Amazon launches “Family Vault,” a way for families to share Prime Photos’ free storage

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One of the perks of Amazon Prime membership is free, unlimited photo storage via Prime Photos. Today, Amazon is extending that benefit to the family members of the main account holder, with the launch of a new Prime Photos feature called “Family Vault.” With Family Vault, an Amazon Prime member can invite up to five family members or friends to join their online account, in order to combine photos and take advantage of free photo storage, as well as another 5 GB for videos and other files.

The idea with the upgraded service is to make it easier for families or close friends to combine their photos and videos in a single destination, so everyone in the group can see them on their own devices.

Once added, each Family Vault member can contribute to the group’s archive. Photos can be added on an individual basis by either clicking or swiping on them, depending on the device, or there’s an option to automatically add all their photos and videos to the Family Vault at one time.

There’s no cost to those who are added by an Amazon Prime member to the Vault, the company notes.

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Amazon is also now rolling out new smarter search technology in Prime Photos — something its rival Google Photos already offers.

With this upgrade, you can search across your photos by keywords related to what those images contain. For example, “soccer” or “dog.” How well this compares with Google’s search technology remains to be seen, as the feature is only now available to the public.

There’s also a new “People” view, also similar the people-finding options in Google and Apple’s photo services. This lets you browse photos of individual family members and friends by clicking on their thumbnail picture. Other filters let you search by location or date.

While Amazon Photos has to date remained a more utilitarian counterpart to the polished and prettier services from Apple and Google, these upgrades have it catching up – at least in functionality – with some of the baseline features the competitors today include. And considering that it’s a free service for Prime members, it could now be seen as “good enough” for many users.

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The company is also today formally announcing the new photo printing service, which was spotted in the wild last month (causing Shutterfly’s stock to take a nose dive).

This lower-cost printing option offers prints that start at 9 cents, and includes free shipping for Prime members. Essentially, photo printing is just another add-on for Prime with slim margins, while Amazon’s real goal is getting more consumers signed up as Amazon Prime subscribers.

The new features, including Family Vault, are live at http://www.amazon.com/photos or via Prime Photos mobile apps.