Apple’s iPhoto was good enough for me. I had thousands of photos in iPhoto. I was comfortable with how it worked… even though it increasingly had odd interface choices, and it was slow, and it had weird bugs that were not being fixed.

I even managed to figure out the very arcane steps needed to move my iPhoto library to an external hard drive. You see, Apple no longer makes any computer that has an officially user-upgradeable hard drive. For years, Apple’s affordable desktop computer, the iMac, has had no option except an external hard drive. Until recently, with the introduction of Thunderbolt, using an external hard drive with an iMac meant FireWire 800 (slow, expensive, and rare) or USB 2.0 (incredibly slow). But I figured it out.

Instead of fixing iPhoto, Apple decided to nuke it and start over with Apple Photos. And, as Apple has a habit of doing, they were okay with a replacement that removes features present in the old software.

Map View

For example, in iPhoto you could call up a map view of your photos. By moving around a map, you could easily and visually find all the photos you’d taken in a given area, and then view just those photos. Apple Photos doesn’t support this. The only map you get is hidden in the Info palette; it’s a small, non-resizeable map that doesn’t offer any organizational capability at all. The official way to find your photos by location is to use a text search. It’s left to the user to figure out what Apple has decided to call any given set of geographic coordinates, though. It’s like something you’d expect in Windows 95, not OS X from 2015.

iCloud Photo Library

One of the big selling points for Photos was Apple’s iCloud Photo Library. It’s supposed to replace the badly flawed iCloud Photo Stream. But it has fatal flaws. For me, the biggest flaw is that it simply doesn’t work if your photos are on an external drive. iCloud Photo Library requires your photos to be on your boot disk. That’s bad enough if you have a 1TB hard drive that’s simply gotten full. It’s absurd if you have a MacBook Pro with a 128GB or 256GB flash drive. A serious photographer with a DSLR camera, shooting in RAW mode, can easily fill a 32GB SD card in an hour or two of shooting.

(“But Photos isn’t meant for serious photographers!” I hear you muttering. Don’t forget that Apple previously offered a very well-received professional photography application, Aperture. They discontinued it when Photos was introduced, and they indicated that Aperture users should migrate to Photos. So, someone at Apple thinks Photos is suitable for serious photographers, as ludicrous as that sounds.)

Apple apparently expects that users with hundreds of gigabytes, or even terabytes, of photos will use iCloud Photo Library to store them all. But that’s not reasonable given the storage pricing. For the number of photographs I had accumulated—virtually all of them from before I had a DSLR—I would have needed the 500 GB plan, at $9.99/month. That means paying Apple $120/year in perpetuity to have space for just the photographs I have today. The 1TB plan more than doubles that, and there’s no plan beyond 1TB. Those prices for the larger storage buckets substantially exceed storage prices from competing cloud services.

Plus, by forcing you to move the bulk of your library to the cloud, Apple’s ignoring that most people have to pay for bandwidth one way or another. Whether it’s a cap imposed by your cable company, or the direct limit of a cellular data plan, at some point sending and receiving large photo files via iCloud is going to cost even more.

By making Photos incompatible with external hard drives and local network storage, Apple is baldly trying to fence customers into paying them for cloud service… and Apple has a long history of problems with their cloud services.


In iPhoto, it wasn’t hard to organize your photos by the people appearing in them. Okay, the face recognition was often unintentionally hilarious. You could rely on any set of imported photos having at least one phantom face in the bark of a tree, the grass of a lawn, or the fabric of a sofa. And the manual tools worked differently from any other rectangular selection you’d ever used on a Mac. But it worked, and when it was done you had a grid of faces and names you could quickly scroll through to find a person. (Granted, it was a graphic nightmare of Comic Sans-esque type on faux corkboard, and it was sorted by first character rather than last name, but it worked.)

Photos? What a mess.

To start with, it took me two hours to figure out how to add new faces in the first place. Jony Ive is in love with circles, so we get circles; rectilinear grids are passé, so we get a hexagonal grid with extra whitespace and strangely-aligned text. This is combined with Apple’s sans-serif font du jour for an utter train-wreck of human-interface graphic design.

The top row of faces is extra large. It’s not clear why. It’s also not clear how the faces are organized. I’m guessing it’s by frequency of appearance or something; it could just be random. It certainly isn’t alphabetic. There’s no way to change the sort order, either. So, if you’re looking for pictures of a certain person, you’re forced into using the Search text box, because otherwise you’re going to be scrubbing through a non-rectilinear grid of circles arranged randomly looking for a small circular punchout of their face subtitled with small text. Oh, and you can’t change how many faces you get on the screen, either. There’s no control for changing the zoom level, but if you resize the window, you don’t get more faces—they change size to keep the number of circles on screen constant. If you make the window as narrow as Photos will let you, you get illegible faces combined with absurdly short labels that run into each other, an “unidentifiable” twofer.

Nor can you change what part of the “face” is displayed in the circular punchout. You apparently get the center of the rectangular area you defined in iPhoto. With luck, that’s positioned well enough to give you some clue who you are looking at. You can’t change the positioning unless you delete the face tag and recreate it for the photo.

At the bottom of the faces area in Photos is a strip of “Suggested Faces.” It’s not immediately obvious what this is supposed to be. It’s replacing the iPhoto mode where you could look through photos with unrecognized faces and assign them.

In human-factors engineering, the term “affordance” is used for any feature of an object that suggests a way in which it can be manipulated. For instance, a large flat handle on a door affords pushing; a soft, textured area on an otherwise hard metal rod affords a place to grip the rod. On a computer, affordances can be subtle (the small lines in the corner of a window suggesting a place to grab and resize, now long gone from Mac OS) or obvious (a button to click, easily identified by its distinctive rounded-rectangle outline and coloration, sadly now an endangered species in Apple operating systems).

Suggested Faces has absolutely no affordances whatsoever. There is nothing to suggest what you’re supposed to do with them.

A single click highlights the face, but no user interface elements appear to suggest actions you might be able to accomplish with the face.

A double-click will bring up a dialog box where you can type in a name. However, that will appear as a pop-out sheet at the top of the Photos window. Since the Suggested Faces bar is at the bottom of the window, you may not even notice the sheet—especially if you’ve got a 27″ iMac and you’ve enlarged the window. It took me five minutes to notice the dialog box, and I’m not an idiot.

Right-clicking gives you exactly one option: “Ignore this face.” This comprises two deadly Mac interface sins. First, it suggests that the only thing you can do is ignore the face; there’s no “Name this face…” option. Second, there is no other way to ignore a face. There’s no button, nothing in the toolbar, no menu item. Dragging a suggested face to the Trash does nothing. Ever since Apple introduced right-button support back in Mac OS 8, Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines have clearly said that the right-click contextual menu should never be the only way to do something, for many reasons but chief among them the fact that Apple products come with one-button mice (or nowadays, devices that appear to be, and act as, one-button mice by default). Apple seems to have completely forgotten that important rule.

So how do you tell Photos that a Suggested Face is a face of someone you already have listed? Well, you could do it by starting to type that person’s name and then selecting the automatic match… or you can drag the face onto the face in the grid (supposing you can find it there to begin with).

There’s so many other problems with Photos, but Faces is the part where you can see that Apple no longer cares about making a product that’s easy to use. Apple no longer cares about user-interface rules based on scientific data that it has championed for decades. Apple cares about circles.

SD card handling

One last rant before I stop, though. Photos really, really wants to be your photo application. So much so that whenever you insert an SD card containing photos from a camera, it will open whether you want it to or not. While it does so, it will block any other application from successfully importing photos off that SD card. The only way to stop this is to go into Photos and check the button on the import screen to never import photos off that SD card. You’ll need to do this for each and every SD card you use with photos on it. If a friend offers you photos from their camera, Photos will insist on looking at them first.

The end result of Apple’s investment in replacing iPhoto with Photos for this lifelong Apple user?

I started paying Adobe $10/month for Adobe Lightroom. It works much better than Photos if you’re the least bit serious about photography. It has a working Maps module that even supports loading GPS trail data off your phone. It has working facial recognition. It has absolutely no problem with storing your photos on any sort of external or network disk. It’s better in every way.

And for no extra cost, I can switch to the identical Windows version.



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