Snapseed is Nik Software's new $5 image editing app for the iPad. There are a lot of cool image editing apps for the iPad, but none of them are as cool as Snapseed. Snapseed is cool because of its interface, which, in turn, is cool for the same reason that the iOS interface is cooler than other mobile interfaces.
Doing more with iOS
It's almost difficult to remember now, but before the iPhone, mobile OS interfaces were simply small versions of desktop interfaces. They had drop-down menus, and were generally built around interface widgets that were designed to be used with a mouse. With the iPhone, Apple came up with new widgets and interface mechanisms, which were designed to be used with a finger.
Similarly, most image editing apps for the iPad transplant the same image editing interfaces that we know from the desktop into the iOS's touchy-feely interface. While this might be nice for familiarity's sake, trying to manipulate Levels sliders with your finger can be a bit of a drag.
But with Snapseed, Nik Software has created interfaces that are designed from the ground up to be gestural. These interfaces make Snapseed easier to use than any other iPad image editing application, and ultimately, allow you to make more effective edits.
The Snapseed interface
When you first open Snapseed, it presents you with a quick Help screen that overlays the program's interface. This is, most likely, everything you'll need to learn to use the program. By default, a sample image of a sand dune in Namibia is shown. You can easily load your own images by tapping the Open Image button. Snapseed uses the iPad's standard photo album interface, so you'll be able to access any image in your Photos library.
On the left side of the screen are five different options: Automatic, Selective Adjust, Tune Image, Straighten & Rotate, and Crop. Tap one of these to enter that editing mode. Swipe to the left, and you'll get an additional set of options: Black & White, Vintage Films, Drama, Grunge, Center Focus, and Organic Frames.
For example, tap Straighten & Rotate to enter straightening mode. Your image will go to almost full-screen, and a simple status read-out will appear at the bottom. Slide your finger up or down to rotate the image, and Snapseed will automatically zoom the image in and out to crop it.
From the status bar, you can choose to apply the edit, or hit the Back button to discard it. Either way, you'll end up back at the main screen, where your various mode options are available.
Some modes contain multiple effects. For example, Tune Image lets you adjust Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, White Balance, and something called Ambiance. Tap into the Tune Image mode, and then slide your Finger up and down to automatically bring up a menu that lets you select the parameter you want to adjust. Then slide left to right to increase or decrease the amount of the adjustment. A read-out on the status bar lets you see a numerical readout of how much edit you're applying.
It doesn't matter where you tap and drag on the screen, the interface will pop up anywhere. So, there's none of the "trying to tap on a little levels slider or curve point" hassle that you get from other image editing apps.
Touch for Control Point
Nik has also added their excellent Control Point technology to Snapseed, providing you with an incredibly easy way of creating complex selective adjustments without having make masks or create elaborate selections.
Enter Selective Adjust mode and then add a Control Point. Tap with two fingers and stretch or pinch to change the size of the Control Point's influence, then drag vertically within the Control Point's area of effect to select the parameter you want to adjust (Brightness, Contrast, or Saturation). Then slide left or right to change that parameter. The Control Point samples the color at the point where it was placed, and automatically—and very intelligently—builds a mask that will constrain your edit.
Control Points were revolutionary in Nik's desktop software, and they're even more so on the iPad, where you don't have the advantage of pressure sensitive tablets, or very precise pointing devices, and so need all the fine masking help you can get.
Room for improvement?
That all this is packed into a version-one product is even more amazing. For the future, I'd like to see the Structure slider that Nik provides in many of their Photoshop plug-ins (it's basically a fine sharpening control); the ability to create vignettes; and a Control Point option in the Black and White mode.
I wouldn't even call these "complaints" though. If you have even a minor interest in image editing, and you have an iPad, then you need to buy Snapseed. It's really that cool.
[Macworld senior contributor Ben Long is the author of Complete Digital Photography, sixth edition (Cengage, 2011).]