Version 3.4 of Google Photos started rolling out earlier today, and like so many other recent app updates, you're probably not going to see much in the way of changes. This is a pretty common theme around this time of year as Google prepares to launch new hardware and services. But investigating the app updates themselves can still turn up clues about future enhancements. In this release, there are signs that users will be able to mark photos as "favorites" and quickly pull up a list for easy browsing. There's also going to be a new notification when you're on cellular networks to allow one-time passes for the backup system to use some of that data and get your photos and videos into the cloud ASAP.

Teardown

Disclaimer: Teardowns are based on evidence found inside of apks (Android's application package) and are necessarily speculative and usually based on incomplete information. It's possible that the guesses made here are totally and completely wrong. Even when predictions are correct, there is always a chance that plans could change or may be canceled entirely. Much like rumors, nothing is certain until it's officially announced and released.

The features discussed below are probably not live yet, or may only be live for a small percentage of users. Unless stated otherwise, don't expect to see these features if you install the apk.

Favorites

Most of us have a photo collection numbering in the thousands, or even the hundreds of thousands, but it's probably just a dozen or so pictures we keep going back to everytime we tell a story or show something to our friends. There's no reason we can't use an album for this, but that isn't particularly convenient, especially for frequent changes. Google Photos is about to add the simple solution: Favorites.

The idea of favoriting something is widespread enough that it shouldn't need explanation, but there are a couple of simple details to glean from what's here. For now, it appears that the only way to look at your list of favorites will be to use the search field and type in "Favorites," or pick it from the list of suggestions. It's possible the list will also be accessible through the navigation drawer or as an auto-generated album, but there's no mention of those in the text.

<string name="photos_search_explore_category_favorites">Favorites</string>
<string name="photos_search_explore_favorites_query">favorites</string>

There's even an interesting clue that this functionality is already partially live. In version 3.3 and below, typing the word "favorites" into the search box would remain completely unchanged after performing the search. On this release, the same action will subtly capitalize the first letter to read "Favorites" as soon as the search is initiated. This suggests to me that the feature is technically already live, there's just no way to actually mark photos as favorites yet.

As for how you're going to mark those favorites, an older line gives that away. A button will appear in the bottom bar that shows up in certain editing and viewing screens, like the two shown below.

Left: Bottom bar for regular photo viewer. Right: Bottom bar from shared album view.

strings
<string name="photos_photofragment_components_photobar_action_burst">Burst</string>
<string name="photos_photofragment_components_photobar_action_comment">Comments</string>
<string name="photos_photofragment_components_photobar_action_favorite">Favorite</string>
<string name="photos_photofragment_components_photobar_action_delete_device_copy">Delete</string>
<string name="photos_photofragment_components_photobar_action_details">Info</string>
<string name="photos_photofragment_components_photobar_action_edit">Edit</string>
<string name="photos_photofragment_components_photobar_action_lens">Lens</string>
<string name="photos_photofragment_components_photobar_action_move_to_trash">Trash</string>
<string name="photos_photofragment_components_photobar_action_share">Share</string>

One-time cellular backups

Google Photos tends to be pretty respectful of cellular data, at least it tries to be – there have been a few unfortunate bugs. But if you don't want to find yourself responsible for racking up a huge data bill each month, it's probably best to set Photos to only do backups while connected to Wi-Fi.

However, there are occasions where a photo or video has to be backed up immediately, no matter what your connection may be. Perhaps you want to share a great photo with some friends and family right away, or maybe you just got a shot of some crime as it's being committed and don't want to risk losing the shot if anything happens to the phone... Hey, it happens.

Whatever the reason, you might need to upload something ASAP. You can certainly enable cellular uploads in the Settings screen, but you may forget to restore the old setting once it's finished, and that could turn into an expensive mistake. Google Photos is about to offer a better alternative: One-time permission to perform backups over cellular.

strings
<string name="photos_backup_notifications_stalled_notification_text_exp">Use %s of cellular data to back up now</string>
<string name="photos_backup_notifications_stalled_notification_button_text">Back up now</string>

<receiver android:name="com.google.android.apps.photos.backup.notifications.StalledBackupNotificationActionReceiver" android:exported="false" />

The offer to use cellular data comes with a helpful count of how much data would be used if a backup is performed at that time. As the strings are currently named, it looks like users will see this as a system notification, but I would expect to see a button to launch the backup somewhere else in the interface. At the very least, it should also be in the backup settings screen.

Assuming they aren't already staged rollouts, features like these often turn up in our teardowns and then go live over the following days or weeks, so keep an eye out for one or both to unceremoniously turn up on your screen soon.

Download

The APK is signed by Google and upgrades your existing app. The cryptographic signature guarantees that the file is safe to install and was not tampered with in any way. Rather than wait for Google to push this download to your devices, which can take days, download and install it just like any other APK.

Version: 3.4.0.166882523

Google Photos
Google Photos
Developer: Google Inc.
Price: Free