After announcing the new iPad will feature the same awesome camera found in the iPhone 4S, Apple celebrated the immediate availability of iPhoto for iOS. The new app has separate iPad and iPhone iterations, and while one shows potential, the other makes you want to give up photography altogether.
Apple really should have brought its photo editing and management app to iOS when it launched the iPhone 3G, because now that it’s finally arrived, it enters a crowded field of competitors. In fact, the only unique feature it really introduces to the competitive set is photo management.
Unless you count frustration as a feature.
Finding images and quickly creating albums is easier with iPhoto for iOS. (The iPhone version is shown here.) Photo: Roberto Baldwin/Wired
At first glance, iPhoto for iOS is a beautiful app. On both the iPhone and iPad, photo collections are stored as virtual books in a bookshelf metaphor, and you can quickly switch from Albums, Photos, Events and a new feature known as Journals (more about that below) with a swipe or a tap. As far as image management goes, iPhoto is a welcome replacement to the bundled Photos app. Image editing, however, is a different story, and this is where the two separate app iterations diverge in quality.
The iPad Version
Using familiar touch gestures, photo manipulation on the iPad app is quick and easy as long as you stay away from the Brushes and Effects tools. The Brushes let you apply effects like saturation, blur and sharpen directly onto a photo with a simple swipe gesture, while the Effects tools are Apple’s answer to Instagram and Hipstamatic filters. You can create duo-tones, black-and-white images, tilt-shift images and images with a vignette to name just a few Effects.
While using various brushes, I was constantly concerned that my finger strokes weren’t yielding any results. Too many times, I swiped to either add saturation or sharpen blurry pixels, and nothing happened. Specifically, the effects were uneven, as one area of a photo would accept a brush, while other areas refused to change no matter how many times I swiped.
The Effects interface takes the form of a swatch book reminiscent of a Pantone fan guide. There are six major effect features, and each effects family has six nested sub-features. At this point, things get a bit confusing.
The app doesn’t label each sub-feature within the Effects menu. Only a tiny thumbnail representation of each sub-feature is available, and in many cases, the thumbnail is too tiny to impart any useful information about an effect’s purpose. So you’re forced to tap an effect, and check your photo to see if you’ve applied the effect you’re looking for.
iPhoto for iOS becomes easier to navigate once you tap the help button in the iPad version. Photo: Roberto Baldwin/Wired
Did you guess wrong? Then you tap on the next effect in the line-up, and hope it gives you the desired results. Fortunately, in the iPad version of iPhoto, you can tap the help button and it will display labels for each feature and sub-feature in the app. That’s a welcome addition, but the basic U.I. still provokes confusion.
The Exposure and Color tools feature a tap-and-swipe feature that works quite well. Tap and hold on an image, and you can adjust qualities like saturation, exposure and skin tone — for example, you can make a blue sky just a bit more blue with a quick swipe of your finger. It’s perfect for quick, broad-stroke changes, but for fine-tuning an image, you’re better off using complementary slider controls.
And how’s this for nifty: The Crop tool includes an auto-straighten feature that immediately notices a crooked photo and fixes the problem by leveling all of an image’s content. Like all of the app’s tools, the Crop tool is non-destructive, which is great for those times when you realize you’ve cut too much from a photo, and need to scramble back. Your original images remain safely in the Photos app, while you make adjustments to separate versions in iPhoto.
The iPhone Version
Jump to the iPhone with its smaller screen and lack of help-button labeling, and suddenly iPhoto becomes an exercise in complete frustration. In fact, when it came to using image effects, the iPhone version UI proved so difficult, I found myself turning to the iPad version for labeling reminders on what all the effects actually do.
The Effects swatches are difficult to navigate on the iPhone’s smaller screen. Photo: Roberto Baldwin/Wired
In the iPhone version, adjusting the color of an image is difficult with the adjustment sliders. Because the sliders present such a short range of adjustment — a function of the iPhone’s small amount of screen real estate — it’s actually easier to use the tap-and-swipe method for various tools. Conversely, the Exposure and Crop features work well because they both use available real estate in a way that makes sense. The Exposure slider takes up most of the bottom of the screen, while the Crop feature’s UI doesn’t feel cramped by the iPhone’s smaller screen.
Interface wonkiness aside, the sharing feature on both devices is uneven at best. Twitter integration works well, but you can’t add a caption to Facebook uploads. The app says that you can comment on a Facebook-uploaded photo via the Information button, but none of my comments ever made it to the social network. Strangely, however, I was able to read comments left by others from the Information area of an uploaded photo.
The app also offers a Beaming feature that (theoretically) lets you quickly transfer images from one instance of iPhoto to another — for example, from your iPad to your friend’s iPhone. In practice, the feature was hit or miss: About half the time, transfers ended with an error. Once Apple gets the bugs worked out, it should be a great feature, but it’s unfortunate that both parties need to have iPhoto for iOS for it to work.
Finally, we have the Journals feature, which allows you to publish online photo albums that feature not just images, but also little graphical widgets that note the weather, map location and calendar dates specific to your images. Each time you upload a Journal, the app gives you the option to Tell a Friend — which was helpful until Journals disappeared. Yep, after updating one of my published Journals, it just plain stopped working. Even the Journals Home Page I established ceased to function.
For the iPad, iPhoto for iOS is a nice but uneven upgrade from the Photos app for photo management and manipulation. But for the iPhone, you’re better off with Photogene, Instagram, Hipstamatic or even Apple’s own Photos app for photo manipulation, though the app’s photo management features are effective.
As for sharing features on both device versions, I found them near worthless. You’re better off saving manipulated photos to Camera Roll, and sharing them via dedicated social networking apps instead.