Of all the photo-editing apps for the iPad and iPhoto, iPhoto for iOS ($4.99) has garnered the most attention--and for good reason. The app looks especially gorgeous in its Retina-ready, tablet-focused form, and it puts a plethora of touch-based editing tools at your fingertips. But is iPhoto for iOS the app to own if you're a shutterbug looking for the most robust tablet photo editor around?
One feature we loved was how Apple optimized iPhoto for the Retina display, as they did with all the apps in their iLife and iWork suites--in fact, it's currently the only iPad image-editing app that's Retina-ready. It was a joy to edit pictures on the bright and sharp screen. iPhoto for iOS offers some pretty powerful organizational tools, too.
You can view your photos in four different ways, represented by tabs along the top of your screen: Albums, Photos, Events and Journals. iPhoto creates albums for Camera Roll, Photo Stream, Last Import and All Imported (displayed as blue books), as well as Favorites, Edited and Beamed (shown as brown books).
When you open an image, iPhoto divides into two panels, with the smaller left-hand one containing photo thumbnails in a grid and the larger viewer spreading out a full-size view of the currently selected image. Tapping on the arrow by the top of the left-hand panel bring up a drop-down list, where we could filter the thumbnail view to see All Photos or All & Hidden Photos, or just Flagged Photos, Edited Photos and Hidden Photos.
Handy gestures let us move around iPhoto's interface quickly. After tapping on a thumbnail to display a full-size photo in the viewer, we could also tap and hold on additional thumbnails to get side-by-side comparisons of multiple images, up to twelve in a single view.
Additionally, when we double-tapped on any photo in the grid, iPhoto searched for and displayed similar photos in the viewer. To narrow down the choices, we simply swiped down on a photo and it dropped out of sight. You can also check the focus of an image by holding two fingers on any area of the photo. This action triggers a magnification loupe, which we could twist to zoom with our fingers.
One quibble we had with the UI emerged when we experimented with the Swatch Book, a list of professional-grade filters (such as Vintage and Artistic) that fans out at the bottom edge of the app. Initially, we assumed that each effect intensified incrementally as we dragged our finger across the slider on the bottom, but this wasn't the case for every swatch. For instance, dragging our finger across the Artistic swatch gave us options for gradients, vignettes, tilt shifts and painting effects.
We found the best way to discern what kind of edits we could make was by tapping the question mark toward the top left menu of the app. This brought up labels that hovered above the different elements of the UI, showing what each effect did. Overall, Snapseed makes it easier to find effects and discover what they do.
The multitouch editing system for iPhoto relies mostly on a keen aesthetician's eye, since there are no measurable sliders for effects within the app. Similar to Snapseed, you use your fingertip to select specific parts of the image that you want to change.
By default, the bottom Edit menu contains icons for Auto-Enhance, rotating 90 degrees, flagging, choosing the current photo as a favorite and an X for hiding it.
Icons for five main effects sit on the lower left corner of iPhoto's interface, and include cropping and straightening, exposure, color, brushes and special effects. Drilling into any one of these effects triggered a new set of pertinent controls to appear toward the middle portion of the bar, which we manipulated using the same gestures of touching and/or dragging.
For example, using the Exposure function, we could swipe up and down across the display to increase or decrease brightness, and left and right for contrast. If we needed slightly more precision, we could also use a bar across the bottom of the app, which contained several points that represented brightness and contrast.
When we tapped Brushes, a fan of art tools sprang up from the bottom edge of the screen. Among these virtual brushes, eight functions are represented: Repair, Red Eye, Saturate, Desaturate, Lighten, Darken, Sharpen and Soften.
After we made changes within a particular effect, a light appeared on top of the icon representing that effect. This way, we could track the areas where we had tweaked the image. iPhoto for iOS makes it easy to revert an image back to its original state (via the gear icon on the lower right corner).
You can flag, favorite or hide multiple photos at once. When we applied an effect, we could also copy and paste particular adjustment settings we liked onto other photos using the gear icon in the lower right corner. We copied the effect, used a tap-and-hold gesture on thumbnails to select more than one photo, tapped the gear icon and pasted the changes onto selected images.
In general, iPhoto includes an impressive amount of editing options. However, Snapseed's implementation is appreciably more intuitive. While both apps invite you to touch a part of the image to manipulate, only Snapseed highlights exactly the portion of the image you're changing. In other words, there's little chance you'll get it wrong. iPhoto never pinpoints precisely what you're editing, so it can involve more trial and error.
iPhoto was quick to respond when performing multitouch gestures such as pinching to zoom, dropping side-by-side images for comparison and tapping on different icons. Even editing full-size photos within the app--for instance, when we adjusted brightness and contrast by swiping up and down or left and right--was snappy. What's more impressive is that iPhoto, which is optimized for the new iPad's Retina display, could process the images just as fast as Snapseed. The latter app has yet to be optimized for the tablet's higher-res display.
Sharing and Photo Journal
iPhoto for iPad gives you the ability to share your images to Facebook, Twitter, email or to post them to Flickr. AirPlay is fully enabled in the app too, so you can send your edited masterpieces to your big screen if you have an Apple TV. Even better, the app lets you beam your images to nearby iDevices using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, as long as both iPads have the iPhoto app open.
One of the most compelling features of iPhoto for iOS is Photo Journal. This is a digital scrapbook you create that utilizes captions, maps, weather information and other details to customize 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. Once you've finalized your photo journal, you can publish it as a Web page and share it with family or friends using iCloud.
Apple attempts a tricky balancing act with iPhoto for iOS. On the surface, it's a simple photo-editing app, yet it includes a large number of options and effects you can master. For the most part, iPhoto succeeds, thanks to its smart gesture-based controls and thoughtful layout. We also love the Journal feature, although it has a learning curve. Seasoned photo editors who want to refine their photos with pixel-perfect precision might want to step up to Photoshop Touch. And while it's not as comprehensive, Snapseed is a bit more user-friendly than iPhoto. But if you want an image editing app that will grow with you, iPhoto for iOS is well worth the $5 download.