The Frustrations of an iPad-Owning Photographer

Just look at the iPad. Look at that ever-so-thin, yet robust, metallic body. Look at that expanse of touch-sensitive glass, mounted on top of a bold, bright, high resolution display. You’ll just have to make do with thinking about all the processor power squeezed into the unfathomably small crevice between the two. This, surely, is a product made with the photographer in mind.

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The iPad and the DSLR — a match that was meant to be? Image by Håkan Dahlström on Flickr.

The iPad and the DSLR — a match that was meant to be? Image by Håkan Dahlström on Flickr.

That was roughly my thought pattern as I watched the late, great Mr. Jobs unveil the iPad. The reality, even four generations and a little brother later, is quite different. Of course, there are apps in the App Store which provide commendable editing options — an assertion which seems to be confirmed by a look back at my review of Photogene — but as someone who is interested in photography as both a profession and a hobby, I was expecting something a little less MacPaint, and a bit more CS6.

Okay, that may be a little harsh on the current crop of apps, but I think you’ll agree that for the serious photographer, the discrepancy between the desktop and the iOS editing experiences is vast. That’s a terrible shame, because the iPad, equipped as it is with a powerful A5 processor and some serious graphical clout, is capable of providing all the on-the-go editing most images are likely to need.

So how can this situation be improved? I have a few suggestions for the app development community to consider.

Start With the Basics

In the early days of iOS, it was understandable that developers wanted to rush towards features that caught the eye of the average user. But we should have moved past that stage now. iOS is a well-established, mature platform.

With this in mind, I think that editing software needs to grow up too. On desktop, the software culture is geared towards creating the most powerful app possible with the hardware on offer. In contrast, the mobile culture, thus far, has been to sacrifice outright quality and functionality in favour of speed and simplicity. That’s fine for the casual user, particularly on a smartphone. But committed photographers are still crying out for the most basic of adjustments to be made available on their iPads.

Please can we have the basics first — as provided in Photogene.

Please can we have the basics first — as provided by Photogene.

To illustrate my point, try this as an experiment: navigate to the Photography section of the App Store, and see if you can find an editing app that offers custom image resizing — a function that is used constantly within a desktop editing environment. Easy, or difficult? I would suggest the latter, and that, as a state of affairs, is ridiculous.

So, speaking as a committed photographer, I implore developers who are trying to make heavyweight iOS editing apps, in future to think of the fundamentals first, and the artistic add-ons second.

Less Touchy

Obviously, everything you do on an iPad has to be touch-based. Far too often, though, this fact has been an excuse to create interfaces based around “intuitive” touch controls.

The current situation among iPad editors kind of mirrors the progression of games on the Nintendo Wii. At first, game developers and gamers, alike, were wowed by the new control opportunities which the Wiimote provided. But soon it became apparent that for some games and their associated on-screen tasks, the new, physical method of control was neither advantageous, nor desirable. A similar realization needs to occur on iOS, except it is the use of unnecessarily touchscreen-focused controls which needs to be tempered.

Afterlight's controls are almost entirely slider based,, making for both simplicity and precise application of edits.

Afterlight ‘s slider-based controls make for both simplicity and precise application of edits.

To give an example that is a little more relevant to our iPad community, let’s compare Afterlight with Snapseed. Adjustments made with Afterlight are all achieved by moving a slider — a simple, quick and precise method of operation which requires no explanation. If I try to effect something similar in Snapseed, I find myself drawing a complex, invisible lattice across the screen just to locate the exposure controls and make the corresponding adjustment. With practice, the Snapseed method can start to feel a little less unnatural, but why make it so difficult in the first place? Makes no sense to me.

Providing a Workflow

Anyone — amateur or professional — who takes a large number of photographs, knows that editing is only a single piece of the photographic workflow. Currently, however, the process of importing an image, editing it, adjusting its metadata (only possible with a few specialist apps such as EXIF-fi) and exporting it, is a tortuous, four-app workflow on the iPad.

Given the relatively restricted nature of iOS, a third-party developed all-in-one library app, along the lines of Aperture, isn’t currently a possibility. That said, I don’t see any reason why three of the four steps mentioned in the previous paragraph couldn’t be dealt with by one app. Yes, it would be one heck of a build, and a pretty bulky download, but it would turn the idea of using an iPad for serious image processing from being an impossibility, to being a conceivable notion.

The Harboured Hope

Thus far, I feel that developers have approached development for the iPad as if it were a giant iPhone with a shoddy camera. As a result, there’s only been begrudging enthusiasm to bring image editors over to the larger touchscreen, and even when they have arrived, they’ve often had the simplified feel of a smartphone offering.

Going forward, I hope that the development community starts to wake up and realize that the iPad is, in fact, a tablet computer, and a capable one at that. Apple makes an iPad Camera Connector Kit for a reason, and many photographers would love to utilize Apple’s 9.7-inch wonder as a more affordable Macbook alternative for their portable editing needs.

For this switch to happen, however, the editing apps out there need to pay less attention to the snap-filter-share kind of photographer, and start paying a little more attention to the requirements of the committed, passionate photographer. And let me assure you, developers — focusing on what appears to be a niche community makes good business sense; there are plenty of us, and we’re used to spending good money on a quality product.