Recent Changes Have Really Improved the Photos Experience on OneDrive

Posted on August 1, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Android, iOS, Music + Videos, OneDrive, Windows 10, Windows Phones with 0 Comments

Recent Changes Have Really Improved the Photos Experience on OneDrive

Free show on the Paris Metro.

For over a year now, I’ve been recommending Google Photos as the ideal service for backing up your smartphone-based captures. But Microsoft was clearly listening, and in recent months, it’s improved OneDrive to match the Google Photos features I enjoy so much.

This is a big deal for a number of reasons. As many of you have experienced, OneDrive has suffered from rampant reliability and performance issues over the past year. AndMicrosoft reneging on the unlimited storage offer for Office 365 subscribers last November didn’t help either.

While I have no real data to back this up, I feel like OneDrive performance and reliability has improved a lot this year especially. (Though initial sync on a new PC install is still very slow.) I had changed my workflow to use both Dropbox and OneDrive for day-to-day work, and had assumed I’d most relegate OneDrive to archiving, since the 1 TB of storage I still get from Office 365 is too voluminous to just ignore. But that never really happened. I still use Dropbox for the book work and a few other things. But OneDrive’s improvements were noticeable enough for me to step back from the cliff.

Photo backup is another matter, however. For over a year now, I’ve enjoyed the way Google Photos works. It’s extremely reliable and the performance is excellent. But it also has some neat perks courtesy of its Assistant functionality. It creates movies, animations, panoramas, and styled photos from the pictures you save from your smartphone. And, best of all, it creates “rediscover this day” cards that show you events from this day in the past.

That latter feature makes the most sense when you literally backup your entire photo collection to the service, which I did last year using Google’s desktop tool for Windows. This week alone, I’ve been reminded of a homeswap in Ireland in 2008, our Lyon trip from last year, The Netherlands in 2009, and more.

As I noted recently in What I Use: International Travel Apps and Services, I’ve continued backing up my smartphone photos to OneDrive as well. And why not? I already have my entire photo collection in that service too, and there’s no reason you can’t backup to multiple services on a smartphone. Some may prefer Amazon or Apple services, for example. Go nuts.

But the performance and reliability improvements aren’t the only changes I’ve noticed at OneDrive this year. After fumbling around with an email-based “Your weekend recap” newsletter since early 2015, Microsoft finally woke up and realized its audience was a bit more sophisticated than that. And now it has started creating automatic albums of what it thinks are interesting events, as I wrote about a few weeks back. Which is thematically similar to what Google Photos does.

OneDrive web interface for photos

OneDrive web interface for photos

Of course, the neat thing about OneDrive’s newfound interest in my photos is that it pops up where I’m working every day, in Windows 10. I get banner notifications whenever OneDrive creates a new album, and I can then view (as photos or in a slideshow) that album directly from the Photos app. (These albums are also available from the OneDrive app on Android or iOS, of course.)

OneDrive auto-albums in the Windows 10 Photos app.

OneDrive auto-albums in the Windows 10 Photos app.

This is really nice, but even better, I can also edit the album. Using Photos on Windows 10, on a Surface Book with a real keyboard, I can quickly change an auto album called “Thursday, July 28, 2016” into something more meaningful, like “Beautiful day in Paris.” I can add or remove photos, and change the photo that’s used as the cover art.

And I can share that album in ways both expected—using a link—and unexpected, by uploading it to Sway and creating an interactive story. In this way, Microsoft has thought through how people might really want to share things, using modern methods, and not email like old people. (On smartphones, sharing utilizes the standard Android/iOS sharing mechanisms, so you can share via Facebook, Twitter, whatever.) Smart.

I don’t see the full Google Photos functionality yet: There’s no stylized photos or whatever. But watching OneDrive trying to make sense of my trip to Paris and comparing it to what Google Photos has done, I see some thoughtful work being done to close the gap and keep customers both interested in and happy with OneDrive. And again, there’s no reason not to backup to multiple services.

Maybe I’ll make a few Sways when I get back from Paris.