Teen dev’s ambitious app isn’t your typical photo editor

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Ryan Stephen makes his WWDC debut.
Photo: Ryan Stephen

If you’ve grown bored of Instagram’s filters, there’s a new option for giving your iPhone photos a little touch of magic.

New image-editing app Glaze is a one-stop-shop for photo tweakers that lets you jazz up still images, videos and — for iPhone 6s users — Live Photos, too.

“When I was looking around for an app to create, I couldn’t find a single image app which was comprehensive across all content types,” says Glaze creator Ryan Stephen. “This was my response.”

Perhaps most impressive of all? Stephen is a 16-year-old from Portland, Oregon, whose self-taught coding skills landed him a place at last year’s Worldwide Developers Conference — on Apple’s dime.

A great new photo-editing app for iOS.
A great new photo-editing app for iOS.
Photo: Ryan Stephen

“There wasn’t a tool where people could sit down and edit whatever they wanted — whether that was a photo, a Live Photo, or a video — from inside one app,” Stephen says. “A lot of apps also required users to create an account to use them. If you just want to take advantage of one cool filter, you don’t necessarily want to go through the effort of signing up to a service you may not use again.”

Yes, apps really do start out as sketches on the back of an envelope.
Yes, apps really do start out as sketches on the back of an envelope.
Photo: Ryan Stephen

Glaze lets users apply a range of filters to their pictures, carry out Snapchat-style drawing on top of a photo or video, or add text bubbles and emojis — before sharing the result online, of course. With no sign-up required.

Stephen was inspired to launch the app after being one of 350 student developers invited to attend last year’s Worldwide Developers Conference as part of Apple’s “Scholarship” scheme. As Apple describes the opportunity: “WWDC Scholarships reward talented students and developers with the opportunity to attend [that] year’s conference.”

To be eligible, would-be devs have to be 13 years or older, and a full or part-time student. Stephen was a 15 when he applied to Apple, submitting a sample app to show off his coding ability. Within a month, he’d heard back from the company, which offered him a free one-week V.I.P. ticket to WWDC.

Hopping on a plane, he got to enjoy being part of the buzzy developer scene which descends on Cupertino for Apple’s annual developer conference — complete with the enviable opportunity to have his work critiqued by a full-time Apple designer.

Craig Federighi dropped in to offer some words of wisdom.
Craig Federighi dropped in to offer some words of wisdom.
Photo: Ryan Stephen

“It was just an amazing experience,” Stephen says. “At the time, I was working on a very basic photo editing app, one that was vastly simplified compared to Glaze. [Apple’s designer] talked with me about what I was doing, and pointed out some areas that I could improve on. That was when the idea of blending text and photos came from. Before that, I had been figuring everything out myself.”

Now that Glaze is finished, Ryan Stephen plans to keep developing it, adding more features where he can. But he learned a valuable lesson from Apple.

“One of the big things Apple’s designer taught me was about the importance of adding features to add usefulness, not just to add them for the sake of it. When you’re a young developer, that’s an incredibly useful pointer to be told. It’s something I’ve really tried to take on board.”

You can download Glaze from the App Store for $0.99 here.

Who knows? Perhaps in ten years you’ll be able to say you supported Ryan Stephen before it was cool.

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