March 06, 2012

Aching for better iOS app integration

[Disclosures: If I had any inside info, I obviously couldn’t share it here, and I’ve been hopeful/disappointed on this subject before.]

Poor integration leads to bloated apps: if jumping among apps/modules is slow, customers gravitate towards all-in-one tools that offer more overall efficiency, even if the individual pieces are lacking.

Today I saw Neven Mrgan writing, of iPad photo apps,

[I]t’s just so much more convenient to stay in the canonical photo store; importing and exporting photos to and from another app is clumsier.


I experienced the pain, over and over, on my trip to Guatemala.  Having taken just my iPad & Camera Connection Kit, I was eager to put a variety of photo tools to the test.  Moving among apps was far & away the crappiest part of the experience.  For example:

  • I’d review images in Photos, where I can see them nice and large. But I can’t say “Open in App X,” so…
  • I’d leave Photos, launch Snapseed, bring up the tiny, default image browser component, navigate to the same point in my photo library, and then try to pick the same image I’d just been looking at in Photos.
  • After editing, I’d hit Save, and images would go into the Camera Roll (not Imports, where I’d been browsing them).  Thus I couldn’t see the edited images alongside the originals.
  • After repeating the process many times, I’d go to Flickr Studio, then carefully & laboriously add photos from various albums.  (The app doesn’t let you re-order images, so I had to dive into the albums again & again just to get the sequence right.)
  • At last I’d upload.


This really, really sucked.  Far more desirable:

  • Browse the images in the browser of my choice (Photos or something else–one that could, say, flag/sort/whittle down images, local or remote).
  • Tap one or more images and say “Send to App X” (to build a panorama, composite in PS Touch, apply a tilt shift blur, whatever)–no manual navigating to the other apps, no navigating back to the photos.
  • Be able to save, return to my browser, and see the edited image alongside the original.
  • Hand off one or more images to the sharing tool of my choice.


Let’s not bloat PS Touch with every damn filter we can think of; rather, let’s have a great way to pass data back and forth, so that apps can function as plug-ins to one another. (PhotoAppLink is a nice start, but we need something universal.)  And let’s not all bloat our apps reinventing the image browser, integrating the same sharing services over & over, etc.  There’s a far more elegant way to proceed.

Tangential: Neven also writes,

The iPad is too big to shoot with; the iPhone is too small to edit on. Bridging the two is fine in theory, but in practice there’s the hairy matter of extremely large file sizes.

But why is it that my phone or tablet can send HD video streams instantly to my TV, yet they can’t send photos or video to each other (or to my Mac)?  To put a phone video onto my Mac, I have to upload the whole thing to something like Dropbox, then download it again; isn’t that kind of bizarre?  I really thought that AirDrop would sort things out; hope springs eternal.

Posted by John Nack at 12:00 PM on March 06, 2012


  • Bill — 12:28 PM on March 06, 2012

    Not trying to sound like a fan boy, but Android, with its “intents” mechanism, does exactly what you want…


    [I know, and we support intents in PS Express. I’ve also heard that Windows 8 is ahead in this regard. I’m sure I’m not telling folks at Apple anything they don’t know. I just wanted to emphasize the point after having wasted a lot of time due to the lack of a solution here. –J.]

  • BJ Nicholls — 2:21 PM on March 06, 2012

    I hate IOS. My password utility has to include its own damn browser because of each app is its own little island. I hate the Apple SD reader that requires ten minutes of futzing around before I can upload image files. My next tablet won’t be an iPad.

  • Peter — 3:57 PM on March 06, 2012

    It all comes down to a lack of a decent fully featured user-accessible file system. Even back in the days of Windows CE, the limited open and save dialog boxes effectively crippled the usefulnes of several applications and the platform altogether.

    When the iOS platform was designed, Apple didn’t plan to release an SDK for third-party applications and thus there was no big need for a real file system. In the current situation there definitely is. Luckily at least Dropbox is becoming more and more of an inofficial file exchange standard.

    The solution to the problem is readily available, but device manufacturers first need to accept the existence of the problem. There is a reason why computers have had file systems for several decades.

    Pretending that tablets and phones are not used for content creation is a self-fulfilling prophecy right now. Sure, people don’t write novels on them (well, maybe some even do), but that doesn’t mean they don’t do anything at all.

    Complicating things in the name of simplifying things is just plain stupid, and so is never questioning a decision that was made based on completely different facts and conditions. Let’s solve this problem by attacking at the core, not by defining all sorts of exchange standards trying to work around the issue, making things even more complex and complicated in the process.

  • markval — 4:47 PM on March 06, 2012

    Camera360 on the Samsung Note is the best thing I ever had in 10+ years of mobility. No shit

  • imajez — 6:10 PM on March 06, 2012

    I think this illustrates the problem with a lot of Apple products. Rather than making things easier to use, Apple all too often cripples things and reduces functionality, making things simplistic and all too often more difficult to use instead. The single button mouse that Apple insisted on for way too long is a good example of this.

    I use my iPhone to listen to my music so I can rate and in theory organise music into playlists whilst out or travelling. But rather than have an add to playlist button on now playing screen, you have to navigate to playlist, then enable edit playlist [or create new one] and then browse back to the track in question [which can be quite fiddly in itself] and finally add song to playlist. It’s such a faff I usually do not bother.

    In a similar vein, I quickly gave up on the iOS Photos app as it is so simplistic I had to jump through hoops on my Mac to simply place photos in the order I wanted. Not only that Photos cannot even display non-iPhone shaped photos in a fit to screen manner, so I have to resize almost every image as I move through an album. So to show people portfolio images on my iPhone I use Linkus’s excellent ‘My Photos’ App which improves on Photos in every conceivable way. Confusingly also called ‘Secure my Privacy’

  • Bart — 7:17 AM on March 07, 2012

    Android solves this nicely with it’s Intent system: where any app can register as a service/handler for a specific task (intent) and pass work back and forth. So a image uploader could say to the OS: ‘open the image browser’ and whatever you have selected for that type of intent would handle it.

  • Robert Sinclair — 11:30 PM on March 07, 2012

    Not sure it will cover everything you’re looking for, but Apple’s new iPhoto for iPad looks pretty amazing and could help a bit here.

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