The latest update to Google Photos is starting to roll out to users, bringing the version up to 3.6. A run through the app hasn't turned up any brand new features, but there are some interesting things in the teardown. We can look forward to maximum cuteness as facial detection may be expanding to encompass our pets, even mixing them in with the faces of other people. There's also a new feature called Motion that promises to bring life to our images. And finally, there's a firm clue that Google Lens may actually turn out to be a temporary Pixel exclusive.
The features discussed below are probably not live yet, or may only be live for a small percentage of users. Unless stated otherwise, don't expect to see these features if you install the apk.
Pets + Face Detection
Let's be honest, if you own a cat or dog (or several), you've probably caught them doing something cute enough to warrant a few photos or videos. Don't worry, I'm right there with you. If you could rank all of the pictures on the Internet by number, I think it's a safe bet that cats and dogs would be somewhere in the top 5, right along with pictures of food and... those other pictures that need to be cleared from your browser history.
Google Photos is already smart enough to find your pets with a quick search, but now it's going to be a little more proactive about picking them out of the crowd. It looks like Photos will keep an eye out for new animals in your pictures and let you know about them.
New! Pets added
Using your photos cats & dogs
Your photos of important cats & dogs are organized here. Manage in settings.
- %1$d pets
- %1$d pet
The text is fairly specific about a focus on cats and dogs, which might mean you'll miss out on the party if your best friend is a spider, snake, bird, or any other critter from the animal kingdom.
There isn't any specific mention of face detection in the lines above, but one line does mention a setting that happens to give us a pretty good hint about what's going to happen. The setting includes "faceclustering" in the name, which is better known as the "group similar faces" feature.
You can probably guess what this means: Photos will try to detect each of your pets and include them alongside people that have been individually identified. If you've ever joked that your pets think they're people, you're going to have a hard time convincing them otherwise.
Google's facial detection algorithms are definitely impressive, but it will be interesting to see if they can successfully identify each cat and dog, especially if they're sporting solid-color fur and relatively few distinguishing traits.
Motion (a.k.a. Microvideos)
Another interesting addition seems to be coming under the name of Motion. I'm not entirely sure, but this looks like it may be closely tied to the Motion Stills app released a couple months ago. There is a fair amount of text to describe this one, but the actual nature of the feature is still a bit unclear. The problem is that some lines contradict others.
The main promotional text reads, "see your photos come to life." That and many other lines makes it sound like Photos will take in a still photograph and generate a short video where elements are in motion. If that sounds a little too magical, I agree, but that doesn't mean it's not possible.
There is also a line that mentions "keep video trimmed to stabilize shaky motion." I doubt the app is going to intentionally generate shaky footage, so it's obviously a reference to a clever video stabilization method that trims off some pixels from the outer edges of a video and nudges frames to keep videos looking more even. That would mean Google Photos is expecting a video as input.
See your photos come to life
Tap to turn motion off
It may take a few minutes.
Can't save still photo
Save as still photo
Still photo saved
Save as video
Keep video trimmed to stabilize shaky motion
Can't save video
Save as video
Remove video from motion photos
Share only the still photos when sharing by link & in albums
Editing turns off motion
This image will be saved as a still photo
The reason I question whether or not this feature is tied to the Motion Stills app is because there's no mention of producing an animated GIF as output. There are separate menu commands that state you can save the output as an image (without motion) or a video.
When I first read the part about photos coming to life, my first thought is that this feature would generate cinemagraphs. You've probably seen these on social networks, especially after they became officially supported for Facebook profile photos. They're mostly still images that have small elements that are still animated. However, these too are usually kept in the form of GIFs, so this is also probably unlikely.
Finally, this might just be a clone (or close match) of the short-video-as-a-photo feature that originated with HTC (iirc) and was later popularized by Apple under the name Live Photos.
Google Lens may be a temporary Pixel exclusive
I know, people have been throwing this theory around for a while, and even I've discounted it as an unlikely situation, but now it looks like there's a chance it may be true.
A couple of weeks ago, a teardown of Photos v3.5 showed most of the text that would be used to welcome users to Google Lens. In this update, many of those lines were removed, only to be replaced by a new set with different names. Most of the text is similar or identical, but one single line stood out: The words "Pixel preview" are prominently used as a subtitle on the Google Lens welcome page. It is highlighted in the block below.
Your camera just got smarter
Do more with your photos
Here's some things you can try:
This is an early preview of Google Lens, just for Pixel users. More functionality coming soon, so stay tuned.
Learn more about landmarks
Look up books, music albums, movies, and artwork
Copy text like phone numbers, dates, and addresses
Learn more about paintings and other artwork in a museum
Learn more about landmarks, points of interest, and notable buildings
Look up books, movies, music albums, and video games by the cover
Tap on phone numbers, website URLs, addresses, dates, and email addresses
This likely means that Lens will launch on just the Pixel 2 phones (or possibly all Pixels) as a preview before rolling out to everybody else at a later time, just like the original Pixels held a temporary exclusive on Google Assistant. It's coined as a preview, which at least suggests this isn't going to be a permanent exclusive.
As an aside, there are now icons for each of the four types of suggested uses: artwork, books, landmarks, and text.
The APK is signed by Google and upgrades your existing app. The cryptographic signature guarantees that the file is safe to install and was not tampered with in any way. Rather than wait for Google to push this download to your devices, which can take days, download and install it just like any other APK.