Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pictures

Here we go, an overview of what I've found spending a couple day^H^H^Hhours testing and experimenting with picture managers and views for Android.

Firstly the moving parts...

1) I have quite a few albums and images stored in Google's Picasa web albums.
2) I've been posting a large number of photos, taken with an Android powered mobile device, to Google+ using, and attempting to use, the Instant Upload feature.
3) I also have a number of blogs, which also include images.  In some cases these are uploaded from inside the Blogger.com tool, and in some cases these are links to images stored in Web Albums.

And now some history and some, er, issues.

Google's Web Albums is a remarkably good on line tool for storing, sharing and organizing photos.  The Web Albums facility is closely tied to a native application, Picasa, with support for Windows and OS X.  There used to be a wine-based Linux download, but Google doesn't seem to go for Linux much so it got the ax and those programmers now all drive Street Views cars in rural Alaska.  The native application and the on line tool are both often referred to as Picasa, although they may be used independently.  Lately Google has been trying to bury Picasa Web Albums, but I digress.

When one creates a blog using Blogger.com, and uploads an image, it gets stored in a newly created, and aptly named, on line Picasa web album.  This is all well and good.  Fine.  Works great.

Then along comes Google+...

Like Blogger, posting images to Google+ lands them in a Picasa web album called "Photos from posts".  It does this regardless of where the images originate (uploads, camera, etc).  There's also a feature in the Google+ mobile application called "Instant Upload".  Instant Upload automatically uploads photos as they are created on the mobile device to a Picasa web album called "Instant Upload".

The Instant Upload feature seems to have been confusing to Google users.  For the record, the Instant Upload album is completely private.  All this feature is doing is automatically storing mobile images in the Google cloud, in personal space.  Think of it as a backup.  It's also providing a place to go for photos, that you do want to share or send, that is available to you from anyplace, not just the mobile device itself.

Aside: Instant Upload also uploads images transferred to your mobile device manually, by drag-drop to the DCIM folder, when the device is connected to a computer.

Instant Upload was extremely buggy in the beginning.  And perhaps it still is.  The term "instant" is a bit, shall we say, optimistic.  I have seen it take weeks (stop laughing, it's true).  I have also seen it "upload" images that I had deleted from the device months ago.  Weird.  Where'd they come from?

Also, the local content of the phone, and the Picasa album seem to have a way of getting out of sync.  Then you've got a real mess.  I have seen it create 2 or 3 copies of images, on my phone.  And I have seen it post incorrect photos from the Instant Upload album to Google+.  I have also seen the issues with Google+ cause pre-existing problems with the thumbnails on the device to surface.   Many users have seen "broken" image icons in the mobile gallery, or images that have icons, but do not actually exist and can not be viewed.

Just lately, since a Google+ mobile update a few days ago, as I write this, these problems seem to have been greatly reduced.  But we'll see.  After all it's only been over a year sine Google+ appeared, and sharing photos is such an extremely minor niche use case in any mobile strategy (he typed sarcastically).

Anyhow, now back to Google+ and the "Photos from posts" Picasa album.

The "Photos from posts" Picasa album is magical.  Or at least it does something that I previously did not know Picasa could do.  Inside this album are date-named sub-albums, each containing the photos included in that Google+ post, and named with the date of the post.  Sometimes these sub-albums have names of the form "September 22, 2012" and sometimes they are of the form "9/22/12" (I have no idea of the how and why of that, it's just another Google mystery).

I have several hundred of these sub-albums in my "Photos from posts".

In the Google+ online web application, one can browse and share a set of images from "Instant Upload".  There's also some primitive editing features and face recognition.  When images are shared, the images are copied to a new date-named sub-folder under "Photos from posts" in Picasa.  Images can be deleted at will from "Instant Upload" using the on line Picasa tool, or Google+, but deleting things from the "Photos from posts" album will leave broken links.  This is bad Google karma.  Broken links make Google cry.

And now the mobile tools...

Everybody wants to view and manage their on line photos, stored in Picasa Web Albums, on their mobile Android device, right?   This turns out to be, and remain even now at this late date, remarkably challenging.  Here's the options...

First, the first rule of Google's mobile Picasa is that there is no mobile Picasa from Google.  Don't talk about mobile Picasa.  There is no mobile Picasa application, from Google.

There are some pretty good third party applications with Picasa in their name that log into your Picasa Web Albums and do stuff.  So there's that.  You can also go to the Picasa web site from a mobile browser.  If you do this though, you will be presented with a mobile version of the Picasa web site Google provides.

I discarded Google mobile Picasa site straight off.  As I stated above, I have 100s of sub-albums in my Photos from posts album as a result of posting to Google+.  The mobile site is not fully aware of this sub-album feature.  It presents all these albums (all of them) in one giant flattened view with everything at the same level.  The date-named albums are all mixed in with other albums I have created in order to organize and share, and the blog albums.  There is no way to search, or change the order of this mess.  So the only way to find something is scrolling page after page, next, next, next, next...  And literally looking (with your eyes) for the album you want.

But wait!  That's not the only problem!  Inexplicably, this interface does not show some of my albums! The missing, and there are several, are visible when using the web site on a PC, but not in the mobile version.  The problem albums are some, but not all, of some of my oldest albums, and they are albums with all three permission levels (public, limited, and private).  There's something about them...  More on this later.  But for now, I'd just point out that this is a hard problem to Google for, because so many people can't get mobile tools to show their Picasa albums at all.  I am just missing some of my albums.

Next up, the Android Gallery application.  This application is also pretty easily ruled out.  First, as I said above, a lot of people have trouble with this application showing Picasa albums at all.  And when I read that the suggested solutions, to anything, include things like taking out the battery, I pretty much tune out.  That's not acceptable.

I have gotten it to "work", sort of.  And I have found after doing things like clearing it's data, messing with various files on the device, doing hard resets, goofing with the thumbnails, etc, that it can get into Picasa fine, but it seems to take awhile to start doing it.

But that's moot because it has both the same issues as the Picasa mobile web site.  It is unable to handle the Google+ sub-folders and shows everything in a flat view.  It is also missing some albums, same ones.  I will say that your odds of locating something with Gallery are slightly better though, because you can change the album sort order somewhat.

In Googling all this, a few popular 3rd party photo applications come up over and over.  I tried 3D Gallery, JustPictures!, Fish Bowl Photo, and QuickPic.

3D Gallery looks great.  It is by far the coolest and slickest of the choices.  However, I could not get it to access Picasa albums at all.  It's good for local pictures, stored on the phone, from the camera, in DCIM, and downloaded images.

QuickPic and Fish Bowl are the same story.  They're fast.  They're simple.  They're stable.  They only shows images stored on the device.

JustPictures! is a pretty good solution.  It does not show "Photos from posts" (at all) so it avoids the sub-album issue, whatever that issue is.  At it's top level, it separates local files from on line Picasa accounts too, so you can narrow things down.  It also has sufficient sort options to provide a chance of finding a photo, even when you have a lot of albums in Picasa.

JustPictures! also does not show all the Picasa albums.  This leads me to believe there is something server side causing these not to be visible.

This leaves Google+.  Yes, Google+ on mobile has a photo section that browses your albums.  This appears to be what Google actually wants us to use.  When this stuff first appeared, this part of Google+ was unusably slow (a year ago), but it's gotten much better.  And the photos section of the Google+ mobile application is the only mobile choice that handles the sub-albums well, or well enough.

The application had a big problem, until just a few days ago, in that it would paginate incorrectly and so you couldn't access more than the first few albums.  The just fixed this it looks like.

However, the Google+ mobile app still does not show all my Picasa albums.  Those same older ones are missing.

Round up...

There really is no good way to manage all your photos, including your Picasa on line web alums from a mobile Android device.  I'll likely use 3D Gallery for local files, it looks cool.  For web albums, from mobile, some combination of JustPictures! and and Google+ photos section are serviceable.

Up until a few days ago when the Google+ mobile app was updated, it was remarkable that given the importance of photos in the mobile-social arena, realistically, Google didn't even have a player on the field.  It's still surpricing that the Gallery application that comes stock it so easily dismissed from the running.  But there it is.

There remains the issue of selected albums not being accessible, except via the Picasa web site (again, and by the way, many of these are public albums.  The permission does not seem to be a factor).  While I have not done a thorough experiment, on two of these missing albums, I went in, using the Picasa site, and updated the date in the album properties.  The albums then appeared in the mobile app.  Just like that.  All I did was change the date and save.  This seems to "fix" "something" about these old albums.

Good luck.
It's a jungle out there.