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What’s New in Photos for macOS and iOS


As the iPhone camera—and other smartphones’ cameras—have improved, people are taking ever more photos. Various models of iPhones were the six most popular cameras on Flickr last year. All these new photos need somewhere to go. In Apple’s ecosystem, it’s Photos.

iCloud Sync is better than ever. When I sat down to write this tutorial I was pleasantly surprised to find that the photos I’d taken an hour or two before on my iPhone had already been uploaded to my Mac. I’ve no idea when it happened, it just ran in the background. This sort of seamless integration is why people love Apple’s ecosystem. 

Although Photos doesn’t compare to a more powerful app like Adobe Lightroom, it does a fair job of sorting, cataloguing and editing images. For most people, who shoot mainly on their smartphone, it does enough.

In macOS 10.11 Sierra and iOS 10, Photos has been given a big update; the main highlight is that Apple has added intelligent content analysis. Photos now scans your images and recognises faces and thousands of different everyday items. 

In this tutorial, I’m demonstrate what’s new in Photos.

Facial and Object Recognition

When you first update to macOS and iOS 10 you won’t have access to the facial or object recognition in Photos. The devices need to scan through and crunch the details of every photo. It’s a pretty resource intensive task. The devices will do this in the background so it won’t interfere with daily use.

A Mac or iPhone will only scan through photos when they’re connected to power and sufficiently charged. The process is so demanding that, even though they’re plugged in, it can still drain the battery. Once the back catalogue is done, however, any new photos will be scanned as they’re shot or imported.

photo error
You can't use People until your entire catalogue has been scanned.

Once the process is completed, click into the People tab in either Photos app and you’ll see a grid of all the faces that’ve been matched. 

Depending on lighting conditions, bad mullet wigs that people might be wearing and a host of other factors, some people will probably be misidentified as two or three different people.

If that happens, on iOS click Select, tap the two photo groups and tap Merge, and on macOS, Command-Click the two photo groups and click Merge.

People in iOS 10.

Click into any of the people and you’ll be able to name the face and assign them to a contact. This helps with searching later on. 

For some strange and annoying reason, Photos doesn’t sync the data between the two apps. Both devices run the process separately so you’ll need to name and merge and everyone twice.

Advanced Search

All this face and object recognition leads into the new advanced search feature. One you’ve named a face, you can search for any photo of that person by name. 

You can also search for any of the thousands of common objects, scenes and types of image that Photos recognises.

If you enter Conor, Beach, Dog, or any similarly common term, it’ll pull up any photos in your library of the scene or item you’re searching for. You can also search by location or date, so for example, Dublin, and April will return photos I took in Dublin and April respectively. 

Advanced search and object recognition work great together.

You can even combine multiple search terms so, if you regularly walk your dogs on the beach, you could search just for the photos of them there. 

The more powerful search, combined with facial recognition, is a really useful feature. My iOS photo library has grown to about 10,000 images. It’s next to impossible to scroll through and find what you’re looking for. 

Now, with search, you don’t need to. I can pull up any photos I want just by entering a few simple keywords.


The other major feature added to Photos is Memories. When you click on the Memories tab or on the little memory icons at the bottom of a few other screens, you’ll see collections of pictures and videos that Photos has pulled together. 

It uses things like location, facial recognition and date to group images into collections. The app’s algorithms then select the photos they think are most meaningful. 

It works surprisingly well.

Memories in iOS 10.

Click into a memory, such as my Best of Last 3 Months, and you’ll see all the highlighted photos. 

Click the Play Button and they’ll be presented as a slideshow that you can edit. You can change the music, speak, title text, photos and title. You can share the slideshow to social media.

It’s a neat feature, and when Photos gets it right, it works really well. I’ve had some lovely memory slideshows from trips abroad, nights out with my friends and photoshoots I’ve done.

Wrapping Up

What Apple has done with the latest updates to Photos—particularly content analysis, advanced search and Memories—is make images more discoverable. 

Most people are on their third, fourth or even ninth iPhone. Apple has streamlined the process of moving from one phone to the next so lots of people still have photos in their collection from almost a decade ago. With the new features, it’s easier than ever to rediscover them. 

Search for photos of a particular friend and, as well as the recent photo you were looking for, you’ll also find images from far earlier. Click on a Memory and you’ll be taken back to a different time entirely. 

It’s the kind of magic Apple likes to add to their products.

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