There are a number of factors a mobile photographer must take into account when choosing their next device. Certainly the quality of hardware must be considered, but software availability is nearly just as important when it comes to taking photos on mobile devices.
So what are the dealmakers and dealbreakers when it comes to mobile app availability?
The three largest app stores -- Google Play, Apple App Store and Windows Store -- for the three top operating systems for mobile photographers -- Android, iOS and Windows Phone 8 -- gave us a lot to consider.
Social Networking Apps
For many mobile photographers, social networking is a great motivation for taking and sharing better photos. With image sharing platforms like Instagram, EyeEm and Flickr, shutterbugs can watch what other photographers are doing with their mobile devices and try out the techniques themselves.
While the most popular photo networks are all available on Android and iOS, Windows Phone 8 is seriously lacking. Even though EyeEm and Flickr both have apps available in the Windows Phone store, the more niche photo sharing apps like Path and StreamZoo are unavailable and photography social network powerhouses Instagram and 500px are both noticeably absent.
Before you dismiss this category with an eye roll and a “quality of quantity” sermon, a mobile operating system’s app store stock size can be an indication of developers’ interest in creating new apps. The Apple App Store has the largest number of apps out of the big three operating systems—beating out both the Google Play and Windows Phone markets.
iOS’ photographic advantage can be seen when you look at the number of apps for photo capture, editing and sharing. In total, Apple’s mobile app store offers more than double the library of Android and Windows Phone 8 combined.
These numbers reflect Apple’s appeal to app developers. Despite some frivolous app pulls for content, Apple’s App Store is a relatively friendly place for developers. iOS offers consistency—unlike Android’s open source jumble of carrier and device-specific software. Android allows device makers and carriers to customize its operating system—allowing them to offer special apps and a unique customer experience. While this is great for brand identity and marketing for Android's partners, it often means delayed software updates, complicating the app development process. And iOS has a history—unlike the relatively new Windows Phone 8 operating system.
Relevant Capture and Editing Apps
When looking at large numbers of apps from any operating system, it can be difficult to quantify downloads with effectiveness. Sure, some apps may have more downloads than others, but does that really make them better?
When I was wading through the thousands of photo apps from the Google Play store, Apple App Store and Windows Store, searching for the bite-sized “top five” apps from each system, I took three factors into account: number of downloads, overall user rating and professional application. Meaning, even if the “photo” app had the most downloads and highest ratings, if all it did was add cartoon speech bubbles to images, it would not make Connect's “top five.”
Google Play store
Current number of apps: 625,185
Current number of photo apps: 7,547
(Source: App Brain)
Apps available for devices on the Android platform offer a little something extra for mobile photographers: they are customizable. Camera Zoom FX and ProCapture, on top of having all the popular offerings on iOS’ best photo apps, allow users to modify the use of the hardware buttons for app functionality—something that Apple won’t even let developers do.
You'll also find Paper Camera in the Google Play store, which offers artsy options that turn snapshots into cartoons, sketches and halftone images. For editing your images, Photo Editor by Aviary offers the Aviary editing tools you're used to using in Flickr. Snapseed is an editing powerhouse any mobile photographer would be amiss to have absent from their home screen.
Browsing through Google Play is like trying to find vintage designer clothes at a thrift store: you have to pick through a lot of weird crap to find to good stuff. And once you find your fabulous pair of Prada shoes, you have to make sure they fit. With the wide variety of Android devices, be careful to choose a smartphone that will be able to host all of the great photo apps in the Google Play store.
The Google Play store is not the only place to find Android applications. The Amazon Appstore for Android has 916 photo apps—even more than the Windows Store. Granted, many of them are doubles of apps available in the Google Play store, but the Amazon Appstore is worth a visit even if you don't have a Kindle. Why? Because Amazon offers paid apps for free every day so you might be able to scoop up a deal.
Current number of apps: 41,806
Current number of photo apps: 789
Windows Phone 8’s native camera app already allows for the most of the manual features that iOS and Android users need to download a new app for. If users want additional effects, they can download “lenses” that work within the native camera app to take your best shot. Lenses range from the filtering effects of Cam Wow to the live reading and interpreting features of Bing Translator. Because of Windows Phone 8’s standard manual-capturing camera app and the “lens” system, the vast majority of photo apps available for Microsoft’s mobile platform are editors.
Windows Phone 8’s young app store also means that the quantity and variety of photo apps is not huge. While the iOS App Store opened in July 2008 and the Google Play store opened in October 2008, the Windows Phone Store wasn't available until October 2010. As a result, the Windows Phone Store doesn't have the variety of apps of the Google Play store, nor is is curated as well as the Apple App Store.
A browse of the top “photo” apps for Windows Phone 8 brings up dozens of wallpaper apps and even a unit conversion app. Many of the top free apps are either redundant effects already offered in the native capture/editing tools or they are bizarre apps that swap subjects faces or put portraits in fat suits. We expect that the Windows Phone 8 apps will improve over time as more get released.
Apple iOS App Store
Current number of apps: 789,459
Current number of photo apps: 20,026
When it was launched in 2008, the iOS App Store set the standard for mobile software purchasing. Currently, it offers more than double the amount of photo apps in the Google Play store and Windows Phone Store combined.
Because of the iPhone's history as a preferred smartphone camera and its older store, the iOS App Store has many high quality photo apps to choose from—from practical capture apps like ProCamera to the extremely specialized but still useful photo apps like NightCap. The options for iPhone photography are seemingly limitless, but Apple does a good job of curating its content to clear the clutter of novelty photo apps that seem to plague the Google Play store and Windows Phone Store.
Even with many stand out apps, browsing the iOS app store can sometimes feel like browsing a grocery store when you are hungry. In fits of necessity, I have found myself thinking: “How many photo collage apps can there possibly be? And they are all 4 stars? I better download a couple just to make sure.” There is nothing wrong with high quality variety, but sometimes you just want to pick quick something and get out.
Don’t Forget the Little Guy
Samsung’s Bada operating system accounts for 3 percent of global smartphone sales and hosts more than 2,400 apps in its Samsung Store. Some photo apps like Adobe Photoshop Touch and Pixlr-o-matic have been optimized for use in Samsung’s Wave devices—the only smartphones currently running Bada.
Newcomer BlackBerry 10 won’t have phones commercially available in the U.S. until late March, but it is already seeing an influx of apps in its PlayBook store. Earlier this year, BlackBerry launched with 70,000 apps and continues to support easy porting for Android app developers to painlessly convert their apps to fit the new mobile operating system.
There are a number of third party app stores that download and host software independently from the native app stores. Opera, GetJar and Aptoide all allow users to download apps without the control and censorship that can come with bigger app stores. While these stores do have a number of photo applications, none match the selection of the native app stores for iOS, Android or Windows Phone 8.
While Windows Phone 8 has a lot of potential with its lens feature, developers haven't really yet explored it nor have they ported the social networking or photo capture/editing app selection of iOS and Android devices to the Windows platform. Meanwhile, iOS has the widest array of photo apps with perhaps the best quality selection, but doesn’t have the large screens or high-megapixel counts of Android and Windows Phone 8 devices. And while Android may seem like a good compromise when it comes to hardware selection and app availability, the availability of high-quality photography apps pales in comparison to the Apple App Store.
Tell us what you think: What factors went into your most recent mobile device purchase? How did app marketplaces and options factor into your choice?
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