Google snuck out an update to its Google+ iPhone app Tuesday, adding a really powerful feature that’ll please a lot of people very quickly. They’ve added their own service to compete with Apple’s iCloud, and they’re calling it Instant Upload.

The Google+ app for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad has gained a feature previously available only on Android devices. Now, whenever you snap some photos or record video with your iPhone, you can elect to have it automatically uploaded to Google+, accessible — and sharable — from any device. Think about how long it normally takes you to send a photo to a friend, or transfer a video. Google’s trying to eliminate most of that need with this integration of their Google Plus Services with your iDevice, something Android phones have had since the beginning (at least as far as integrating all of Google’s services goes).

Google’s idea of implementing of the instant upload feature, and one of the key points they make, is that it could save you data, allowing you to share photos and videos with people without the need to upload them repetitively. While this does sound like a good deal, imagine how many things you record that you DON’T want on the internet? What would it be like to have every photo, and every video, uploaded automatically? Many people might shy away from this, but those people will at least be happy to note that uploaded content is strictly PRIVATE when using instant upload, and it’s only viewable from people if you choose to share it with them.

Now you might be asking, “How is this different from iCloud’s Photo Stream feature?” Well for one thing, iCloud is built into the iOS, and is integrated with the phone’s entire system, and works automatically across all devices you own, and not just those you have an application installed on. Because it’s an iPhone, Apple builds the tool around its other devices, giving the user a simplistic and pleasant experience with Photo Stream.

Photo Stream fundamentally is more about making sure all your photos on all your iOS devices, are accessible at anytime from ALL of your Apple devices. Apple’s got it created to bring users into their experience, and to keep them there with services that work amazing with all of their products. With Mountain Lion coming later as well, it’ll add and even greater level of synchronization to your life (as long as your life is utilizing Apple’s products).

One problem with Apple’s solution though, is that your photos are actually pushed to your device from the cloud. Apple’s method synchronizes your photos among all devices, storing them in the cloud for backup, and physically storing them on the hard drives of your devices (so that you have them no matter where you are, even if you don’t get a network connection). This idea makes it faster to access photos, and uses less bandwidth when viewing them, since they are technically only loaded once on any device. You can view them offline, and repeatedly whenever you want, without using additional data. Seems like a decent deal.

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Google’s solution is purely in the cloud. Your device is still uploading it once, but will need internet to see those backups at any time. It’s when SHARING the photos that this method becomes valuable in saving data usage, because there is no need to share them again. They are already online, and can be directed throughout the internet for you. The photos are also accessible in the cloud from any device (computer, iPhone, android, etc.) so long as that device has access to Google Plus.

Having said this then, there are really four key differences between Apple’s solution, and Google’s:

  1. Cloud sharing: When you share a photo or video from Google+, it’s already online, so there’s no data transfer when you want to share or email it. This can save data usage for those on tiered data plans.
  2. No expiry date: Apple says Photo Stream pics are only in the cloud for 30 days, for a maximum of 1,000 photos. After being in there for 30 days, they are deleted from the photo stream. Google+ has no limit on time, or the quantity which can be shared. It’s unlimited both ways.
  3. It works with videos: Apple’s Photo Stream is only for photos. Videos aren’t backed up in iCloud. Google Plus does both Photos and videos, uploading content when the app is open, or in the background.
  4. Cross platform: Google+ instant upload will work with any device as long as it has the app. Apple’s iCloud only works for iDevices on iOS 5 or later, and Macs running Mac OS X 10.7 or later. No Android’s allowed.

There are a few sacrifices as well though. Photos have a maximum resolution of 2048 x 2048. This means that if you’re using this service on an iPhone 4S, the photos are going to be downsized when sent to the cloud (iCloud backs up and beams down the full resolution image to your iDevices). Video doesn’t have a resolution limit, but your clip can’t be any longer than 15 minutes in length. There isn’t anything to compare to with iCloud here, since iCloud ignores video.

It’s also important to emphasize (it’s noted above) that the Google+ app will only upload your content when it’s launched or recently put in the background. This means it isn’t as automatic as photo stream is, and you’ll need to actually have the app running in some way in order to use it. The app will also ask you if you’d like to upload content when connected to WiFi + Cellular data connection, or just WiFi only (recommended), which pretty much eliminates all arguments before when talking about whether all these automatic uploads are going to rack up your data without knowing it. You can choose, and you should choose wisely, especially if you are on a tiered plan, or have been getting hit with a bit of AT&T throttling recently.

Keep in mind also that this is comparing Google Plus’s Instant Upload to Photo Stream only. Apple’s iCloud packs some seriously innovative features for their products, which encompasses much more than just photos. SEE HERE.

If you’re an iPhone user, which of these services do you think is better for your needs? Does the idea of having all of your photos synced across all your Apple devices benefit you more than Google’s “strictly in the cloud” approach? Why or Why not? Have some fun in the comments below!

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