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« iPad news from the WWDC 2010 keynote | Main | Sheet Music on Steroids now on your iPad - Etude for iPad released »

Is this why there are no Professional Photography apps on the iPad yet?

Although the iPad has been out for two months now we are still waiting for a full-on professional photographer's workflow tool, something that can quickly allow the photographer to import a bunch of photos, tag them, sort them, rate them and reject the duffers, something like Photo Mechanic.

If you are not familiar with Photo Mechanic, this is essentially what it does, but its real strength lies in adding the essential IPTC meta information to photos that stock and other 'bureau' type of photographers need to include. It performs this key role very quickly once set up, and it does it well, without doing much else. So it seems a 'given' that the iPad could do this relatively simple task for the photographer in the field.  Or can it?

A lot of photographers have obviously been asking this question, seeing the iPad as an obvious enhancement to their creative workflow, because the makers of the Photo Mechanic software Camera Bits, in fact the Founder and President of the company, Dennis Walker, has written an 'Open letter regarding iPad development'.  The whole letter is here if you want to read it.

The tone of the letter is a little bit dismissive of the iPad, and of Apple's control over developer access to the iPhone OS that the iPad uses, but that aside, there are some interesting points made as to why Camera Bits, at least, will not be bringing a Professional photographer's app to the iPad any time soon.

Here are a few of the key points Dennis Walker made about his perception of the iPad's limitations for development, in his open letter:

RAM limitations

Photo Mechanic running on a MacBook Pro can have as much as 4 GB of RAM available to it.  The amount of RAM is key since that is what software relies upon to do its work.  A 20 megapixel camera requires 60 MB of RAM, or about HALF of the RAM available to an iPad app, to hold a single uncompressed image in working memory.  Therefore it is clear that a full version of the Photo Mechanic "application" simply isn't possible for these devices.

Accessing images from the Camera

On the iPad the photos must first be imported into the "photo library" using the built-in "Photos" app.  Then you could presumably switch to a third-party app to browse your photo library and do your work.  But right now it is impossible to create an app that works directly with the original photos (or movies etc) on a flash card.  Everything must start and go through the built-in "Photos" app.

Unfortunately if you have actually used the iPad Photos app you will know this isn't a very friendly process if you take a lot of photos, are on deadline, and need to choose and ingest only a few photos for timely posting....The Photos app doesn't even show the filenames, eliminating a possible workaround....

Now that a photo is in YOUR library, you would think an app could read the photo in its original state – in other words, be able to treat the photo as a file that you can read and write to, just as if it were on the flash card you read it from.  But that is not the case since all you get from the "image picker" are the PIXELS at full resolution....all of your Exif metadata from the camera, even the FILE NAME is gone: its only pixels.

Camera Connection Kit

We were able to connect a few different USB compact flash readers to the USB adapter of the CCK, but they only worked on some CF cards.  Other CF cards would produce an "accessory uses too much power" error message when the card was inserted into the same reader.  Also, when using the CCK part with the USB port and a cable to a camera or card reader, it is very easy to accidentally disconnect the CCK part from the iPad's dock connector since the CCK connector doesn't lock and it doesn't take much sideways force to break the connection...

And then...

The bottom line is that the requirement to use the iPad Photos app to access your photos on a flash card, plus the connectivity issues, means the iPad is not something that a professional would likely tolerate.

Towards the end of the open letter Dennis gets a bit more negative about Apple and the iPad and the tone sharpens a little. He goes on to suggest, for now, you get a NetBook running Windows and install their Windows version of Photo Mechanic, or wait for an Android based tablet with direct access to the memory card, but he does also put out a rally call to all photographers who want this functionality to request it of Apple.

Why we mention this?

Why are we, on a blog which is concerned with using the iPad creatively, covering a developer who says the iPad isn't worth developing for as it is?

Well, for a start, we are not blindly stating that the iPad is perfect at launch. We must remember though that it is a) only two months old, and b) a first generation device.

We also like to consider both sides of the issue and bring a bit of balance to the table to keep things interesting.

Any device this new to the market and with such a unique placement will take time to find its feet, that is only to be expected. We acknowledge that the iPad as it is will not meet everyone's requirements or wants for now, but future iterations probably will. We have already said what the vision for the future may be now that we have the iPad and dozens of me-too devices to follow. If you didn't catch it, take the time to read this post from a few days ago.

The spirit is willing...

The desire to use the iPad for these kinds of purposes is unquestionably present, from the users and potential purchasers through to the software companies and individual developers themselves, as evidenced by Dennis Walker feeling the need to address in his letter these questions and calls from his customers for app development. Dennis didn't end up saying 'never', he basically said 'not yet'.

There are obviously real and specific reasons why Apple have restricted third party access to the photos on the iPhone OS devices, whether this is for security, to ensure OS stability, or for some other reason, we simply do not know at the moment.

We might even have to accept the fact that the iPad simply was not made to do this kind of thing (especially processing massive RAW files), no matter how much we really want it to.

There is hope

What we are encouraged and impressed by is the creative uses many have put their iPads too already, and it has only been out in the wild for the last 60 days or so. There have already been developed many fantastic creative apps, optimising every ounce of power and ability from the iPad.  We invite you to take some time to look around this blog and you will see many examples of apps and created content that show the potential of the iPad even as it stands today.

It can only get better in the future, maybe even enough to run Camera Bits' professional level app that is keenly anticipated by many, if they haven't been beaten to it by another developer already (see below).

Sort Shots offers an alternative 

If you found your way here because you were looking for a Photo Mechanic alternative on the iPad, or if you do want to use the iPad for some of the functionality that Photo Mechanic seems to offer, you could try Sort Shots for the iPad.  This app allows you to use the photos already in your photo library and create Tags, Ratings, Favourites and sort on any or all of these criteria.

Then you can quickly find the good ones, or all photos of your trip to Paris that are more than three stars with the colour Red in them, for example.

You can also upload selected photos to Flickr, Facebook, Picassa & Twitter for sharing with others or as part of your workflow.

If you try Sort Shots out and want to let us know what you think of it, please do so in the comments.

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Reader Comments (7)

They make valid points, and it's quite annoying to me that I can't access EXIF data from photos, and there's no built-in mechanism for writing EXIF or IPTC data to jpgs. The only way around this currently would be to bypass the photos app and import photos into custom software. As far as Filterstorm is concerned, I've written my own implementation of IPTC captioning for 1.4 that works with exporting, but not saving to the photos app.

However, these problems have not escaped Apple, and a lot of it is being addressed in OS 4. Personally, I'm okay with Photomechanic staying away for a while, it gives me a bigger head start ;)

June 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTai Shimizu

Note when I mention bypassing the photos app completely, this would require custom hardware, which is possible. In any case, IIRC, OS 4's image i/o kit fixes this.

June 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTai Shimizu

I tried out SortShots on the iPad today, and as far as I can tell, the tags and ratings that you apply to your images are NOT being saved into the actual image files. I would guess that they have a database that maps your tags and ratings to the pictures on the iPad, and that their UI simply references that database when showing the images. This is a CRITICAL flaw for anyone who hoped to use the iPad to sit on the couch and tag their photos, then sync, those tags back onto their computer, and leverage the tagging then they had done. I have not yet tried sharing a photo up to any of the web sites that it supports (as I have no accounts with any of them), but the basic scenario using drag and drop seems fundamentally broken. I want to tag all my photos on the iPad, then persist those tags back to the original images on my NAS. SortShots does not seem to allow this. I am definately dissapointed so far.

June 5, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterfreeaxes

@Tai Shimizu We think they make some very valid points too about the current limitations of the iPad OS and Hardware. There is no easy answer until Apple open these things up of course, but that may be unlikely, so it is up to Developers like yourself to be creative in working with what we've got, which has been really impressive so far in many cases.

June 5, 2010 | Registered CommenteriPad Creative

@freeaxes Thanks for your comments, we expected as much to be honest given Dennis Walker's observations about restricted access to the original photo files. We guess that Sort Shots are doing the best that they are able to with the access they have got. It would not suit a pro workflow at all, but seems aimed more at the casual user who wants to sort and share their photos via one of the services mentioned.

It is a shame that the tags and ratings cannot be synced back to the originals, that is a serious limitation and would take some pretty amazing programming to work around (via a desktop client maybe) if it can be done at all.

We appreciate you letting us know your impressions though, thanks again.

June 5, 2010 | Registered CommenteriPad Creative

as a photojournalist I really hope that something will come out to bypass these limitations. I don't see the point why Apple should avoid a pro use of the device. Even more than the selection I have the need to insert the info file in the pics, but as far as I have understood the problem (and the limitation) is the same. Let's hope in good developers as Tai!
p.s.
tai, 2 suggestions for your good app: a better zoom while editing with brushes
and the possibility to save at larger resolutions.

June 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea R.

@Andrea R Thank you for your comments, these kinds of modifications to the files themselves is definitely a need for users of the iPad, especially a working Photographer like yourself, and Apple are hopefully listening. We can help bring it to their attention by telling them what we need from the iPad at http://www.apple.com/feedback/ipad.html

Thanks for the link to your website, there are some great images there!

June 6, 2010 | Registered CommenteriPad Creative

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