On Apple’s Photos Memory Feature

I’m generally a fan of the Memories feature of Apple Photos, especially the inclusion of the widget starting in iOS 14.

However, there are drawbacks. The biggest of which is that Photos can surface painful past moments.1 An extreme example is the attack on the Capitol last year. Here’s Jim Newell at Slate:

What was it like being inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021? Kind of a blur. My colleagues and I on the congressional beat first got word that a House office building was under lockdown. Then, a couple of minutes later, we heard that the Capitol itself was going into lockdown. On the way to what would become my hiding spot, I watched as some rioters tried to smash their way through the front door on the east side of the Capitol. It was time to get behind a heavy door and keep my mouth shut.

I’ve been thinking a lot about those moments, trying to piece them all together as the one-year anniversary of the day approaches. But in going through my photos to stitch the memories into something coherent, I found that I didn’t need to. The Apple Photos app had taken the initiative and done so itself, automatically creating a cute Memories video from my pictures that day.

This story is horrifying, and I think it showcases my two big problems with this feature:

First, Apple does not give users enough control over what photos are featured. I would imagine that Newell would want to tell the system that he doesn’t want to see photos from January 6 in a Memory. To be clear, Apple does let users delete a Memory or tell their device to feature a photo or person less often. However, this is a reactionary feature, possible only after something upsetting has happened.

Secondly, iOS 15 changed the Photos widget to link to music-playing slideshows, which is a huge regression.

If the widget on my iPhone shows me a photo of one of my kids enjoying the snow we got last year, I’d like to be able to tap on it to see the photo full-size, with the ability to quickly share it with my wife. If that photo is in a Memory, getting to an individual, specific photo is still a couple of taps away. As bad as that is, the fact that tapping a photo may launch a slideshow with music playing is a huge, huge mistake on Apple’s part. I have come to live in fear of looking at Photos from the widget in quiet environments, worried that some cheesy music is going to start blaring out of my iPhone.

Apple’s Photos application and widget is pretty great, as is the Memory feature, but Apple needs to really look at these features and how they are implemented in iOS 15. There’s a lot of work to do here.

  1. Here’s my obligatory link to Lauren Goode’s amazing article on this very topic.