Apple iPhone Memories feature points to a smart future for your photos
January 29, 2020
For my high school graduation, my mom put together an album with photographs of me growing up in New Orleans and South Carolina. It had a leather-bound cover and black-matte pages. She attached the printed pictures to the paper with photo corners and hand-wrote captions about what was going on. With each turn of a page, I rediscovered photos and moments from my childhood that I’d forgotten. And even now, as an adult that album brings a flood of feelings every time I view it.
While it’s not curated by my mom and lacks her cute captions, Photos Memories on the iPhone does something remarkably similar: it organizes and reminds me of pictures and videos I forgot about. Instead of a physical album, it takes photos and videos from a Collection and turns them into a slick video slideshow with music from the likes of Hans Zimmer (The Dark Knight, 12 Years A Slave), Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo, The Royal Tenenbaums, Thor: Ragnarok) and even rockabilly legend Duane Eddy. Check out one of the Memories videos it made of a CNET shoot I did with Senior Editor Vanessa Hand Orellana in a tweet below:
To be clear, Memories has been available on iPhones, iPads and Macs since October 2016, but its editing prowess still impresses today. I showed a co-worker a video Memories made from photos and video of an event I attended. He replied, ‘Wow, this looks great. Who put this together?’ He did a double-take when I told him my iPhone edited the video.
Wonderful videos aside, Memories lays the foundation for more background organization of our media on future phones. Currently, I have over 3,000 photos and videos on my phone, and trying to find a specific picture involves lots of tedious scrolling. There’s an opportunity for Apple to offer faster ways to find photos among the massive troves on our phones, suggest social media shares and prioritize significant photos among older ones.
Siri can find that photo you’re looking for
One way would be to improve the digital assistant on our phones. Right now, I can ask Siri to show photos from a specific date, location or even ask to show me a picture of my cat and it does. But if I ask Siri to show me pictures of Stella (my cat’s name), it finds nothing.
Interestingly, Google Assistant and Google Photos can show me pictures of Stella. This is less of a criticism of Siri versus Google Assistant and more of an example of different ways to navigate through the seemingly endless numbers of photos and videos I have.
Siri is good at finding photos I took of general things like: cars, houses, cats, trees, food and blue skies. Google Assistant is good at finding specific attributes within my photos like colors, names, avocado toast, pickup trucks and plays — I worked as a theater director and actor for 18 years.
For example in Google Photos I searched the word ‘Aflac’ and it found a photo I took with the Aflac duck at CES. The background in the photo has the word ‘Aflac’ on it. There were also several photos I took of Sproutel’s My Special Aflac Duck, a robot designed to comfort kids with cancer. In Siri, I had no such luck.
‘Would you like to post this to Instagram?’
I wish my phone could learn about what I do with my photos. For example, identify that I frequently post photos of classic cars to Instagram so when I take a photo of a classic Ford Bronco it would give me the option to post it right away. Heck, it could even come up with suggested captions and hashtags for me.
I realize that such predictive convenience butts up against data privacy something Apple values highly. However, there is room to seemingly automate common behaviors around photos and videos. On the flip side, I wouldn’t want my iPhone to make a suggested share every time I take a photo.
iPhone Memories needs to learn what I like
I want to see my phone improve how it ‘archives’ older photos. Memories, like ‘Rediscover This Day’ in Google Photos, suggests past events for you to revisit. But I want it to recommend only old photos and videos that I’d actually like to see — again, this would involve learning my behavior around my media.
If I never want to revisit photos of food, then my phone should learn that. But if I frequently view Memories of friends and family, it should learn that, too and adjust its suggestions over time.
While such overhauls to our phones might be years away, I want Apple to get to know me better so it can be more helpful with how it handles my photos and videos. Until then, I’ll keep promising myself to organize and purge my photo library despite the fact that it won’t happen.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment.