Hands-On with iPhoto for iPad: Smart Browsing, Beaming, Effects, More

Of all the apps that have been mentioned at today’s iPad event — including Apple’s full iWork and iLife suites and some choice selections from developer bigshots Epic and Autodesk — we were probably the most excited about iPhoto for iOS ($4.99). While it’s worth noting that the app is available on both the iPhone and iPad, the slate-optimized version indefensibly steals the show.

The app looks gorgeous in its tablet-focused form, and the way it runs on our 9.7-inch slate surpasses its desktop counterpart in almost every way. But is iPhoto for iOS the app to own if you’re a picky shutterbug looking for the most robust photo editor around?

Smart Browsing in iPhoto for iPad

iPhoto for iOS offers some pretty powerful organizational tools. You get four categories to view your photos in four different ways, and you’ll see these as tabs along the top of your screen: Albums, Photos, Events and Journals. If you haven’t synced your iPad with your computer yet, some of these categories may end up looking a little spare. For instance, all we had under the Albums tab was our Camera Roll, which was automatically slurped in by the app.

The Photos tab showed us a thumbnail view of every single photo we had in our device, arranged in a grid. The app also let us view events and make a Journal, essentially a digitized scrapbook where we could rearrange and lay out particular photos and other elements in a spread.

We appreciated the app’s zippy transitions as we moved from tab to tab. We also liked the view the app gave us when we drilled into a specific image. iPhoto was divided into two panels, with the smaller one containing photo thumbnails and the larger one spreading out a full-sized view of our currently selected image.

Multi-Touch Editing on iPhoto for iPad

The multi-touch editing system for iPhoto relies mostly on a keen aesthetician’s eye to determine when a picture is done, since there are no measurable sliders for effects within the app. Borrowing a page from the much-lauded Snapseed app, iPhoto’s scheme is to use your fingertip to touch and drag on the specific parts of the image that you want to change. 

By default, the middle of the bottom menu contains icons for Auto-Enhance, rotating 90 degrees, flagging, choosing the current photo as a favorite and an X for hiding it. Arrows on the bottom right side of the menu let you scroll through the photos in your library one by one, moving forward or backward.

Icons for five main effects sit on the lower left corner of iPhoto’s interface, for functions including cropping and straightening, exposure, color, brushes and special effects. Drilling into any one of these main effects triggers a new set of pertinent controls to appear toward the middle portion of the bar, which you manipulate using the same gestures of touching and dragging.

Here’s one example of  the Snapseed-like controls: Within the Exposure function (the second icon on the bottom left main menu), you can swipe up and down across the display to increase or decrease brightness, left and right for contrast. Or if you need slightly more precision, you can also choose to tweak the look via a bar across the bottom of the app, which contains several points that represent brightness and contrast.

iPhoto for iPad’s Professional-Grade Effects

To access the professional-grade effects in iPhoto for iOS, tap on the last icon on the lower left menu across the bottom of the app. You’ll see a total of six effects: Warm & Cool, Duotone, Black & White, Aura, Vintage and Artistic. Each effect lets you tweak the look of the photo either by using the slider along the bottom of the screen (which changes according to the effect you’ve chosen) or by touching the photo itself with your fingers.

It takes a little experimenting to see what multitouch gesture works on which effect, but generally the app works rather intuitively. For instance: Going into the Artistic effect, we noticed that we could use two fingers to pinch around the picture we were editing, and the gesture increased or decreased the intensity of a darkening effect (vignette) surrounding the image. We could then take one finger and move this vignette around the image until we were satisfied with the result.

Brushes

When you tap on Brushes (or the fourth icon on the lower left menu on the app), a fan of realistic-looking art tools springs forth from the bottom of the app. Among these virtual brushes, eight functions are represented: Repair, Red Eye, Saturate, Desaturate, Lighten, Darken, Sharpen and Soften. If you’re moderately well-versed in photo-editing, all of these should be familiar to you, except maybe Repair — this refers to repairing blemishes on a particular image. 

Photo Journals and Sharing in iPhoto

iPhoto for iPad also gives you the ability to share your images to Facebook, Twitter, email or to post them to Flickr. Even better, it lets you beam a photo to another nearby iDevice. 

One of the most compelling features in the app, however, is the Photo Journal. This is essentially a scrapbook that you’ve laid out yourself, utilizing dark and light backgrounds and borders to decorate your finished product. Six pre-populated layouts (Cotton, Border, Denim, Light, Dark and Mosaic) are ready for you to use, or you can go in and create your own custom-made digitized journal.

Best of all, you can also tap on the upper right-hand plus (+) sign to add new elements like snatches of text, a calendar, a map, a weather widget, etc. 

Bottom Line

In its attempt to serve many masters at once — trying to present a simplified photo editing tool yet still include a dizzying number of options — iPhoto for iOS fails to target a specific user group. Seasoned photographers will undoubtedly miss the ability to refine their photos down to pixel-perfect precision, while mainstream adopters could conceivably grow perplexed at the sheer amount of icons, sliders, layers and multitouch gestures that can be applied within the app.

If a user was particularly plucky (read: not easily intimidated by buttons, tassels and trims) and looking for an image editing app with multiple effects, iPhoto for iOS would be a solid option, especially given its pretty affordable price of $4.99. But if you’re a beginner who simply wants to dabble in photo effects, you may want to consider Adobe Photoshop Express. Conversely, experts who require more meticulous tweaking may want to look into the Filterstorm app instead.

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