Welcome to the latest edition of iPhone and iPad Gems! Today’s collection of applications includes a selection of titles that range from niche to broadly appealing, and from kid-friendly to adult-specific. Four of the five apps were worthy of B+ or A- ratings due to impressive designs, features, and/or pricing, which as frequent readers will recognize is a relatively high number of titles to receive our general or high recommendations.
Our top picks of the bunch are Adobe Photoshop Express and Dunk, but two of the other apps—Bartleby’s Book of Buttons Vol. 1 and Wundermap—merited general recommendations. Read on for all the details.
Previously called Photoshop.com Mobile, Adobe Photoshop Express (Free, version 1.3.1) is now a universal iPhone/iPod touch/iPad application that—after an update that fixed a truly weird bug—enables users to edit, frame, filter, and share images saved on their devices. While most of the features have been done in other applications before, in some cases better, the fact that they’re free here and easy to use makes this application worth a download for virtually any user of iOS devices with frequent photo needs.
The key tools here are found in the “edit” section: a basic crop tool with draggable corners but no ratio guidelines, a super-easy straightening tool with auto-cropping, a 90-degree rotation tool, and a flipping tool, all controlled by simple swipe gestures. Exposure, saturation, tint, and contrast tweaks with swiping to adjust the degree of change, along with eight filters—including both black and white and soft black and white—an adjustable, sort of awful “sketch” filter tool, fine soft focus and sharpening tools, and eight border effects. Together, these tools can help you significantly improve or just change the looks of even professionally-shot images, with the primary difference between the iPad and iPhone/iPod touch applications just being the size of the preview window your image displays within as you work, letting you see the changes in greater detail.
Why offer this all for free? Photoshop Express appears to be Adobe’s play at getting users to use its Photoshop.com web site—a Flickr alternative for storing and sharing photos online—plus a modest advertisement for the more sophisticated Mac- or PC-based Photoshop Elements tool. But as the application includes a high-resolution save tool and a built-in Facebook uploader, there’s no need to use Adobe’s services or other programs—Photoshop Express can operate on its own and produce some very nice, ready-to-share images. While we’d really like to see the collection of filters grow and improve, alongside the addition of some more sophisticated tools for cropping and editing photos, our guess is that Adobe will wrap such features into a future paid version of this application. If they’re impressive enough, they might just be worth paying for. iLounge Rating: A-.
When we learned months ago that Octopus Kite—the developer behind one of our favorite edutainment applications, Feed Me!—was working on a digital book for kids, we were genuinely excited, and now that it’s here, we’re generally pleased with the results. Bartleby’s Book of Buttons Vol. 1: The Far Away Island ($5, version 1.0) is an iPad-only and landscape-only application, combining relaxing music, ambient sound effects, and interactive elements in an 11-page adventure that rides the fine edge of being bedtime story-worthy. Title character Bartleby loves buttons, switches, knobs, and dials, so you take him on a quest to retrieve a new button from a mysterious volcanic island, then escape. The story ends with Bartleby in bed, and as with all of the preceding pages, only the correct use of on-screen buttons and switches will succeed in putting him to sleep.
Feed Me!‘s strongest point was its incredibly cute artwork—paired with fun audio—and if anything, Bartleby’s Book of Buttons surpasses it: each of the pages is colorfully illustrated and impressively detailed, with multiple buttons, knobs, and/or switches to interact with. Younger players will likely find the objectives confounding, however, as the pages are dense with objects that may require a little adult guidance: one page has nine interactive items, a map, and bare instructions, while others change instructions only when certain buttons have been triggered. A little help in the form of optional button hints, along with bigger fonts and some randomized elements to encourage re-reading, might help kids enjoy and understand the app more. That having been said, Bartleby’s Book of Buttons is a charmingly assembled digital book that may seem a little short-lived for its $5 asking price, but it’s worth sharing with kids—and deserving of a sequel. iLounge Rating: B.
Dribbble.com—yes, that’s the correct spelling—is a web site where designers can share their current projects with fellow creative types, and Dunk ($2, version 1.0) by Robocat is an iPhone- and iPod-touch-specific browser for the Dribbble web site. Though this application isn’t likely to be of much interest outside of the design community, it displays “shots”—an image with a brief text description, complete with the designer’s profile, number of views, likes, and comments —while enabling you to track individual “players” (designers), search shots using tags, and watch your own collection of content on the site.
Besides the quality of the shots themselves, all of which we legitimately enjoyed checking out, we really liked Dunk’s intuitive but unintrusive interface, which uses the full screen for a shot until you tap at the top to pull up a menu bar, tap at the bottom for additional information, or swipe to a side to move between shots. Though we prefer using the full-fledged, free web site when we have access to a larger screen (or iPad), the Dunk app makes great use of a smaller display to put content first and related information within a finger’s grasp. iLounge Rating: A-.
You’ve heard this one before: the concept makes sense, but the execution is less than impressive. DreamOnline’s MovieToImage ($1, version 1.0.0) is designed as “an amazing application” to “capture images from your movies. You’ll never have to choose either movie or photo, ever again. Now you can take both. With MovieToImage just make a video and save photos later.” Can you see where this is going?
Not surprisingly, MovieToImage doesn’t do the one thing that might make it really impressive—use new software to emulate the many camcorders that can literally snap full-resolution photographs in the middle of recording HD videos. Nor does it always do the thing that might make it semi-useful, namely taking full-resolution 1280×720 frames from iPhone 4 movies—it can, but doesn’t always do this. By default, it creates low-res 640×480 images from videos on either the iPhone 4 or the iPhone 3GS, which is to say very low-resolution photos that might be eligible for quick e-mails but not much else. The low-res snaps come from videos you record using the app, but on an iPhone 4, the app creates 1280×720 images from videos it finds in the device’s Photo library, in each case providing a timeline and letting you pick the frame. That’s it; hopefully the image you select isn’t too blurry or blown out, something that’s less likely when you’re just taking snapshots with the still camera. For a buck, that’s okay-ish, but DreamOnline could do better, and you certainly will still have to choose between movies and photos if you care about image quality. iLounge Rating: C.
The appeal of Weather Underground’s iPad-only WunderMap (Free, version 1.1) may initially be a little questionable—there are plenty of good weather tools for Apple’s devices, some free, and this one has a lot of complexity that average users might find unnecessary or daunting. Rather than just giving you a city name and some temperatures, Wundermap starts you out with a map of the world, lets you drill down to a specific neighborhood, and then presents you with a bunch of buttons and some pop-up windows. What shows up can be a little confusing, sometimes doesn’t render perfectly, and often could have used just a little additional UI tweaking.
But there’s so much power in this free application that it’s worth looking past its UI flaws. A pop-up window offers a detailed forecast for whatever location you select, plus scrollable hourly and multi-day/night forecasts. Another window, accessible via the settings buttons, lets you look at still images from weather web cams that are otherwise geographically overlaid as micro-thumbnails atop the map. Temperature, wind, and precipitation can be displayed atop the map, with additional still or animated layers for a precipitation radar and satellite cloud imagery, some of which blinks unattractively atop the map in animated form but provides a great view of what’s going on as you’re looking for live weather details.
And Wundermap’s a handy companion to have in the midst of severe weather, too. In addition to everything else, it can call up yet another overlay titled “Alert,” providing full text of local weather warnings—something it did promptly and accurately during a recent thunderstorm while we were testing. Wundermap goes so far beyond the scope of most apps that serious weather junkies will find it worth grabbing; a little extra polish in the UI department would make it truly great for everyone. iLounge Rating: B+.