Organizing, backing up, and enjoying digital photos is something I’ve cared deeply about for almost a decade. My oldest son was born in 2010, so he was at the perfect age when iPhone cameras started improving at a dramatic rate year over year. iCloud Photos and Google Photos are the most common solutions for photo management that people use today. What’s the best way to manage photos on iPhone, iPad, and Mac? When comparing Google Photos vs. iCloud, which solution is best?
Cloud photo management has become something only the big technology companies can offer due to the ever-growing cost of storing the files and increasing media quality. Over the years, many companies have come and gone and left consumers with only a few photo management choices. This category really should have been dominated by Flickr, but they struggled to create a great mobile experience. Eventually, companies like Everpix offered robust solutions, but they couldn’t stay in existence long enough to gain a mass-market share. Today, we’re left with three companies: Apple, Google, and Amazon, but for most people, it will come down to picking Apple or Google. Let’s look at the benefits and weaknesses of both to determine the best choice when considering Google Photos vs. iCloud Photos.
Apple iCloud Photos
If you are using a macOS and iOS device, iCloud Photos has a very distinct advantage: it’s a native service. Your camera roll is hooked right into iCloud Photos. If you post a photo to an app like Instagram, all of your photos are there. If you want to use a third-party editing tool, you can give it access to your entire library. Any edits you make are automatically synced everywhere.
iCloud Photos on the Mac is light years ahead of Google’s web interface for managing photos on the desktop. I can make custom albums based on EXIF data and effortlessly export photos out (drag and drop) if I needed to. Since my Mac has a 1 TB drive, I also keep an offline copy of my library. Doing this allows Time Machine and Backblaze to keep additional backups for me. Despite the advancements in web technology, I still prefer native apps for photo management.
You don’t have to have that entire amount of storage on your device, though. One of iCloud Photos’ critical benefits is that you can access your entire library from all of your devices without having to download the whole database offline. You’ll be able to edit a photo on your iPad, and then all of the edits appear everywhere else.
Pricing wise, Apple used to be at a disadvantage because Google offered a free version, but is changing in 2021. Google is discontinuing the free Google Photos storage tier. While your existing uploads won’t count against your free 15GB quota, future uploads will count after June 2021.
Apple only includes 5GB for free, so if you have more than that, you’ll need to upload. Apple’s pricing for iCloud storage:
- 5GB: Free
- $.99/month: 50GB
- $2.99/month: 200 GB
- $9.99/month: 2 TB
iCloud storage is also included in the Apple One bundles, including access to Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, Apple News, etc. Families looking to bundle their services together could save money if they were already planning on purchasing Apple TV+ and Apple Music as the iCloud storage cost drops even lower. If you don’t want to buy Apple One, the only plans that can be shared with your family are the $2.99/mo and $9.99/mo plans.
The main weakness of iCloud Photos is the lack of a family setup. I know they offered shared albums, but families don’t have a way to share a single library. As a parent of young children, I have tons of photos. Some of them are taken by me and others taken by my wife. The fact that there isn’t an automatic way to share them back and forth creates complicated workflows. You can AirDrop them back and forth, but that gets old after a while. My iCloud Photo library is our primary one, so I have my wife’s camera roll set to upload via Dropbox, and then I import them into my library.
I hope Apple adds a way for families to share their entire library with family members in the future. I want to designate read and copyrights of my camera roll to my family. Users could save anything from a family member’s library to their own. People could still create their albums, but they could also view family members’ libraries (albums, faces, etc.). I could choose the best photos my wife takes and save them to my library with this option.
Google Photos is Google’s cloud-based photo management solution, and there is a lot to like about it. Still, the critical question is that does it offer enough to be a better solution than Apple’s iCloud Photos? It provides a native app with great edition solutions on the iPad and iPhone, but on the desktop, you’ll be relying on the web interface to access your library. The lack of a desktop app is a critical negative for Google Photos.
For the longest time, Google had the pricing advantage over Apple as they offered a free plan that covered most people’s needs. With the discontinuation of that in 2021, it’s now time to put them on equal footing. Google’s pricing:
- $1.99/month for 100GB
- $2.99/month for 200GB
- $9.99/month for 2TB
As you can see, it’s very comparable to Apple’s pricing, and Google offers family options as well. If you’re currently using Google Photos but want to move to iCloud, check out our handy guide on how to export from Google Photos.
Where Google completely outshines, Apple is with family sharing. Google Photos includes an option to share your entire library with someone else. You can share your entire library, photos of only certain people, or photos from a specific date forward. This feature is done from Google account to Google account. Even if you don’t want to go through that hassle, you can sign in to your Google account on a spouse’s phone as well, and you can both be uploading to the same spot.
Which solution is the best?
Both services offer fantastic experiences and have their pros and cons. Apple offers deep integration with the iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Google offers robust family sharing options. Google’s automations are probably a step ahead of Apple’s in terms of automatically creating movies of memories, etc. Apple offers better editing options as third party apps can tie directly into the library.
If you are heavily tied to the Apple ecosystem, it’s hard to discount all iCloud Photos’ benefits. I will recommend you start there and move to Google Photos if it doesn’t meet your needs. The ability to download your library offline to backup is essential to me, and I vastly prefer editing in a desktop app versus a web app. Both solutions are fantastic and are a great place to entire your ever-growing library of personal photos and movies. The real winner when considering Google Photos vs. iCloud is the consumer because both options are great choices. It’s going to come down to personal preferences when considering what each of them does well.
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