Microsoft has launched an Albums feature for organizing photos stored on its OneDrive cloud service, bringing it one step closer to parity with competitors Dropbox and Google.
Albums, described in a company blog post Wednesday, will give users functionality similar to Dropbox's Carousel photo gallery app and Google Drive's built-in albums feature. It will appear on the OneDrive iOS app beginning today, and on Android and Windows phone apps "soon," the post said.
Sometime next month, the company plans to add automatic photo import features for current Windows 7 and Windows 8 users, similar to those launched for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone users last July. With this feature, OneDrive will roll out a new "Camera imports" folder as the location for automatic photo imports from PCs and smartphones instead of directing them to the "All photos" folder.
OneDrive albums are fairly straightforward: You select a group of related photos, create an album similar to how you'd create a folder for documents, and give the new album a name. Photos within an album are given special, gallery-like treatment, with larger thumbnails, narrower margins, and a display page all to themselves, omitting most of the gadgets and controls that normally accompany a OneDrive documents page.
For now, photos albums aren't automatically generated in the way that Dropbox Carousel does, by checking photo tags for date stamps and location data. But Microsoft Research is adding a feature that will enable OneDrive to automatically tag photos based on their content (for example, "dogs" and "sunsets"), OneDrive Group Program Manager Douglas Pearce said in the blog post.
The technology used in this automatic tagging detects patterns within photographs, and applies neural network algorithms to relate those patterns to others already found to pertain to specific categories.
Tagged photos can be shared with others through a feature that automatically generates layouts of related photos, and emails them to the user so that they can be forwarded as attachments. Microsoft said the tagging feature would be available next month.
For its first day, Albums did work well in tests early Wednesday afternoon. However, it mysteriously disappeared from the OneDrive menu an hour later, along with the album that was created, although the photos inside that album remained in storage.