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iOS 8 will help photo search, but won't fix it

Searching by date and time will be welcome additions to the Photo app in iOS 8, but I want even more.

James Martin/CNET

Almost three months after seeing the main features in iOS 8 at WWDC, we'll most likely hear a release date for Apple's mobile OS next week at the event in Cupertino.

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Among the many new features packed into iOS 8, the update will add improvements to the Photos app which include easier access across all your devices, time-lapse video, and new search features. The biggest of the new features as I see it, is refining the search tools to help you find your photos, adding a new search field along with search suggestions based on the location and date you took your photos.

Both of these changes to search are welcome and will make finding photos easier, but I think there's more to be done.

Search as it is now

Last year, iOS 7 was already a big improvement, giving you the ability to search through photos by location and date rather than scrolling through an endless block of photos. But if you wanted to find an individual photo in iOS 7 and didn't know the date, or if most of your photos were taken in the same location (your town, for example), it meant scrolling through tons of photos to find what you're looking for.

In iOS 7 you can start by looking at photos by Year, then drill down to Collections, and then further to Moments. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Fortunately, in iOS 8, Apple promises to improve search by adding a search field to the Photos app and also giving you common choices for how to search. When you tap on the search field it brings up categories such as Nearby, One Year Ago, and Favorites, so you don't have to spend so much time scrolling through images. If you know the date or location of the photo you're looking for, you'll be able to type it in to the search field and then select from a group of photos, which is much easier than previous versions of the app.

I'm happy with these additions, but to make it easier to find individual photos, I have a couple of ideas that will help you zero in on the photos you want.

Let me tag my photos

One way to make search easier is to allow for tags. Tags are probably the most effective method for finding specific shots and most Android phones already let you do it. On iOS you can find third-party apps, such as reviewed QuickPics Photo Manager , which let you tag your images to make them easier to find. Once your photos are tagged in QuickPics, you can search for the name of a person, or the name of the event where the photo was taken (or both), and you'll instantly get matches that fit your group of tags.

While it's extremely effective, the only problem is it takes a fair amount of work to go through and identify people and events to tag each photo. I currently have well over 1,500 photos and even though I spent a fair amount of time tagging during my review of QuickPics, I was nowhere near having tags for all my photos.

Still, if Apple gave you the option, you could at least tag your close friends, family, fun vacations, and weddings, and be able to find specific photos easily. For example, maybe you're looking for a silly picture you remember of your friend John from Amy and Bill's wedding. Rather than scrolling through all of the wedding pictures to find it, you could search for John, Amy, and/or Wedding, to narrow it down to only a few shots.

Using iPhoto on the Mac, there is system for identifying faces so iPhoto can learn the faces of people you know. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Add iPhoto face recognition

Another way to make searching the Photos app better would be to use similar face-recognition technology from iPhoto on the Mac. On the Mac, when you import a bunch of photos, iPhoto asks you to identify people so it can learn what your friends and family look like. From there, subsequent imports will will let you identify who is in the photo or present you with questions like "Is this dad?" or "Is this John?" and you can confirm the photos which show those people.

Once your photo library is set up with identifiable people, it works just like tags do: you can search for specific names and iPhoto will give you all the photos that match.

Apple could still surprise us

I'm extremely excited to see all the new products and software updates at the Apple event in Cupertino next week (I'll be there to tell you what happens). And if there's anything we know about Apple, it's that it can surprise us with new products and software features above and beyond what we heard at WWDC in June. We also know from past releases that Apple works in spurts. Rather than a continuous flow of updates to software, the big releases only come out about twice per year.

With that said, it's very possible that Apple might announce some variation of photo search that uses one of my suggestions above. If not, it could also be in an iOS 8.1 release. That's the thing about Apple, you never know what it has up its sleeve.

For now, narrowing your searches will get easier once iOS 8 is released, but hopefully there will be more options added before iOS 9.