We take photos to capture moments. A great photo can fill in the blanks of our memory, instantly recalling forgotten details and conversations otherwise lost to time. But has looking at a photo ever raised more questions than it provided answers? Let’s look at reimagining the Photos app to better tell the stories of your memories.
“Why was I wearing a winter coat in May?” “What were we listening to on that road trip?” “Why were you downtown so early on a Sunday morning?” Where our memory fails, technology can assist. Beyond being a great camera, modern iPhones store and can tap into rich libraries of data relevant to our lives. By interpreting this information through the intelligence of iOS, the Photos app could be expanded in two key ways to help weave our memories into vivid stories.
On This Day
The goal of On This Day is simple: to give context to your images beyond what the pixels themselves depict. The Photos app already provides similar rudimentary features in the form of metadata. Time and location are displayed in the Photos navigation bar when viewing a photo. Swipe up on an image and you’ll see your photo on a map and related Memories curated by the app.
On This Day takes the concept further, providing a full dashboard of automatically generated information about a photo. By moving Live Photo Effects to the editing panel, a swipe up on any image could transport you back in time to the date and place the photo was taken.
The look back begins with weather. By using a photo’s geotag and timestamp, Apple can reference online historical climate data to determine the conditions in any photo. “38 degrees? So that’s why I was wearing a winter coat in May.” Weather anomalies and extreme conditions could be called out.
Geotags can provide more context to your activities in a location, too. Points of interest from Maps that match the location in a photo could be expanded into brief summaries from Wikipedia, just like Siri offers.
At this point, some people have been snapping geotagged iPhone photos for a significant portion of their lives. Beyond just showing nearby images, Photos could determine how many times you’ve taken photos at a specific place and when your last visit was. In popular locations, seeing your photos from each visit back-to-back can reveal a story of change.
Apple’s internet services — iCloud, Apple Music, Apple News, and the iTunes Store — can uniquely catalog information relating to pop culture and important events. Knowing what was happening in the world when you snapped a photo can help put it into perspective. At a basic level, past events from your iCloud calendars could be served up with matching photos.
Diving deeper, Apple Music could determine which songs you played most often in the month surrounding a photo and create a personalized mix. Apple News could display the top stories for that day along with smart recommendations based on the photo’s geotag. The iTunes Store could serve up top movies for any day of the week, and box office charts for photos predating the service’s existence.
Outside of the main On This Day interface, video geotags could be enhanced. Videos today are geotagged like photos and assigned one static location. But not all clips are stationary, and videos created in apps like iMovie might contain clips from dozens of different locations. By assigning location information based on a clip’s timecode rather than the file itself, the Photos video scrubber could dynamically display location throughout a video. With an iPhone in portrait orientation, there’s even enough room to display a map of the path traveled throughout a clip.
Since iOS 10, the Photos app has included a feature called Memories. Memories automatically collects related photos and videos and combines them into shareable movies, complete with background music. Apple streamlined Memories in iOS 12, adding them to the new For You tab. Memories are a fun way to look back, but can feel a little disjointed if the timeline of a day isn’t particularly clear in your mind. Apple could intelligently enhance Memories to help you tell the story of an event.
Drawing from previous features like iCloud Photo Journals, iMovie Trailers, and iPhoto Slideshows, Memories could intersperse animated elements between your photos and videos to connect the dots. Like On This Day, historical weather data would provide helpful context. Locations could be introduced by dynamic Flyover scenes and customized point-to-point graphics using Apple’s own Maps data.
Sometimes it’s hard to judge how much time passed between photos in a Memories video. A simple animated time-lapse clock solves the problem. Increasingly, I find myself mapping time throughout a day by the progress of my Apple Watch Activity rings. It would be fun to see periodic updates on my activity throughout especially active days in Memories.
Above, I’ve built a sample Memories video integrating these dynamic elements. While I needed to assemble the elements by hand, I’m confident that Apple’s Photos intelligence could put together a storyline just as coherent that’s both nostalgic and compelling to share.
Over the past several years, Photos has dramatically transformed from a static camera roll to an interactive place to edit, rediscover, and share your moments. At the heart of the app, the fundamental experience of simply swiping through your photos has remained intact. These suggested intelligent additions follow the same pattern of helpful features that are there when you want them and recede when you don’t.