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iPhoto for iPad Is Gorgeous, Fluid, Fun - and Slightly Confusing

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Mar 19, 2012 5:00 AM PT

iPhoto for iPad Is Gorgeous, Fluid, Fun - and Slightly Confusing

iPhoto, an app from Apple, is available for US$4.99 cents at the App Store.

iPhoto for iPad
iPhoto for iPad
(click image to enlarge)
I haven't had long to play with the new iPhoto app for iOS on my iPad 2, but first impressions might actually tell the tale pretty well this time: It's at once gorgeous, fluid, and fun ... but it's also confusing.

How so?

First, the look and feel. The app is broken out into four sections: Albums, Photos, Events and Journals. Your Albums are shown off on a green glass shelf and look like old-school photo book icons. It looks fantastic and a little tacky at the same time. Subtle animations and sharp details help it all look great, but the photo book idea ... eh, whatever.

When you tap on Photos, however, you'll get a grid screen of all your photos on a nice gray background with subtle shades and framing. Getting to this screen also includes some nice motion in the icons of your photos as they slide into place. Tap a photo, and you'll launch into a larger view, which you can then zoom into or edit.

Instead of the conceit of photo album books for your Albums, your Events are like well-framed photos with the key photo of the event on the front, again, sitting on the green glass. It's an improvement over the albums, for sure. Tap an event, and you can view all the photos in the event or edit them individually.

Journals lets you "tell a story" with your photo and share it on the Web using iCloud. To get started, you open an album or event, tap Share and choose Journal. Seems easy enough, but I haven't tried it yet.

Lots of Editing Tools

Scanning and viewing your photos is easy through the two-column icon grid at the left, with a large area to the right reserved for viewing an active photo. You can easily share a photo through a journal, to your camera roll, Twitter, Flickr and Facebook or start a slideshow. There are lots of options here, like sharing to iTunes, which I tried but have no idea what happens or why or even where my photo went. Presumably, it's somewhere in iTunes. I'm just saying, I haven't ever used that feature before, not sure I ever will again, and I sure as heck believe that most iPhoto users on their iPads will run into similar features that they won't be able to figure out without some trial and error or Web searching. Which is sort of irritating.

Fortunately, there's a sort of a built-in help system which flags features and offers built-in details for how they work, using yellow flags that pop up after you hit the "?" icon at the top of the app. For example, I messed around with iPhoto for quite a while before I noticed the button at the top that shows or hides the thumbnail grid. And hiding it is handy, like when you want your photo to stay at full-screen while you edit it. How did I notice it? By using the help button.

You can also view multiple photos side by side to compare similar photos to pick your best. This works pretty well on my iPad, but I'm having a hard time imagining using it on my iPhone 4. To view photos side by side, you have to tap them in the grid at the left, but figuring this out is not particularly intuitive. Fortunately, again, the help button will come to your rescue. One tap will let you view a photo. Touch and hold will let you add another photo to view it side by side with the existing photo. Alternately, if you take a lot of similar shots like I do, you can double-tap a single photo and iPhoto will automatically find and select similar photos to display.

Once you figure it out, it's awesomely powerful. And that might be the metaphor that describes the entire app: Awesomely powerful, but jeez, it's going to take you a while to understand and appreciate it.

Back to the Editing Tools

As you would expect, you can do a lot of dragging and pinching to edit a photo. A pallet of brushes, for example, lets you saturate, desaturate, lighten or darken an area of a photo simply by tapping on the brush and then using your finger to brush on the effect on the area of the photo that you want to saturate, for example, with extra color -- like a blue sky.

Other preset editing tools let you change things like saturation, blue skies, greenery or skin tones. Plus there's presets for sun, cloudy, flash, shade, incandescent, fluorescent or face balance that you can use to affect the lighting.

There are also effects like Warm & Cool, Duotone, Black & White, Aura, Vintage and Artistic. Tap one of these and you'll get a whole new set of options to apply. For example, tap Vintage and your refined choices include Early Chrome, Sixties, Saturated Film, Neutral Film, Vivacious and Muted. Choose one and you can then add a vignette effect.

At the same time you're messing with all of these effects, iPhoto occasionally (and quickly) updates itself, presumably to communicate with iCloud or make sure its brains remember where and what you're doing to all of these photos, all of which is non-destructive and can be removed or reverted back to the original. And through the editing process, you'll see the photos peel back to reveal the photo again in an animated move that's slick and cool. Still, I have no idea what it's supposed to indicate happened or is happening. Was the effect applied? Or did I tap something to remove an effect? I'm just not sure.

Other simple features include a red-eye marker and a brush that will let you soften a photo, say to tone down grandma's wrinkles, which might result in people letting you take more photos without getting all super shy about it.

A Packed Powerhouse

The real question about iPhoto on your iPad will be if you have the patience to start using it, figure it out, and work it into your life. Frankly, I already have some great go-to apps for editing and effects, like ColorSplash, PhotoStudio, AutoStitch, GroupShot and Snapseed. Will iPhoto replace these? Or enhance them? Or will it become something more, like a spot to manage and contain all my photos on my iPad -- a storage locker, sharing tool and workspace all in one?

Frankly, I'm not yet sure. The only thing that is clear is that I've barely scratched the surface with iPhoto. And a recommendation? Easy. If you have an iPad, for $4.99 you have to check it out and give it a spin. It might change how you pack around and share your photos. It's quite solid, super cool in some places, and has the potential to let you crank out some awesomeness while on the go. If you're just an iPhone user, I'm not sure that your experience will be as compelling. But on my iPad 2, I'm going to keep playing with it. It's definitely worth my investment of time to give it a real chance.

MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at

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