When asked what the favorite image sharing service for mobile users is, the most obvious answer of course is Instagram. It’s amazing how a free service has accumulated millions of users in a relatively short period of time and continues to grow in popularity still.
For a long time, the only platform you could use Instagram on was the iPhone. Uploading pictures is still only possible from your phone, but many of us would like to enjoy the images on a bigger screen like the Mac’s or the iPad’s. For the latter, there’s a beautiful new app that lets you immerse yourself in a beautiful Instagram experience. Readers, meet Iris.
I guess it’s not too far a stretch to claim that many users feel attracted to Instagram because it’s incredibly easy to use and there’s no clutter to the entire app. There are a limited number of buttons which are labelled with icons that convey their meaning quickly. It’s obvious what you can and can’t do in any given screen of Instagram.
That idea has been beautifully translated to Iris. It even starts with the app’s icon, which picks up on the Instagram color scheme and slight retro feel.
Everything about Iris is subtle which allows the images to shine. That’s what it should be about. The app, which can only be used in landscape orientation, puts photos front and center. Buttons are arranged discreetly to the left and controls like settings or refresh buttons are integrated into the interface.
Each image includes information about the photographer (including the person’s avatar), the number of likes, comments and how long ago it was taken. With a tap on the image you can enlarge it; with a tap on the comment or like icons you can bring up a list of comments or users who love the photo.
And if you want to show some love, it’s as easy as double tapping an image quickly to like it. If you change you mind, just repeat the procedure to unlike.
Looking Beneath the Beauty
As I mentioned, I’m very impressed by the interface of Iris. But there is much more to it than superficial beauty. For example, if you look at an enlarged version of an image, there’s an additional icon there which you should recognize from location services: by tapping the pin you can actually see on a map where the photo was taken.
By either tapping on a user’s avatar or looking somebody up through the search, you can access their entire photo stream. On top you see their bio and can bring up a list of people they are following themselves or are followed by. Also, by tapping the green “thumbs up” icon, you can send a beautiful email message inviting others to follow this user.
But what I like most about this screen is the little globe icon. When you press it, the images vanish and a map comes up and all the little pins in there represent where an image was taken by that user. Pressing a pin brings up the photo’s description with a tiny preview and by following the blue arrow you can see the image enlarged. That’s just a really thought through option which enables you to learn even more about the people you follow or images that impress you – for example to look up that spot if you’re ever in the same area. I really love this detail.
Apart from that, you have some of the same options which you know from the original Instagram: you can browse popular images (tap the star icon to the left), you can look up your own profile, search tags or people and view the photos you liked.
When you are viewing a profile – your own or somebody elses – a tiny slider appears to the bottom left which lets you change the image size of the grid. Instead of seeing four images to a row, you can enjoy browsing larger thumbnails.
The search option is much easier to reach than in the original Instagram (where you have to navigate through a number of screens) and on the larger iPad screen much more comfortable to use. I don’t know if it’s a limitation of Instagram itself or Iris, but I would love to have an intelligent search function that suggests users and updates itself while I type a name. I often don’t recall the specific handle and having a search similar to what Google offers could eliminate some trial and error. But that’s not something to hold against Iris, it’s just something that I wish were there.
I will go out on a limb here and say that any lover of Instagram will also find room in their heart for Iris. Looking at the app as a designer, I’m impressed by the overall subtlety and coherent interface. Looking at Iris as an Instagram user, I’m impressed at how beautifully and easily I can browse my photos, the photos of the people I follow and how much more comfortable it is to find new stuff.
There are some thing that I wish for still, but those are things that are not in the power of the Iris developer: I’d love to upload images through this beautiful interface, but Instagram only allows uploads through itself and on the iPhone (and Android phones). That makes Iris and any other Instagram-related app on the iPad a “mere” image viewer.
Also, using Iris on the new iPad’s retina display, I hope the Instagram team will increase the image dimensions in the near future. As of now, images are uploaded 600×600 pixels and that’s really not enough to enjoy them thoroughly on this gorgeous display.
But again, looking at what Iris does with what it can work with, it’s a wonderful viewer for Instagram that allows a lot of interaction and adds some layers of information that are both interesting and beautifully designed. I’m in love. What about you?