Welcome to an app-focused edition of iPhone + iPad Gems! Today, we’re looking at three recent app releases worthy of attention from iOS users: one is an updated messaging application from Facebook, and the two others are photo sharing and editing tools.
Our top pick in the bunch is the photo editing app Snapseed, but the powerful sharing tool Pro-Share will also be of interest to users who like to send pictures or videos directly from their iPhones or iPod touches to multiple photo and social networking sites at once. Read on for all the details!
Though many discussions of Facebook’s iOS initiatives have recently focused on users’ disappointments with bugs in the iPhone/iPod touch application and the continued lack of an iPad-optimized version of the site, there’s little question that the standalone Facebook app remains one of the most important in the App Store—and that users want more from it. So it’s only a little confusing that the leading social network has introduced Facebook Messenger (Free, version 1.01) as a new standalone application, effectively moving some of its instant messaging and e-mail functionality to a second program. Facebook Messenger effectively gives iPhone and iPod touch users limited access to what used to be the chat section of Facebook’s web page, now including the ability to share photos directly from the iOS device’s camera with one or more Facebook friends at a time. Hints in the app’s code suggest that Facebook Messenger will eventually allow in-app video chat as well, but for now, it’s primarily a vehicle for sending private text and images.
The two core parts of Messenger are a list of past conversations—previously, your Inbox—and the individual messages from two or more participants that sit within each conversation. A settings menu lets you name each conversation and turn its alerts on, off, or off until specified times; you can also add additional participants to a conversation after it has started, and see the map locations of each participant if they’ve enabled location service tracking.
Apart from some lingering concerns over whether all private messages sent through Facebook are actually received, an issue that appears to recently have been addressed but will require further long-term testing, the Facebook Messenger app works exactly as expected: when you want to receive alerts, they’re pushed to your iOS device even when you’re using other apps, and when you’re in the app, text and images are shared fairly quickly with your group. Images are reduced considerably in size when sent through Facebook, but that’s a known limitation of sharing pictures through this service, and one that’s unlikely to be remedied on mobile devices any time soon. The only real hiccup we experienced was an inability to discern whether messages were being sent to a particular person via Facebook or via SMS; the app can do both, but doesn’t warn you in advance of SMSing someone, which can become brutal and annoying for some people, as well as leaving out images that are shared with the rest of your group.
It’s also worth noting that image sharing and the guarantee of rapid, push-based updates are pretty much the only things that separate Facebook Messenger from the prior Facebook application, which continues to offer message sending and image browsing through its Inbox feature. We can only speculate as to why Facebook would refine these features in a separate app rather than improving them where they already exist, but we suspect that the decreased loading time for this separate app, a desire to build awareness for the web site’s recently upgraded messaging feature, or a trial run for what will eventually be the messaging portion of a bigger iPad app might explain Facebook Messenger’s appearance. In any case, it offers a better way to keep up with Facebook friends than the main app had before, and hopefully will either expand to justify its standalone existence, or fold its improvements into the main app. iLounge Rating: B.
Some people share images solely through a single photo service or social network; others want to splash their photos on as many different walls as possible. If you’re in the latter category, iApps24’s Pro-Share for Facebook, YouTube, Google+/Picasa, Twitter, & Flickr ($2, version 2.1.1) is an app you’ll want to check out. Split into photo- and video-sharing halves, Pro-Share’s photos interface lets you achieve extremely quick—near-simultaneous—sharing to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Picasa, while the video side does the same with FaceBook, Twitter, and YouTube. Alternatively, you can share a photo or video with another local iOS device over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, but only when the other services aren’t checked.
The app provides you with a collection of service icons at the top of the screen, letting you select multiple photos or videos to share across one or more destinations at a time. You can title and caption images so that they’re described on arrival; most of the services receive the images in a stated collection, but Twitter posts each separately as text and a sharing service link. Images we sent were posted as expected on the services—fairly quickly, at that—though we did experience an app crash in the midst of previewing photos at one point, and struggled a little to figure out how the send mechanism works. As it turns out, once you’ve chosen one or more destinations, Pro-Share just starts sending out the images you tap from a grid, rather than waiting for you to confirm a batch upload. Only if you want to send the entire collection with a “Send All” command do you need to hit another button beyond tapping the photos you want to share; this makes the app even faster than it would otherwise be, though it may also lead you initially to share images multiple times before you realize what’s going on in the background.
A few other frills make Pro-Share easy to like: settings for VGA, XGA, or full-resolution sharing of photos, low or standard-definition sharing of videos, a queue to let you manage individual uploads, and a Cover Flow-style browser mode that’s activated if you turn your iPhone or iPod touch on its side. What’s clearly missing is an iPad-optimized interface and support for optional multi-image, single-description Twitter uploads. For the low asking price, though, Pro-Share does a very good job, and further UI and stability tweaks will only make it better. iLounge Rating: B+.
There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of photography apps now in the App Store, and the major issues have been questions of scope and overlap: you can now choose from many different apps that individually make small tweaks to your images, and a bunch that combine a collection of different tools together to make major modifications. Nik Software’s Snapseed ($5, version 1.2) is in the latter camp, and noteworthy not because it’s the first of its kind but because of how well it does what it’s trying to do. It’s a universal iPad/iPhone/iPod touch application, combining basic cropping and level adjustment tools with filters and frames. But whereas earlier rivals offered a mix of cartoony and realistic elements, Snapseed focuses solely on making photos look more professional, employing a user interface with a modest learning curve that’s actually worth learning.
Snapseed includes 11 categories of tools, ranging from a very simple Auto Correct contrast and color adjuster to a point-focused Selective Adjust tool, a Tune Image tool with Brightness/Ambiance/Contrast/Saturation/White Balance adjustments, a Straighten/Rotate tool, a Crop tool, filters for Black & White, Vintage, and Drama effects, a Grunge texturing tool, a Center Focus blurring tool, and finally, an Organic Frames tool. If your goal is to fix an image captured with an iPad 2 or iPod touch camera, you can do it with Snapseed. If you want to enhance or dramatically change an image captured with the iPhone 4 or a comparably good point-and-shoot camera, Snapseed does that too. And even if you want to frame, blur, vignette, or muck up a beautiful DSLR image, Snapseed handles that, too. Once you’re done, you can save your image, print it, or share it via e-mail, Flickr, or Facebook. All of this is handled with very straightforward, well-marked interface icons and buttons; occasional “shuffle” buttons let you turn choices over to the app when you’re looking for fun without having to make tweaks yourself.
Where Snapseed diverges from some of the photo editing tools out there is in its approach to UI adjustment, which makes some strategic and thoughtful decisions about gestures and use of the iOS devices’ screens. Want to compare your changed image to its prior state? Hold a Compare button, and rather than dividing the screen in two, the image reverts back to its origin until you release the button, restoring the changes. This lets you see instantly what’s changed, and where, rather than needing to look back and forth at two pictures. Want to enhance or reduce the impact of a tool? Swipe left or right anywhere on the picture. Want to switch tools? Swipe up or down. Some of this isn’t immediately obvious, but once the app teaches you what to do, it creates some very simple workflows that would have been more difficult to accomplish with traditional sliders. Snapseed feels like it’s moving towards a smarter, touch-based future rather than merely trying to replicate what’s been done with mice and cursors in the past.
While Snapseed’s UI isn’t perfect, and some of those gesture-based tools could and hopefully will be improved by translucent overlays rather than bottom-of-screen meters, the overall design and feel of the program is pretty great by photography app standards. All we would really hope for would be additional tools, such as blemish and redeye removers, captioning, and additional frames, plus greater control over the output resolution of images. Small issues aside, this is a great new photo application for iPad and iPhone/iPod touch users; it’s worthy of our high recommendation and your serious consideration if you haven’t already found a photo editing tool with comparable features. iLounge Rating: A-.