Pros: Easy to do spot edit with fingers; Uses actual images, not pixelated previews, for editing; Optimized for Retina Display; Can compare multiple photos side by side
Cons: Confusing way to save images; Edited images need to be exported from app ; Photos don't appear automatically appear in photo roll
Verdict: iPhoto for iOS provides a touch-friendly version of Apple's Mac app, but its tools could be better organized.
Given the popularity of iPhoto for the Mac OS, it's only natural that Apple has an iOS version as well. iPhoto for iOS, optimized for Retina displays, makes it easy to make changes to your photos using only your fingers. But how does this $4.99 stack up to the multitude of other photo-editing apps?
Like many of Apple's pre-iOS 7 apps, iPhoto uses somewhat dated imagery to convey actions. For example, the album thumbnails rest on a faux shelf on top of album icon; for applying various effects, you select specific options (i.e., red eye, saturate, desaturate and lighten) by picking a brush labeled with that action.
When you first open iPhoto, it drops you into an old-school iBooks-like interface, with the aforementioned shelf and album icon motif if you're viewing images by album. You can also view images by Photos in your photo roll, events as synced via iTunes or an iPad Camera Connection kit, or Journals of sets of photos (up to 200) that you share via iCloud.
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Tap an image to open in the iPhoto editor. The first time you enter this view, you'll need to tap on the Edit button at the far upper right to turn on the editing tools; after that, the tools will remain visible upon subsequent uses of the app (until, of course, you tap again and turn them off). You can use the editor in portrait or landscape modes, with the display tools adjusting location accordingly depending upon which orientation you choose.
The first time you open an image, you see the "?" button highlighted: Tap on it, and you get an overlay showing you how to use the app. Tap on the button later for a refresher -- something you might need given how obscure many of the icons appear -- or just leave the overlay on as you navigate around. Need more help? Tap to the right of any explainer tag to get more detail regarding how the tool works in a pop-up Help window.
If left at the defaults, this workspace view is surprisingly cluttered and unintuitive to navigate. Your image thumbnails remain at left, in an adjustable filmstriplike pane that can be either one, two or three columns wide (or can be hidden with the tap of a button), and can be moved to the right (when in landscape mode).
Along the bottom of the screen sit the various editing tools: crop and straighten, exposure, color, brushes, effects, auto-enhance, rotate, flag, favorites and tag. At the far right is a settings gear icon; this is a context-sensitive button that changes its pop-up menu options to match whatever editing function you're using.
The interface of iPhoto is such that, while you can poke around and figure it out, the app's features and capabilities are not as obvious as they could be. For example, having tools such as repair, red eye, saturate, desaturate, lighten, darken, sharpen and soften buried under an icon labeled as "brushes" might befuddle novices. That said, we loved how easy these tools then made it to make spot edits simply by brushing your finger over the area you wanted to change. This approach made it a cinch to brighten just a face and arms, for example, on a lightly underexposed image.
Likewise, the tools for adjusting white balance and color saturation and warmth were easy to apply, even if they were counterintuitive. The exposure tool tries to make it simple to adjust shadows, contrast, brightness and highlights all via one slider, but this approach makes it too easy to adjust elements you didn't want or need to touch. Meanwhile, when you run auto-enhance, iPhoto does a good job at balancing the image (it did, possibly, the best we'd seen on one of our tricky images), but if you want to massage from there, you'll need to enter the exposure tool, and then guess what to adjust next.
The special effects tool feels ineffective, simply because of how minuscule the icons appear in the interface; it's hard to tell what you're picking from the way it has been implemented.
We do like the crop and straighten tool. It's one of the best and easiest implementations we've seen for making these adjustments. However, in one of its many interface blunders, iPhoto lets you lock the aspect ratio, but doesn't show what aspect ratio you're sizing to unless you tap the settings gear button. Doing this reveals a pop-up menu of different aspect ratio presets.
When you make an edit, your original image is replaced in the iPhoto view with the edited image. If you want to add the image to your camera roll, you'll need to tap on the Share button to share with an iPhoto journal, camera roll, iTunes, email, print, Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, iMovie, Beam and more. Ultimately, this feels confusing and kludgy compared with other apps we've seen.
iPhoto for iPad has a number of compelling editing tools. However -- and surprisingly for Apple -- the interface is less than intuitive, and exporting photos could be easier. At $4.99, iPhoto isn't a bad deal, but since last year when we first reviewed it, other apps, such as Snapseed and Photoshop Touch, have surpassed it.