Thursday, January 14, 2010

Flickit Pro - Flickr on your iPhone

Flickit Pro - Flickr on your iPhone

There is no shortage of camera apps in the iTunes App Store. The lack of features in the iPhone's built-in camera app was practically an open invitation for developers to create their own and include some of the missing features. There is no shortage of photo-editing-and-altering apps, either. The App Store has many varied options for everything from basic cropping and adjustments to filters out the wazoo. There is, however, a definite shortage of quality apps centered around the popular photo-sharing site Flickr. Indeed, Flickr itself took much longer than expected to publish their own iPhone app for interacting with their site.

Enter Mike Bernardo, D.B.A. Green Volcano Software, and Flickit Pro. Before I go any further, allow me to provide a bit of background to my review.

Flickr's official app is good; a bit slow-moving, but overall it looks nice and works well. Their late entry, however, means that they still have some catching-up to do in order to really compete with veterans of the category including Darkslide (free ad-supported and premium ad-free) and Mobile Fotos. I first started using Darkslide, formerly known as Exposure, for browsing my Flickr photos. Then I found a little app called Flickit. What first caught my eye, to be quite honest, was the icon. I'm a sucker for eye candy, so I had to see what this app was about. Flickit is a very well-designed, free app that follows a principle most Mac users are very familiar with: do one thing and do it better than anybody else. In addition to the cool UI, Flickit turned out to be a tool I used very often because it did one thing -- upload photos to Flickr -- and it did it better than any other app I had used. What made it better? First, it uploads photos much faster than other apps. Second, it does true batch uploading: select the library on your phone you want to use as your source, select all the photos you want to upload, enter the metadata for each individual photo, tap "Done," tap "Upload" and Flickit begins uploading the photos, one after the other. Simple, elegant and fast: hallmarks of good Mac software brought to the iPhone!

I eventually moved from Darkslide to Mobile Fotos for browsing my Flickr photos, however I still found the uploading experience in Mobile Fotos to be much lacking compared to Flickit. Not long after finding the author of Flickit, Mike Bernardo, on Twitter (, I asked him if there was any chance he could expand Flickit to not just uploading to Flickr but also browsing, searching, etc. His response was somewhat veiled but did seem to indicate that this was something he had already began thinking about.

Fast-forward to last November when I saw a tweet from "Mike's corporate alter ego," GreenVolcano ( asking for beta testers for a new app. I responded immediately and found out that, sure enough, a full-featured Flickr app, Flickit Pro, was nearing completion! And here we are, about two months later, with the best Flickr app in the App Store. So now, finally, on to my review...

First, Flickit Pro uses the exact same uploading engine as the original Flickit: fast, batch uploading. When you first launch the app you are taken to your Flickr account on the web to authenticate the app and allow it to interact with your account. Once that is done you are taken back to the app to add contacts to the "People" screen. This is one process that Flickit Pro does differently. Other Flickr apps just load all the contacts that you've made with your account. Flickit Pro, however, shows you all of your contacts but allows you to only select the ones you want to see. In other words, if there are certain contacts whose photos you don't care to see, or if you only want to use Flickit Pro to see certain contacts photos, you can pick and chose which contacts you want to see and which ones you don't want to see.

I was very pleasantly surprised that Flickit Pro excels in browsing photos in much the same way that it excels in uploading them: it's FAST! When you select your own account or that of one of your contacts you are taken to the photostream on another screen. Other choices at the top are sets, tags and favorites. Flickit Pro does something unique with browsing, as well: it allows you to scroll, uninterrupted, to the end of a photostream or set. Other apps only load a certain number of thumbnails at a time. Mobile Fotos divides a stream or set into pages, requiring you to scroll down to the bottom of a page of thumbnails and tap to go to the next page. The official Flickr app loads 40 thumbnails and then requires you to tap a "Load 40 More Items" button when you get to the bottom. Flickit Pro, on the other hand, allows you to scroll "infinitely," or until you get to the last photo in your photostream or set. In my experience Flickit Pro also loads thumbnails faster than either Mobile Fotos or Flickr's app. Selecting a photo by touching a thumbnail takes you to a screen where you are presented with three options for viewing the individual photo: "Photoflow," a forward-to-backward, rather than left-to-right, version of coverflow; a full screen view; and a detail view that shows you a slightly larger thumbnail accompanied by the photo's title, owner, number of views, dates taken and uploaded, description, tags, comments and a button for adding a comment. The bottom of the screen, in all three viewing modes, has arrows for navigating forward or backward manually and an action button which gives you the option to add the photo to your favorites, view it on the Flickr website in Safari or e-mail a link to the photo. One more word about Photoflow before I move on: the developer has cleverly included a button to turn on or off the ability to navigate through the Photoflow by tilting the phone forwards or backwards, as well as a level indicator. The full screen view also allows you to rotate the phone to landscape orientation. I have requested that Photoflow also be allowed to function in landscape orientation in a left-to-right manner like coverflow, so hopefully that will appear in a future update (hint-hint, Mike!).

Going back to the main People screen, next to each of your selected contacts' profile photos is a round dot that glows blue when that contact has uploaded new photos; a very nice touch! Next to People we have Recents, which shows recent activity with your account, i.e. comments left on your photos. Next is Explore, which gives you options to search Flickr, browse "Flickr Interestingness," browse nearby photos using your iPhone's built-in GPS, and browse photos within any groups you have joined. Nearby Photos shows your current location on Google Maps and overlays thumbnails of photos taken nearby. The upload screen is basically the original Flickit app, allowing you to take a picture with the built-in camera or select photos from your library, edit the metadata for each photo and tap "Upload" once to upload the entire batch. In addition to the standard metadata you can select multiple sets to add a given photo to, select multiple groups, geo-tag, and even select a blog or Twitter account on which to post a link to the photo using Flickr's own URL shortening service.

Wrapping up features, the in-app settings allow you to log out of your account, turn usage hints on or off, set default metadata (hand for people like me for whom 99% of the photos I take and upload with my iPhone go to the same set and have the same tag, relating to my son) and set the size of the photos uploaded.

Besides the features and performance, a major distinguishing aspect of Flickit Pro is the UI design, which is somewhat reminiscent, at least color-wise, of Twitterrific, using shades of black and gray that really set it apart from other Flickr apps. The design reinforces the features and performance, letting you know this is THE power-Flickr-user's app. Flickit Pro is to other Flickr apps what the Batmobile is to police cars: darker, faster and more powerful.

Ok, so what don't I like about this app? Nothing, really! The main features I would like to see added are landscape mode for the Photoflow view and also a vertical alphabet on the tags screen that would allow you to touch a letter and be taken to that section of the list of tags. I would also like to see a refresh button on the Nearby Photos screen, but to be honest I don't look at nearby photos very often so for me that's a feature that can wait.

In the interest of full disclosure, there are a couple of minor bugs that creep up every once in a while. Mike knows about them, though, and is actively working to fix them. The first involves rotating the phone from portrait to landscape mode when viewing a photo in full screen. In portrait mode the bar at the top (below the phone's status bar) shows a back arrow on the left and in the middle are buttons for selecting the three different views: Photoflow, full screen, and detail view. Normally, when in full screen view, rotating the phone from portrait to landscape removes that top bar altogether. Occasionally, however, the top bar and all its buttons appear in landscape mode and you can actually switch views while remaining in landscape mode. Photoflow is the only one of the three that obviously does not accommodate landscape mode visually, though it still functions.

The other bug involves a photo's title not being displayed in its proper place on the screen in detail view. Mike and I have been able to narrow this bug down to only happening when detail view is the "default" view, meaning when you touch a thumbnail in your photostream or a set it goes straight to the detail view instead of Photoflow or full screen.

In my opinion these bugs are minor and I don't blame Mike for releasing the app while still working on fixing them. The photo title bug is the easiest to replicate, which also means it's the easiest to avoid. The rotation bug is not easy to replicate, however, which also means it appears less frequently.

The bottom line: after extensive beta testing as well as going back and forth to compare Flickit Pro with Mobile Fotos (the official Flickr app was too slow to be considered competition) I can say with an objective, unbiased opinion that Flickit Pro is the best Flickr app in the App Store, hands-down!

For screen shots, feature descriptions and even a demo video check out the official Flickit Pro web page: