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Google Photos may lock some new features behind a paywall


If you ask me, Google Photos is Mountain View’s best piece of software since Gmail. It offers offers useful organization and editing features that tend to be easier and more effective than those on other apps. But according to a report by XDA, which dug into the code of the app’s latest update, Google is planning on keeping some of its best upcoming features behind a paywall — namely, a Google One subscription.

XDA‘s report shows that Photos v5.18 includes four strings of code pointing to the change:

  • “As a Google One member, you get access to extra editing features”
  • “Get extraediting features with a Google One membership”
  • “Unlock this feature and more with a Google One membership”
  • “Unlock more editing features and storage_amount of storage with a Google One membership”

So it’s pretty clear some degree of a paywall is coming. In fact, the company has already started.

Shortly after the above report, An XDA reader noted that Google had begun locking its ‘color pop‘ feature behind a Google One paywall:

However, in a statement to The Verge, Google said the feature is only paywalled on photos that have no inherent depth information:

In Google Photos, color pop is a feature that continues to be available for anyone to use, at no cost, for photos with depth information (such as portrait mode). As a part of an ongoing roll out that began earlier this year, Google One members can apply the feature to even more photos of people, including those without depth information.

In other words, it appears Google isn’t locking the feature, but rather making it available on more photos with this update — you’ll just have to pay for it.

Google’s image processing AI is state of the art, and it’s a big part of why the company is able to offer one of the best portrait mode features on a smartphone camera without requiring extensive depth information from the hardware itself.

The color pop feature similarly requires depth information, so it’s usually available on photos taken in portrait mode. It seems subscribers will be able to use Google’s AI to generate those depth maps and enable the feature to work on any old regular portrait instead.

I’m of two minds on this. As long as Google continues to offer new free features to everyday users, I don’t particularly mind the company having a ‘premium’ tier. After all, I pay for a monthly Adobe subscription for Lightroom, but I use Google Photos much more often in my day-to-day photography.

Still, Google will have to make these paywalled features particularly compelling — color pop certainly won’t cut it — so I’m curious to see what the company comes up with in the future. An added focus on professional users could make it Photos more useful, though the app has a long way to go if it wants to offer competition for more robust image-editing applications.

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Published November 7, 2020 — 02:20 UTC


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