On Saturday morning as I sipped my coffee and did my morning news skimming on my iPad, I decided to update my iPhone 6 to the much-touted iOS 9 release. I had deliberately steered clear of articles detailing the new iOS 9 features and enhancements, preferring to play around to discover the new stuff organically as a measure of the overall user experience and usability.
The update went smoothly and quickly (as it typically does, thanks, Apple) and soon I was playing around with the enhanced interface and new apps. In between the interesting new keyboard font and caps toggle controls (thumbs up on the readability and usability) and the new card-stack behavior of the Home screen button (jury’s still out on whether this is enhanced usability or not), lay an enhancement to the Photos app that nearly made me spit out my espresso.
A new folder was now in my Photo Albums lineup, innocuously named:
It had a photo count of 747.
747 photos??? I felt a little woozy.
After getting over the initial surprise and confusion that such a boldly-labeled folder would exist, I ruled out that I had somehow semi-accidentally created the “Selfies” folder myself during a cold-medicine fugue episode where I decided that 12,000+ photos in a single folder was just finally TOO MUCH. (After all, I had been on Dayquil most of the week due to a nasty little virus I picked up on a recent trip to St. Petersburg, and to be honest, I’ve had some blurry moments these past few days as a result. But still…).
It then dawned on me that this was clearly an iOS 9 “enhancement.”
Holy Kardashians, Batman — how could the count be so high??!!!?
Had I really snapped over 700 pics of my own mug and failed to delete them?
But then I got suspicious. And a little scared.
For as I scrolled through the contact sheet view, looking at pic after pic that included my own face (or part of it, as my selfie game has never really been that hot), I realized that I’d personally never tagged any of these selfie photos with my name.
As a matter of record, about 95% of them had never been seen beyond the confines of my iPhone screen — never having been posted on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or any other social media or otherwise public forum.
These were truly my private photos, spanning the past 3 years and often taken after I’d had my hair styled or was checking out my makeup, a new hat, outfit, or some other shiny accessory I was thinking of buying. Others involved selfies with my partner, friends, family, pets, or just random moments in time that I hadn’t bothered ever looking at again but hadn’t bothered deleting yet, either.
Was it: Algorithms? Facial recognition software? How did iOS 9 know it was ME????
And after about 3 minutes of muttering to myself about Big Brother and the dangers of technology, it finally dawned on me:
The damn front-facing camera.
Minus an error rate of about 2% (where the pics weren’t actually taken by me but were sent to me via text), the contents of my auto-generated “Selfies” folder were solely pics I’d taken using the front-facing camera on my phone.
A Google search quickly confirmed my breakfast hypothesis.
I felt slightly let down at the news. Despite my initial fearful flutters about how advanced facial recognition software must be or Apple to be using so casually in this consumer context, I actually wanted this latest iOS to be *that* clever.
Because I’m inherently lazy about organizing my own burgeoning collection photos, I wanted my phone to be smart enough to do the work for me, even if it meant introducing a bit of creepy technology to do it.
And while iOS 9 can certainly help organize photos based on geo-tags, e.g. Siri very helpfully found all my photos that were taken on multiple trips I’ve taken to say, Milwaukee, it’s still a far cry from the more granular organization of pictures by other topics and objects (A request to Siri to find my photos of “cats” returned no results; my kittens will attest to the fact that there are definitely a number of photos of them in existence.)
In the meantime, though, I guess I’ll take this incremental advancement that Apple has given us towards organizing our own narcissism as a handy “usability” feature. After all, it not only organizes all those spur-of-the-moment salon shots into a single location, but it enables me to delete them much more quickly.
And perhaps I’ll think twice about how much I use the front-facing camera going forward. But likely not.
When not contemplating whether to put out a book of her worst selfies, Sarah Kling enjoys designing and delivering great products. Follow her on Twitter at