iPhoto For iOS Is Fantastic, With Some Annoying Flaws [Review]



One of Apple’s biggest announcements yesterday — apart from something about some new iPad — was iPhoto for iOS. We’d suspected that Apple would fill in the hole in its iLife suite, and we were right. What we weren’t expecting was something as fully featured as iPhoto turned out to be. That said, it seems the app was really built with the iPad 3 in mind: It works great on the iPad 2, but it’s a little glitchy in places: just like its desktop cousin.

iPhoto for iOS manages to pack in just about everything, and then some. You can organize photos (kinda), edit them and also organize them into journals. You don’t get everything you’ll find in the zillions of other photo apps in the App Store, but there’s enough that you could download iPhoto and never use another editor again.

The interface is — obviously — the first thing you’ll notice. And you’ll notice how ugly it is. The background might be nice and gray, but the icons are chintzy, and the shelf-themed album views downright tacky. It’s also tricky to navigate, which might put some off from the start. However, once you get to know your way around, it turns out to be pretty quick to navigate.

And about that speed. When you’re browsing images and working on them, everything hums along, lickety-split. But when you switch between the various albums and views, you’ll see a lot of this dialog box:

This box gets old, fast

The “Updating Photo Library” warning pops up every time you add a photo, which can be a lot if you’re writing a review with screenshots. Then again, it does mean that your photos are always in sync with the camera roll.

Another complaint is that iPhoto doesn’t remember your position in the scrolling thumbnail view. Or rather it does, just not how you’d think. Leave and re-enter an album and the view resets to show the thumbnail of the photo you were last viewing, i.e., the photo that is highlighted in the sidebar. This makes sense, but can be annoying if you just spent a whole ten seconds scrolling to the bottom of your Photo Stream (another thing — why do iPhoto and Photos.app both default to your oldest pictures, and not the newest? That seems plain silly).


iPhoto really shines here (once you get over the fact that you can’t delete anything). All albums and events are preserved, but not Faces or Places. Tapping a thumbnail instantly shows the full image, ready to edit. Long tapping another photo adds it to the light table, allowing you to make side-by-side comparisons, up to a maximum of 12. Add more and the last photo disappears, replaced by the words “and x more…” where x is the number of undisplayed images. Double tap and it will magically select other photos that are similar.

With a long tap, the light table view allows quick comparisons

Tap an image in this light table and it’ll zoom, but without deselecting the others. Thus, you can quickly swipe through a temporary selection. It’s pretty neat.

The thumbnail view can be quickly resized from one to three images wide, and a new bezel-swipe gesture will hide and show the column for you. Also, there’s no need to enter a separate edit mode. You just tap the controls right there in the same window.


Editing is fast and powerful. You can add filters (Instagram style), auto correct the whole image, crop and rotate using a neat dial or just using two fingers. You can fix white balance, adjust brightness and contrast (with the same controller!) and you can also brush on adjustments.

Grungify your images, just like Lomo intended

But the neatest feature is the simplest. Just touch the part of the image you want to adjust, and hold. Arrows pop out in up to four directions, and you just push in that direction to make the adjustment. Available adjustments are saturation, blue skies, greenery and skin tones.

The best part of this trick is that iPhoto detects what’s under your finger and only presents the options for that object. Tap on a face, for example, and you can only adjust skin tones or saturation. Should you want to override this, you can just use the four slider at the bottom of the screen.

Local adjustments are chosen using this hideous pop-up panel

Note: These aren’t local adjustments like you’d find in Snapseed. They affect the whole photo. To get closer, you need to use the brush tools, which let you do everything from dodging and burning to cloning out blemishes. This last works fine for acne, but leaves a weird blur if you, for instance, try to remove a dog from your photo (real-life test example).

In short, editing is powerful and fast. The basic tools will be enough most of the time, but there’s more if you need it. It’s no Photoshop Touch, but it’s good enough. (Pro tip: if you get lost, hit the ? button and an overlay will pop up telling you what each control does.)


Journals are kind of like trailers for photos. You can select any number of photos (and videos, too) and collect them into what iPhoto calls a Journal. I like this quite a lot, and it’s a great way to make albums of, say, a trip away. Once assembled, you can drag the photos around, resize them and add captions.

A Journal. A great way to share photos

Then you can either use it as a slideshow with music, or share it. My favorite way to share is using iCloud, which send a perfect copy (without music) of the scrapbook up to iCloud and lets you send a link to anyone you like. A great way to keep a travel journal or make a record of an event. I think Apple sees this as a replacement for printing your photos.


Speaking of sharing, iPhoto is pretty good at it. You can send photos to anywhere from Facebook to Flickr to iTunes to Twitter and more. If another person is using iPhoto, then you can beam direct to them. I couldn’t try this as The Lady has a first-gen iPad, and iPhoto requires an iPad with a camera. It could be dead handy, though, if it works well.

iPhoto sure loves to share

The other sharing option is to save to the camera roll. “What?!” you’re saying, to which I reply “I know, right?” It turns out that although iPhoto is intimate with the Photos.app, it can’t directly change photos that are in there, or delete anything. Thus, if you want to use your iPhoto-processed work in, say, Instagram, you’ll have to save out a copy first. A bit of a pain, I think you’ll agree, and rather confusing given that you can also edit the same picture in Photos.app.

There’s a ton more in there to play around with, and despite the problems I outlined at the top of the post, iPhoto is totally worth the $5 Apple wants for it. I’d rather Apple dumped the Photos.app entirely and replaced it with this, supplied with every iPad and iPhone. Maybe that’s set for iOS 6?

  • Patrick Clarke

    Any word on the limitations of cameras with higher mega-pixels? I believe the key-note stated that iPhoto can handle images up to 19MP … if so that leaves the Canon 5D Mark 2 population out.  

  • MacHead84

    I’d rather Apple dumped the Photos.app entirely and replaced it with this, supplied with every iPad and iPhone. Maybe that’s set for iOS6?”

    Dream on, Apple aint dropping a cash cow App to make it stock iOS freebie.

  • prof_peabody

    I downloaded it last night but was stopped cold by the appearance of the “Albums” page with the imitation grey photo albums on the imitation frosted glass shelves.  Ugh! 

    I find it hard to believe something that tacky and hideous came out of Cupertino.  


  • CharliK

    You seem like a smart guy, which is why it is really annoying when you call something a flaw when it is really just a matter of opinion

  • CharliK

    Stop the Presses!!!!!!

    The Professor decries something he doesn’t like as a hideous mistake unworthy of having been made by Apple. 

    Wow, that never happens. 

    It might shock you to find out Professor that some folks actually like that UI. I suppose now you will say they are poor unfortunate morons cause they don’t share your opinion. 

  • CharliK

    Not everyone needs or wants all the stuff in iPhoto. The stuff in the Photo app is all they are looking for on their iphone/ipad. 

    So let those that want the fancy stuff pay and get it and the rest have the basics for free. 

  • lukeabell

    I think the interface is extemely beautiful. It’s your opinion, not a flaw.

  • MacHead84

    Oh I completely agree.. I actually posted this exact point to begin with but didnt want the teens to flip out that someone might not want/need all the features in iPhoto. So I edited myself down

  • criticmac

    “…why do iPhoto and Photos.app…”  How many iOS users or Mac OS X
    users for that matter ever see suffixes (i.e. .app) on app file names?
    By default you cannot see these on either OS and you really have to get
    down and dirty to even see them in iOS. The average user will never get
    there. You can turn these suffixes on and make them visible in OS X if
    you know how. Next time use “Photos app” …plus are you guys EVER going to have a viable review format?

  • davidroccato

    Does it sync with events and albums on iPhoto desktop via wi-fi? Or you can transfer photos via wi-fi at full-res, like photosync?

  • ctt1wbw

    Anyone got this on a first gen iPad?

  • Muhammad Atheeq

    iphoto app crashes when i start it on my iphone 4 

  • khurt

    It’s not designed for gen 1 iPad.

  • khurt

    No. What’s photosync?

  • Dilbert A

    While I’ll agree Prof. Peabody is a major blowhard, in this case he’s spot on.

    “The interface is — obviously — the first thing you’ll notice. And you’ll notice how ugly it is. The background might be nice and gray, but the icons are chintzy, and the shelf-themed album views downright tacky. “

    This 1000 times. I though it was a joke the first time I saw it.

    When I saw the Apple TV UI update, I had to lay down.

  • Dilbert A

    I’m busy right now. Come back tomorrow.

  • Dilbert A

    jk.  Try deleting and reinstalling the app, rebooting your iPhone, and make sure you’re running on the latest firmware.

  • iDaBoss

     hahaha, agreed on all points

  • iDaBoss

    it hurts my eyes. where is the real iPhoto app hiding?

  • davidroccato

    It’s an app that transfer photos at full-res through devices and desktop via wi-fi.

  • criticmac

     “He’s” a “she” actually.

  • Dilbert A

    Thanks for the tip.

  • theguycalledtom

    Can anyone tell me how you create a new Album in iPhoto for iOS?

  • khurt

    It does not integrate at all with iPhoto for OS X.  This is surprising given how much Apple likes to integrate things.  Perhaps this is something they are saving for iLife 12 (available only on the Mac App Store of course).

  • khurt

    Here’s how I see the iPhoto app.  On iOS Photos = iPhoto on OS X.  iPhotos on iOS = Aperture on OS X.  Photos on iOS is just enough for most people.  They just want to correct red eye and maybe correct white balance before Tweeting/Texting a photo.  iPhotos on iOS is for the amateur photogs who want a bit more control.  The pros will buy Adobe Photoshop Touch which integrates with the Adobe’s desktop applications.

  • davidroccato

    Thanks for the answer Khürt.