Spoiler: I like these, but they're not my picks Spoiler: I like these, but they're not my picks
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Spoiler: I like these, but they're not my picks

Spoiler: I like these, but they’re not my picks

2015 proved to be a gigantic year for Apple in terms of shipping totally new products and seeing services go live for the first time. Apple Watch is a brand new category for the iPhone maker, the new Apple TV delivers on long-awaited update to the streaming box, and iPad Pro is every bit the giant tablet that was rumored for so long. My two absolute favorite new things from Apple this year, however, aren’t new hardware products but instead two services that have been criticized but have made a meaningful difference in my everyday life…

The first is the new Photos app and iCloud Photo Library. I stuck with iPhoto for far too long, but the photo management app and the old iLife suite was easily one of the most compelling parts of owning a Mac for me during iPhoto’s prime. I developed a workflow for capturing photos, sorting them all out, and keeping them around between the iPhone and iPhoto, and I didn’t want to let go of that workflow even when Apple announced in 2014 that iPhoto was dead and Photos for Mac would eventually replace it. I’d take a month’s worth of photos and videos on my iPhone, dump them into iPhoto and create an event called MONTH YEAR, then sync the library back to my iPhone. This meant having the highest capacity iPhone available and not syncing videos back, but it generally worked for me right up to Photos and iCloud Photo Library’s launch toward the start of this year.

iCloud Photo Library Photos Mac 16-9

Enter Photos for Mac and iCloud Photo Library. The migration process was basically Apple saying “push this button and trust us” which didn’t work out well for everyone, and my roughly 10,000 photo and 500 video library took over a week to upload to iCloud on my mediocre broadband connection, but eventually everything got sorted out in the right place and I haven’t looked back since. I no longer worry about manually organizing my library by month and year as Photos has far superior time-based organization than iPhoto did, and iCloud Photo Library lets me have access to all those videos too that were previously only accessible from my Mac.

Photos and iCloud Photo Library also lets me edit photos from any device and see those changes everywhere else, delete photos from anywhere and have my library update, and access my 13,000 photos and 1,000 videos and counting from 16GB iPads. Albums also sync across devices without having to sync with iTunes on the Mac, which has been huge for me. Over the weekend, I sat down to make a couple 2016 calendars in Photos for Mac using family photos for grandparents as Christmas gifts. I’d been tapping the heart to favorite the best photos taken throughout the year so I had a nice bucket of about 150 photos to choose from with the Favorites album which made the process much easier than in past years.

There’s still a lot I’d like to see from Photos and iCloud Photo Library, like real support on the new Apple TV, syncing Faces and Google Photos-like search, and access to Projects like calendar, card, and book creation from iPhones and iPads and across different Macs, but year one of Photos and iCloud has been a grand slam for me personally. I’ve seen horror stories of how iCloud Photo Library has been a nightmare for some people, but I’ve been fortunate not to have any major hiccups past the initial, lengthy upload process.

In fact, iCloud Photo Library and Photos for Mac saved my summer vacation photos back in July. My iPhone was off Wi-Fi for several days and not backing up to iCloud when the software had to be erased for one reason or another. Although my iPhone hadn’t been backing up everything, iCloud Photo Library was sucking up my Disney World family photos and downloading them back on my Mac hundreds of miles away. Exactly what I wanted.

And for my number two pick for favorite new Apple thing of 2015: Apple Music, but not on its own. Beats Music was totally fine and worked really well for me. Apple Music is in more places like iTunes and CarPlay and works with Siri, but it’s Apple Music paired with Family Sharing that makes it something special to me.

Apple Music

$10/month for a single membership, or $15/month for up to six memberships means for $5 more each month I can share access to Apple’s catalog of music with people in my family that only buy a few albums on iTunes, never buy digital music but have years of physical media, or just settle for what plays on the radio.

Apple’s clever here, too, because where I could see myself starting and stopping a Music subscription on my own, I’d be in trouble (or at least disappointed) if my family lost access to their newly made music libraries and playlists.

Family Sharing on its own lets you share paid apps and iTunes media purchases, but it’s still sort of technical to access these without being shown. Apple Music through Family Sharing is generally very easy to use, however, aside from a few road bumps during setup you may experience.

There are other new Apple things that I really appreciate this year. Apple’s Podcasts app got a lot better in iOS 9, just as my previous favorite podcasts app Instacast was discontinued. I’m still happy with my Apple Watch for the most part, and I’m increasingly impressed with what I can comfortably do with the iPad Pro (like write this piece on Wordpres through Safari while watching Tweetbot streaming in a column), but Photos + iCloud Photo Library and Apple Music with Family Sharing are two new Apple things from 2015 that I would not want to trade or replace.

How about you? What’s your favorite new Apple thing and why? Let us know in the comments, and vote in our poll for new products and peripherals too.

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About the Author

Zac Hall

Zac covers Apple news, hosts the 9to5Mac Happy Hour podcast, and created SpaceExplored.com.