iPhoto for iPhone and iPad review

iPhoto is a fantastic photo editing tool, in some ways better than it is on the Mac, but suffers from an inexplicable lack of useful sync.

Apple has brought iPhoto to iOS. Announced alongside the new iPad, but available as a universal app for the iPhone as well, iPhoto completes Apple's mobile iLife suite and once again challenges the misconception that multitouch is better geared for content consumption than creation. iPhoto took the longest to arrive on iOS, despite being the most popular of the iLife apps. So... was it worth the wait?

Photo Editing

iphoto editing

I'm am very impressed with the editing power of iPhoto. It's better then iPhoto for the Mac, that's for sure. It's jam packed with options, so it's nice that Apple included an info button that pops up a bunch of helpful notes about what each button does and what each filter or brush is named. (Not as nice as if they'd made the user interface more intuitive, but nicer than having to poke around and get frustrated.) If you tap the arrow on one of these tabs, a help screen will pop up with more info on the specific feature.

Color adjustments

iphoto color

The basic editing tools include cropping, auto enhance, and exposure. Included in the color adjustments tab is options to adjust saturation, white balance, and skin tones as well as smarter adjustments for blue skies and greenery. Be careful with these two, though. If you don't have greenery or blue skies in your photo, it produces horrific results.

This is the perfect time to mention that iPhoto does not support layers or masking, so you cannot exclude a portion of your photo from an effect or adjustment taking place. There is an option to preserve skin tones when making color adjustments, but it's mediocre at best.

To make color adjustments, you can move sliders provided at the bottom of the editing screen, or you can just drag your finger directly on the parts of the photo that correspond wit the color type. For example, holding your finger on the sky will pop up the Blue Skies tool and sliding your finger left or right will adjust the slider. Doing the same thing anywhere on your photo, but vertically, will adjust the saturation.

You can also adjust white balance with the typical presets that come with most apps and cameras: sun, cloudy, flash, shade, incandescent, and fluorescent. There is also a Face Balance tool that lets you choose a person's face and iPhoto will automatically choose a good white balance for the skin tone. Lastly, you can make select a white point on your photo with the custom white balance tool.


iphoto brushes

The best editing feature of iPhoto is the brushes. There are 8 of them: Repair, Red Eye, Saturate, Desaturate, Lighten, Darken, Sharpen, and Soften. The Repair brush will removes things like blemishes, dust marks, and scratches. The other Brushes are self explanatory.

To use a brush, you simply use your finger to "paint" the areas of your photo you the affect applied to. My biggest complaint is that iPhoto doesn't use a circle to show where you're touching -- the only visual cue is to see the results of the brush. But if you're making subtle changes, it's very hard to notice. However, the alternative that's available is the option to show your strokes. Turning this on displays all your strokes in red. When you're done applying the brush, just turn the strokes off to see the results.

My other gripe with brushes is that you cannot adjust the brush size - well, not directly anyway. The brush size is always the size of your fingertip, so to adjust it, you need to zoom in and out of the photo. This is just terrible. It's hard to be precise.

Now, I started out by saying that the brushes are the best editing feature of iPhoto, but have done nothing but complain about it. That's because, despite these two flaws, brushes are actually very powerful tools. The opacity of the brushes are fairly light, so you have control over how drastic you want the change to be -- just paint multiple strokes over one spot to create a thicker layer, so to speak. Showing your strokes is very helpful in this regard.


iphoto effects

iPhoto has a set of filters that Apple calls Effects. The categories are Artistic, Vintage, Aura, Black & White, Duotone, and Warm & Cool. Honestly, there isn't really anything special about them in comparison to other apps, they're filters that change the look of your photos. End of story. Well, I guess the fact that you can adjust the vignetting intensity makes it a little bit more interesting?

Example of final edit

iphoto before after

Here's the before and after comparison of a photo that I edited fairly quickly. I think it's a great example of a nice edit job that isn't overdone. I cropped and rotated, used the Face Balance tool, increased the Greenery slider, applied the repair, sharpen, and soften brushes, and added the Saturated Film filter from the Vintage category.

You can see a larger version here.

Sharing , Beaming, and syncing (or lack thereof)

iphoto beam

You can share you photo from iPhoto directly to your Camera Roll, iTunes, email, Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, and an AirPrint compatible printer. There is also a new feature called Beam that lets you share photos from one device running iPhoto to another device on the same Wifi network also running iPhoto. It's really easy to use and a great way to share photos between devices. Unfortunately, it's also the easiest way to share photos between even your own devices.

I was really hoping that with the introduction of iPhoto on the iPhone and iPad that my iPhoto libraries would stay in sync between iPhone, iPad, and Mac, but this is not the case. It's not even the case within iOS. Each devices has their own library. Having photos and the non-destructive edits that go with them seamlessly sync between all devices would have been the single most useful feature a platform owner like Apple could implement. I expected more from the maker's of iCloud. Maybe in a future update.


iphoto journal

iPhoto has this fun new way to display your photos called Journals. It's basically a collage of your photos with the ability of adding captions, blocks of text, notes, map, weather widgets to your collage. You can resize your photos and drag and drop them to place them exactly how you wish. Unfortunately, you cannot adjust the size of the widgets, so even if your sticky note only has one small phrase, it must still take up just as much space as four small photos.

Journals are pretty fun to play with and can be shared online through iCloud. This will give your Journal its own web address that can be shared with whoever you want. All your photos are also downloadable from your online journal - a "feature" that cannot be disabled.

I was very disappointed to learn that this was the only real way to share a Journal. I was really hoping for an export that would allow me to then share my Journal to my personal blog.

You can see an example of a journal that I shared through iCloud here.

The good

  • Very powerful editing tools
  • Journals are pretty cool
  • Easy to use
  • Integrated user manual is awesome
  • Beam is a great and easy way to share to other iOS devices

The bad

  • iPhoto libraries don't sync
  • Brushes don't have visual indication of brush size
  • Must zoom in and out of photo to adjust brush size, which isn't very precise
  • No support for layers
  • Can't adjust size of inserted widgets in a Journal
  • Can only share Journals online through iCloud

The bottom line

iPhoto is a fantastic addition to the iLife family on iOS with very powerful editing tools. Sure, there are some things that could be changed to make it better, but at just $4.99, it's quite a steal. Minus the creation of books, cards, and calendars, it's better than iPhoto on the Mac.

$4.99 - Download Now (opens in new tab)

Leanna Lofte

Former app and photography editor at iMore, Leanna has since moved on to other endeavors. Mother, wife, mathamagician, even though she no longer writes for iMore you can still follow her on Twitter @llofte.

  • Thanks for the review. I played around with it earlier today, and I was thoroughly impressed with what I saw.
  • iPad is the biggest waste of money known to man. Just by a Playbook under $300 has way more functionality than this giant iPod touch. It has flash which the iPad Doesnt and You can even connect it to your big screen which is awesome and is also something iPad can’t do unless u buy an overpriced adapter which can only do 4:3 not even 16:9. You isheep are so brainwashed over this crap..
  • Thanks for your commentary, kid. Maybe the news didn't make it to Canada, but even Adobe agrees Flash isn't good for mobile devices.
  • It's better to not feed the trolls.
  • Agreed, but some facts may help. Playbook sat around on store shelves, hence the good deal of $300.00 or under. RIM took a 485 million dollar write off due to the price discounts. I would not call that a good thing for a company.
  • Hey kid.
    Wasn't it just a month or so ago you got an update from RIM so you now have a native Calendar and Email app? Pretty sweet device, and a sound investment if you are simply trying to save a Canadian company from ruin. I love everything Canadian........beer, ice hockey, Tim Hortons, Canadian flag, but Blackberry?
    C'mon, kid.
  • He's an Absolute moron.. talks about how you can't even display the iPad on a big screen unless you have an adapter? ummm what? he doesn't even have his facts straight... AIR MIRROR'ing... Nuff said.
  • Unfortunately your argument fails - air mirror to what? An Apple TV - which would qualify as an even more overpriced adapter if that's all you use it for... ;)
  • I'll buy you a nice chardonnay if you can tell me how to install on a first gen iPad. I hear that it can be done, but it's not working for me at all.
  • I saw an article earlier today. It involves downloading the app via iTunes on the computer, then using Apple's new Apple Configurator iOS device management tool (available in the Mac App Store).
    I'll pass on the drink, but thanks for the offer.
  • The iTunes export option creates a folder with the files you need to add a journal to a site. It might work for your blog. It is a bit inconvenient, you have to use iTunes and File Sharing, but should be doable.
  • Has any learned how to use the files shared to iTunes to post your journal to your own blog or create a printable product? What are the file types?
  • Syncing would be nice. You always have your phone with you, but may not aways have your iPad. I am always sharing photos with the iPhone. I like the journal. Looks nice.
  • Great app, great review. The biggest bummer is the lack of automatic syncing between iOS devices and Mac :( Hopefully we'll see it soon!
  • Leanna, you are my foremost authority on iOS photography-type stuff.
  • Mine too
  • On the apple site under photo beaming it's says over wifi or Bluetooth, this specifically talks about iPad to iPhone beam.....how do you beam over Bluetooth I can't even get my ipad2 to see my 4s in the Bluetooth menu (and yes I have ibluetooth turned on both devices) this would be a great featur when I'm out and about and don't have a wifi connection
    Link to apple page scroll down to beam section and read caption under the iPad/iPhone pic http://www.apple.com/apps/iphoto/
  • Leanna your daughter is so cute. I love when cover photography for iOS. What type of camera are you using?
  • Im a little frustrated that this won't work on my iPad 1. Thankfully, I'll be getting my iPad 3 soon after launch and this is the app I'm looking forward to the most. Seems perfect for someone like me who is a complete photo amateur but would still like an easy way to make my photos look like quality shots.
  • I have no use for it until it can sync. I am disappointed in this as I was with reminders. I never understood why they didn't just integrate that into calendar. I don't use that either. The editing tools are nice. But the syncing is important to me.
  • Oh, how I wish it would sync with my imac... it seems like a lot of work to do on limited space....when you could just add it to the big one....hopefully it will be an update!!
  • I have played around with it too last night and I was very confused by the file management. iPhoto creates and removes folders at will and I don't understand the state of photos in each type of folder and I'm really worried about the way iCloud is heading. I wish that there were One Main Library per iTunes account, sitting either on a Mac (or a PC for that matter), in a Time Capsule or in iCloud. This Main Library should give you the certainty that it can bring up every version of every picture you have chosen not to delete in an easy way. And not in folders that are created and removed at will by iPhoto for iOS.
    The way iCloud is turning out, feels vague and messy.
  • Here's a tutorial on how to install iPhoto on original iPad! http://bit.ly/yFODTJ
  • So does it sync at all with iPhoto library on the Mac? I use Aperture and I would love to edit on the iPad, but I would have to figure out how to get the photos back into Aperture. Probably would have to save to Photo Stream and then import them off there in Aperture?
  • Leanna, this is a great review and tutorial, especially since it's up the day after iPhoto came out. I was lost when I first started using iPhoto. I now refer to this while learning to use it.
  • I'm assuming this tutorial was done on the iPad. How does it work on the iPhone 4S? Is it more difficult to control the settings with a smaller screen?
  • I no longer have my iPad but I can only imagine it's a much better experience with the extra screen real estate. I have it on my phone (4s) and it's a bit of a challenge. Looking forward to trying this out on an iPad.
  • Thanks for the write up. I played around with the app just to get a feel for it and this helped clear up some questions I had.
    Would love syncing between devices. At the very least, between iOS devices. I typically like to keep the same libraries on my phone and ipad. Perhaps with a future update.
    I too would like to see them fix/update all other "The Bad" with the exception of Layers. Although Layers are extremely functional, I can see myself, or a casual, editing job not requiring it. For editing that extensive, I can/will most likely go to a desktop client.
  • Leanna,
    You've got a great eye and a darned cute kid. I dunno you're snapping pics professionally (beyond the very professional work you're doing here, of course) but if not, you should be.
    Love your photog-related reviews!
  • Digital photos by their nature are soft. I could not find a way to sharpen the entire photo, just a brush. Did I miss it?, or is the plan to finger the entire photo?
  • There seems to be a bug with regards to iPhoto showing duplicate images in the picture section
    Have a look here https://discussions.apple.com/message/17819262?ac_cid=142432#17819262
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  • Pretty neat app, but pretty bummed that it is not syncable to the iMac....everything else is....this seems to be un-Apple-like....hopefully an update!!
  • Leanna, is there a way to select multiple photos (that have been beamed to the the iPad) and then create a new iPhoto Album? I have tried to do this and cannot figure out a way. It seems this would be basic functionality.
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  • That child looks like an alien
  • Can you use app for photo burst ?
  • Hi
    Can someone help me please?
    My friend has this app on her mac and she was able to create a photo book with it - it's absolutley amazing. I got the app on my ipad but can seem to figure out if i can do a photo book... Is it possible on the ipad???