THE move from paper to digital photography has seen many of us reclaim space on our bookshelves that would otherwise have been occupied by albums. Meanwhile, the market for those sticky photo corners that held the pictures in place on the page has fallen through the floor.
But one British company thinks it can turn back the clock by reimagining the traditional album for the digital age.
Pholio is a device roughly the shape of a book that sits where the volumes of prints would have gone - but there the similarity ends. It’s really a hard disk that can find, store and index tens of thousands of your pictures, no matter where they are at the moment.
Hard disks that will accommodate your photo collections are, of course, not new. Indeed, any hard disk can do exactly that. But Pholio is unusual in being marketed specifically for the purpose and in coming with built-in software to do the spadework for yo.
The idea is that, once loaded with login details to your various accounts with Google, Facebook and other photo sites you may use, Pholio scans every image and attempts to catalogue them using “artificial intelligence” that can recognise faces, places, dates and other information it deems relevant.
You can then search your collection the way you would look for something on the internet, and display the pictures on any phone, PC or large-screen TV on your network.
Pholio handles videos, too, and depending on your requirements, can either download full-resolution copies to store internally, or build a library of thumbnails with links to the original locations.
This sounds like an appealing photo cataloguing solution, until you consider that Google Photos does more or less the same thing. I, for instance, have 20,000 pictures in Google’s cloud and can access them on any device connected to the internet and view them as slideshows on the TV. So what is Pholio bringing to the party and is it worth the £200 asking price for pre-orders?
Searching, obviously, is Google’s speciality and trying to beat the world’s biggest tech company at its own game is a dangerous strategy for a start-up company. But Pholio does have on its side the fact that EU privacy laws have limited the functionality available on Google Photos on this side of the Atlantic. In particular, the face recognition feature that has made it so popular in America is absent here.
Pholio is not encumbered by the same restrictions because it doesn’t make your pictures public, though you can share them with whoever you please. And it claims to be able to check your pictures against 20,000 in-built search terms and to learn from what you tell it.
However, its real advantage over Google Photos may lie not in its indexing capability at all but in its ability to collect your photos and videos from multiple locations and index them in a single, convenient place. That greatly increases the chances of being able to find items you thought were lost, and it eliminates the need to synchronise separate online and offline photo libraries.
Of course, Pholio can only handle pictures that are already digitised, so your prints from the 1990s and before are outside its frame of reference, unless you scan them in first. If you think this is the solution for you, you have around two months to get that done before it goes on sale.