Hands-on with Apple’s Photos, replacing iPhoto later this year

A new app for viewing and editing photos is on the way to Mac users, and while it won’t be here for a month or two more (at least), GadgetGuy has been granted an exclusive hands-on with the beta of Apple’s new Photos app, which could bring a modicum of Photoshop for people who don’t want new skills.

The world of photography is different today than what it once was, a shift from back when we had to carry around a finite amount of possible pictures from a roll of film in a gadget designed specifically to take pictures and only pictures.

These days, everything is different, and now the gadget we carry around for our phone calls and emails and messaging and entertainment can also take photos, and it does so with an almost infinite amount of space, with the ability to share with friends without even being in the same room as them, while also being able to back up and take the photos back to a computer, for printing, for sending, for making all sorts of things with.

Yes, the world of photography has changed, and Apple is one company that is totally aware of this. Its iPhone was one of the many smartphones that kicked off a world of anywhere-photography, and its iPhoto application on its Mac computers helped to show people that you didn’t need a fine arts degree in photography to make photos look decent, nor did you specifically need a professional workflow to make cataloguing your images possible. All fifty thousand of the things.

But while the iPhone improves over time and has done so a few times already, iPhoto is due for a replacement. It has been on Apple computers since 2002, so one could say that the time is right — 13 years on — for things to change.

In that time, we’ve seen Apple get a little more serious about photo editing and even release its own Lightroom competitor, found in the form of Aperture. For those that didn’t know, Aperture was Apple’s take on the professional image catalogue and RAW processing category, an area that Adobe has a strong presence in with Lightroom, while other players like Phase’s Capture One Pro and DXO’s Optics Pro provide other choices.

But Aperture is relatively old, too, first appearing in 2005 and receiving updates ever since.

In the past few weeks, though, rumours have swirled that Apple will be retiring both, replacing iPhoto and Aperture with something new, cleaner, faster, and better for photo editing and sharing.

What could it be?

Apple called into GadgetGuy recently to tell us exactly what’s happening, and let us have a play with what it plans to provide to customers free of charge, provided they have OS X 10.10 Yosemite installed on their computers.

If you do, you will be receiving an application called “Photos” later on, a name that is simple and more or less defines what it deals with: photos.

Apple’s iPhone and iPad already have this app, mind you, with Photos appearing on iOS already, providing an introduction to what Apple will be launching for its desktop and laptop app later on.

So you already have a clue what the app is, but if you own an iPhone or iPad and you’re using Photos, the good news is that the picture you’re snapping and the screenshots you’re storing will be accessible by Photos on your Mac, which is one of the first things we noticed.

Even with our most bare MacBook Pro test unit, we found photos waiting for us from the iPad at home, ready to be checked out by the new machine sitting on our desk. That meant photos could be looked at and processed quickly, and made us wish that other devices did it this seamlessly.

Granted, you can synchronise Windows Phones with Microsoft’s OneDrive, and you can let Android devices upload on the fly to either Google’s online storage or Dropbox, but neither seem to integrate this easily into an app, ready for us to work with the files, which means we can take pictures in our life, go home, and have everything ready to go.

Your photos can appear in a few ways, with the photos and the date they appeared in your system, as specific albums, or as shared Photo Streams if the haven’t been categorised yet.

If you do want to categorise them, however, you merely need to select them and add them to an album. Easy.

Once you’re browsing your photos, you’ll find the typical gestures synonymous with the iPad work here, provided you’re using a trackpad. Pinch to zoom will bring you closer to the images, providing larger ones in the thumbnail view, or letting you get closer in just one image, and conversely, pulling apart with your fingers will draw you away.

It’s all easy to remember, and these are gestures you likely already know.

Some of the notable changes are here in editing, however, and it’s here that Apple has provided some interesting changes.