud Photo Library
Storage *initial: Unlimited Dropbox storage
(initial: 2 + 3GB)
OneDrive storage
(initial: 15 GB)
iCloud
(initial: 5GB)
Pricing *Free | 100 GB $2/month 1 TB
$10/month
100 GB
$2/month
20 GB
$1/month
Compression Propietary Uncompressed Uncompressed Uncompressed

*Unlimited only if you would use Google compression, which preserve images up to 16 MP, 1080p videos. If you would like use original resolution (no matter how low-res), you will use the Google Drive quota. Those cloud backup mentioned in the tables preserve pictures in a “private” mode rather than sharing it to the whole world.

Picture management like Flickr or Picasa now getting less and less popular, while mostly now people use Instagram and Facebook timeline to store their lifetime gallery. Things to note, however, Instagram is more social media than picture gallery, while Facebook is a social media. Facebook is well know for their notorious compression, degrading the image quality to some low resolution image, only good to see without zooming in the details. But Facebook still hold the throne for image sharing because of the user tagging technology.

Face Grouping

Google Photos comes with Face Grouping technology. With this technology, Google will automatically grouped similar faces to one “profile”. Google does not know whose name is this face (they claim), but Google might know these face models belong to him/her. No name is ever associated to each person. Only face, and collection of photos, all anonymous.

It is like Facebook auto-tag suggestion, but this technology work exclusively in background, without the need of user labelling. Facebook has auto-tag whereas similar faces grouped as one as given the label of one of your friend. It means that Facebook uses user feedback to determine “which face” belongs to “which person (name)”. Let’s say that Facebook use both supervised learning (user manual labelling) & unsupervised learning (done in background, without user consent)

Google Photos doesn’t use user labelling for classification. Not at all. Google Photos use purely unsupervised learning to group similar faces, all the times in background. All that user can do is remove incorrectly classified pictures from the group of correctly classified. In other words: giving mark of false positive.

For example, these are some people, according to Google Photos, that lurk in my pictures.

Gallery

How they are sorted, or how they are grouped, I don’t know. All I know that Google Photos use some kind of Convolutional Neural Network with 21 layers to define who and what are things inside the picture.

The grouping is not instant, per se. In my case, it takes 2 hours after about 800 pictures uploaded to Google server before the face grouping appear. Also, the first result mostly buggy, as some of my friends are considered as one person. Need a little tweaking, but 2-3 days later, my “face collection” changing, some mistakes bit by bit becoming better, adding new person, and of course, new incorrectly classified images also appear.

By Google Photos design, I can remove wrong pictures from the album, but I can’t add new pictures to established album. Damn.

Let’s see. This is one of my friends, whom from the first day until now has been incorrectly classified as two different person.

Face A'
Face A

And these are two people that in the first week are considered as one person, but in reality, two different people.

Person B
Person B'

Well, well. Flawless, it is not, but defect, it is not, either. In reality, Face Grouping really shine to group and show each person timeline. What amazes me is that Google Photos can correctly classified people in a very small picture.

A little, not-so-important, note: Face Grouping is disabled by default in Google Photos. The only way to enable it is by uninstalling and reinstalling Google Photos (Android: clear app data) then initialize the Google Photos account in USA VPN.

Search

Google is not Google if not for their (in)famous search engine. Google I/O 2015 showed how Google Photos can handle search specific item inside pictures. How does it detect object? Ask the neural network, ask what’s contained in their 21 layers of neural network. I tried some queries to test whether Google Photos can recognize objects. Not every object can be returned, but here are some queries that give reasonable result:

Gundam Wedding Sakura
gundam wedding sakura

I am satisfied with current condition, but I believe this can be improved better and better. Animal, however, need better object detection algorithm. Most of my cat pictures are considered as dogs. Want to hear one of the worst scandal? here.

Creation

Creation, by far for me is the most interesting feature. Google Photos has integrated photo assistant which has a very simple task: give you notification each time a new creation is created. Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a bit, what is creation?

Creation is automatically generated content composed by learning and combining pictures to create things like:

Panorama

The rarest creation in Google Photos is panorama. Once, I had multiple pictures of scenery from the 53rd floor in Star Wars Day museum in Roppongi, Tokyo. Here are the pictures:

IMG_4112
IMG_4113
IMG_4114

Then, suddenly this picture popped up in my assistant:
IMG_4112-PANO

Auto-enhanced image

Google Photos know how mine gems inside mine of rocks. What I mean with gems here are pictures that worth more than its original looks after being “automagically” post-processed by Google Photos. These effects, unfortunately, inaccessible from the dedicated Google Photos app.

Original Post-processed
 IMG_0570  IMG_0570-EFFECTS
IMG_2740 IMG_2740-EFFECTS

Story

This one is interesting. Google Photos’ assistant favorite is making stories, based on multiple pictures in several day in succession. Story can be considered as normal album, but with elements of storytelling. You can edit the arrangement of pictures, giving description, and make your own stories. Here is the example of my last trip to Tokyo.

Movie

A collection of videos can be automatically made into a short movies. It is easier to watch one rather than watch many videos at once. Here is a sample movies created from 36 videos and several pictures during the event of May the 4th be with You 2014.

GIF

Picture taken in succession like burst photos are taken in consideration to be made into GIF, like this:

IMG_2540-ANIMATION

Collage

Most instagram users collage to include many picture at once. So does Google Photos, automatically, without you picking picture-by-picture manually.

IMG_0672-COLLAGE

The Verdict

Google Photos is a cloud service that use our (Google user) images as the input for their continous research in data mining. They said our images are safe and private, while it can be said that the images are internally used for advancement of computer vision research. Google always excel in one thing: crowdsourcing (like Google Translate contribution), and this is just another chapter for them.

How useful is Google Photos? It’s recommended, especially for those who always lack of storage due to their immense size of gallery. Face grouping is somewhat a kind of novelty, but it’s novelty will wear off soon enough. I love the creation, because it makes some pictures become prettier than it should really be.

However, do note that Google is pretty powerful in automatically mining your information just from photos. If you really care about sensitive data, don’t use this service.

Inbox by Gmail Review: E-mail as To-do List

Introduction

Back in 2004, I was the beta invitees of the first iteration of Gmail, although at that time I still didn’t consider e-mail as part of my life yet (I was a middle schooler back then). Gmail, has undergone serious changes, froma simple HTML webmail, to HTML5 webmail back in 2010, including tabs in 2013. For me, E-mail client is a lifesaver. Until 2012, I still routinely go to webmail, and I don’t know how many tabs I opened at a time. Then, I volunteered to close beta test my first lifesaver: Mailbird. I fell in love with Mailbird as Windows mail client, unlike Outlook nor Thunderbird, it feels lightweight and has clean UI. Mailbird is the first app which gave me a new perspective to handle e-mail: Inbox Zero. For 2 years until Oct 2014, I can count how many times I opened Gmail webapp: 5 times, only to make new filters for incoming e-mails.

To sum up: E-mail client has saved a lot of my times to search, open, read, and reply e-mails for this 2 years. As long as the e-mail client has sync the e-mails, I can do all of the above without any internet connection.

Now, here comes a new challenger.

Inbox by Gmail

Google likes to experiment and now they provide a new, experimental webmail called Inbox by Gmail. If you already have the invitation, of course you can go to http://inbox.google.com. What does it do? You can see it in action URL above.

Before, I still think that incoming e-mails as incoming message. New inbox notification, open the message, read, (optional) reply, then archive if I don’t need it anymore. Only important e-mails remain in my inbox in my Mailbird.

Inbox by Gmail try to change my perspective. While most email clients and even Gmail webapp treat e-mail inbox as “list of messages”, Inbox treats e-mail inbox as a “newsfeed of to-do lists”. Does it make sense? Fortunately, yes.

Features

First is Bundle. Bundles work almost the same with Promotions, Updates, Social tabs in Gmail, but they go to some extent: smart categorization. In Gmail webapps, e-mails contains promotion or advertisement go to Promotions, purchase receipts go to Update, and credit card billings go to Primary. In Inbox, advertisement still go to Low Priority, purchase receipts go to Purchases, and credit card billings go to Finance. It’s just that smart that I love it very much.

E-mail types Tabs
Gmail (webapp & mobile)
Bundles
Inbox by Gmail
Amazon Advertisement Promotions Low Priority
Steam Promo Promotions Low Priority
Purchase Receipt Updates Purchases
Credit Card Billing Primary Finance
Flight Ticket Primary Travel
Account Registration Updates Updates
Quora, Tumblr, LinkedIn Social Social
Mailing list Forums Forums

Second, swipe right to Mark as Done. E-mails are considered as to-do list, so when you’ve read it and you don’t have any business with that mails anymore, you mark them as done. It’s the same as archiving e-mails in Inbox Zero perspective, but somehow Inbox add it even further. Rather than swipe each e-mail to mark them as done, you can swipe the bundle to mark all the e-mails inside the bundle as done. It’s as the same thing as: click the filter, click mark all, then archive all marked messages. Inbox simplify how I manage my e-mails and everytime I mark them done, I feel like I have done one task of my “to-do list inbox”.

Third, swipe left to Snooze. Most of the time, important e-mails which require attentive reply are just marked as starred but I forgot when to reply those important messages. Snooze feature change that by making a reminder when to remind me to reply the specific message. I may forget that I have messages unattended, but Snooze will remind me at one time that I must reply the message. Nice feature.

Fourth is Pin. It behave almost like mark as starred in Gmail features, but it feels more like a “saved to Pocket”. Pinned e-mails contain all e-mails that I have pinned so that I can easily access when I needed to reread the messages. Unfortunately (but also fortunately), applying pin is not considered as marked as star in Gmail, so those pinned e-mails are still not starred in my Mailbird, but in my phone Inbox, it’s pinned.

Inbox as Newsfeed? It’s Plausible

Before, I never thought to see my mail inbox arranged like a Facebook newsfeed. With Inbox, now I see my inbox like a newsfeed. E-mails organized like a timeline, e-mails with attachment have the attachment previewed in the newsfeed. It’s hard to explain with words, but screenshot can explain it more clearly.

The Verdict

So, do I like it? Yes, very much! Although Google insisted that Inbox to be used in conjunction with Gmail app, I already uninstalled my Gmail app from my phone. Its sole purpose has become my mobile e-mail client, while for my desktop I still run my Mailbird. I can say this for sure: Google has successfully made me change my perspective to see e-mails as to-do list organized neatly, instead of bunch of messages organized chronologically. Do I feel improvement in productivity? Yes, I do. How you manage e-mails is very important and the right e-mail client will certainly help you a lot.

Inbox will only useful for people whose routine is to read and reply e-mails, and it will be not as useful as it means to be when used by people who just want the invitation without the need for routine e-mail operations.

P.S. Don’t ask for invitation. I still have some left but they are already reserved.