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Everything Worth Knowing About Switching to OS X Photos

·Tech Critic

If you like Apple, you’ve got to like change.

Apple loves introducing or standardizing some new technology, convincing us to use it — and then abandoning it the minute a better technology comes along. Even if it’s incompatible with what we’ve grown used to.

The floppy drive. The CD burner. The ADB port. The SCSI port. The FireWire port. The 30-pin iPhone connector. The first MagSafe power connector. The original Final Cut. The original iMovie. All abandoned. 

In a couple of months, Apple will do it again. It will take both of its photo-management and editing programs for the Mac, iPhoto, andAperture, put them on an ice floe, and push them gently out to sea.

In iPhoto’s place will come a completely new, free Mac app called Photos. In every possible way, Photos for OS X is meant to look and work exactly like the Photos app on the iPhone and the iPad. (However, Apple stresses that Photos is not really meant to be a replacement for the professional photo app, Aperture. At least not yet.)


Photos became available to programmers for their inspection and feedback on Thursday morning. In a few weeks, Apple will offer a beta (unfinished)version to the public. And later this spring, in conjunction with a free OS X update (Yosemite 10.10.3), Apple will offer Photos to everyone with a Mac that’s running Yosemite.

If you’re using iPhoto or Aperture, this is big news. But you’ve probably got a few questions. What will happen to my existing photo collections? What features will I gain? Will I lose any of my favorite features? What will happen to iPhoto and Aperture — will I still be able to run them? Will I be able to download them onto new Macs in the future? What if I convert my photo library to Photos format and then change my mind?

Above all: Is Photos any good?

Fortunately, I had the chance to pound on Photos even before it was released to app developers, and I’ve got the answers for you. This article covers the transition to Photos and its relationship to iPhoto and Aperture.

For an overview of Photos itself — the design, the layout, the features — read my review: Photos for the Mac is Clean, Fast, Connected—and Unfinished.

The transition

Apple intends to move Mac fans from iPhoto to Photos in much the same way it moved from Final Cut Pro to Final Cut Pro X. At first, it will offer a very basic, clean, 1.0 version that’s missing many advanced features of its predecessor. Then, over the months and years, it will restore old features and add new ones, bit by bit, until the new program is even more capable than the old one.

In one huge way, though, this transition will not be like the Final Cut transition, which was a miserable experience for professional video editors. Apple will make the whole thing slow, graceful, and reversible. 

First, if you have iPhoto or Aperture now, they’ll remain available to you. Apple has stopped making new versions of them, but they’ll remain on your Mac — and on the Purchased tab of the Mac App Store app. If you buy a new Mac, you’ll be able to download and install them just as always.”

Installing Photos doesn’t disturb the copy of iPhoto or Aperture you already have. You can keep using those programs.


When you first open Photos, there’s no conversion, no warning dialog box — your existing photo library opens automatically. (Unless you have more than one photo library. In that case, Photos asks which one to open.)

Your photos, videos, albums, folders, books, cards, calendars, and slideshows all appear safe and sound in Photos.

What’s wild is that Photos accesses your existing photo library. It doesn’t convert the original photos into some new format. You’ll be able to switch back and forth among the three programs — iPhoto, Aperture, Photos — without having to duplicate any files or use up any more disk space.

There is one big catch, however: Your library splits at the moment you install Photos.

After you first run Photos, when you edit, add, or delete any pictures, those changes show up only in the one program you’re using at the time. New pictures you add to Photos appear only in Photos; new pictures you add to iPhoto appear only in iPhoto, and so on. (You can easily export/import them if necessary.) Same thing with edits you make: They’re saved only in the program where you make those changes.

How Photos handles missing features

Photos doesn’t offer star ratings, flags, or events as iPhoto does, or star ratings, color labels, flags, copyright, contact, and content data, as Aperture does. So how does it handle those things when you open your existing libraries?

* Star ratings. Photos lets you apply keywords to your photos, just as iPhoto and Aperture do, so that you can search for whatever labels you’ve applied (“scenic,” “vacation,” or whatever). If you’ve applied ratings to your photos, those ratings are automatically converted into keywords (“1 star,” “3 stars,” and so on). That way, you can search for them in Photos’ upgraded Search box.

* Flags. Flagged photos from iPhoto show up in a new, automatically created album called Flagged. Flags from Aperture are applied as keywords, just like ratings are, so that you can search them.

* Color labels. Also converted into keywords.

* Copyright, contact, and content data. Retained, but not viewable in Photos.

* Events. Photos doesn’t let you arbitrarily build groups of original photos called Events. It creates its own “events,” grouped by time and place, which it calls Moments, but it doesn’t let you create your own. And it offers traditional albums; you can place an individual photo into many different albums. Your existing Events from iPhoto, and your Projects from Aperture, both appear in Photos as new albums in a folder called iPhoto Events.

The bottom line is that Photos is an all-new program, written from scratch, so there will be conversions, adaptations, and new things to learn. Apple stresses that no data are discarded, while also freely admitting that Photos 1.0 is only a starting point for this new, mainstream photo-management app.

Read the Photos review:
Photos for the Mac is Clean, Fast, Connected—and Unfinished