With their high-resolution displays, greater screen real-estate and inherent portability, computer tablets such as the Apple iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab look like they were custom made for presenting the portfolios of photographers. Not just photographers of course - they also have enormous potential appeal to other image creatives, including students, realtors, architects and a raft of other professionals. For the time being at least most of the momentum behind the development of portfolio apps for tablets is provided by Apple's iPad, but as time goes on, inevitably more and more apps will be ported to - and designed for - other platforms.
While the iPad itself ships with a well-implemented built-in app for displaying photos, including a first-rate slideshow feature with the option to add accompanying music straight from iTunes, it doesn’t have any customization features allowing personalization or branding. As a result, it’s not the kind of app that will impress a client when pitching for high-value commissions during a formal portfolio presentation. Your work may be fantastic but how it is presented can make all the difference.
In this article, I've taken a look at eight popular portfolio apps designed for Apple's iOS to see just how suitable they are for a wide range of users. For the richest user (and client) experience, bear in mind that a certain amount of preparatory work is inevitable - anything from re-sizing images to producing artwork or logos for branding purposes. As usual, I would also like to point out that this roundup is not meant to be exhaustive in any way and is intended only as an introduction to portfolio apps. If you think I've missed anything out, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this article and tell the world!
Pad Folio Lite (v 1.71) - Free (iPad, iOS 4.2 or later)
|The Lite version of Pad Folio only allows one gallery and just 10 images, but it
should give the prospective purchaser of the app an idea of it how it works. The
management page is particularly slick.
Pad Folio Lite is somewhat unusual amongst portfolio apps in that it is free. A cut-down version of the more full-featured Pad Folio, available for $9.99, Pad Folio Lite is limited to just one gallery, and even then that is limited to just 10 images so unless you’re very picky about your shots this is really only meant as a taster.
However, if you're intrigued enough to stump up $9.99 for the full version, Pad Folio boasts a super–clean and intuitive UI, customizable home-and-splash screens, Dropbox integration and support for video files as well as the prerequisite stills. It’s perhaps the UI that really stands out though. The password protected management screen is simple yet very effective and while the app supports branding, it looks good even if you don’t want to go that far.
Once the rather clever Business Card placeholder is filled in, this is then used as your personalized branding throughout the app. That particular feature is not customizable, as such, there’s no choice of fonts or their size or color but it looks very smart at the top of a page and can even be emailed as a 'business card' from the gallery page. Whole folders of images can be imported and galleries can be hidden if desired.
Individual images can be easily captioned, either singularly or as multiples and zoomed (even during a slide-show), we also liked the super-fast animation between views. However, there are a few quirks. There’s no provision to sync music with the slideshow feature and there seemed to be no way to pause a superfast image previewing option.
I also found what appeared to be a bug with the PIN protected management keypad. Although perfectly stable during most of my testing, on one occasion the app revealed my PIN number during a reset, and denied access on another. According to the developer, a fix for certain issues with performance on iPads running iOS 5 has been submitted to Apple. In spite of a few idiosyncrasies though, Pad Folio is fast to use, highly intuitive and looks great.
Pholio (v 2.3) - $3.99 (iPad, iOS 4.1 or later)
|Pholio is a simple and intuitive and has some options for personalization over the iPad’s built-in app, but it lacks some basic features, such as slide-shows, integration with music. A bug in version 2.3 means access to Dropbox and Flickr is missing.|
Pholio is one of the cheaper paid portfolio apps available at the iTunes store, but it offers some useful additional functionality over the iPad’s built-in app, including a modest degree of personalization, the option to import photos from Flickr and, with the update to version 2.3, from Dropbox as well.
Don’t expect the same functionality or versatility as some of the more expensive apps though, Pholio is pretty basic. Customization is limited to several different colored backgrounds, a choice of 15 fonts for the portfolio and gallery titles and the option to use either tiles or thumbnails for the galleries. The UI is straightforward, and apart from a drop-down menu for the customization settings, almost everything else is selected from a pop-up menu bar with the option to cut/copy/paste/delete/add.
In that respect Pholio is streamlined and quick to navigate, and provides a convenient way of performing a limited number of actions. Moving images from gallery to gallery can be a bit tedious, and, as such, it is easier to delete those not wanted and then re-import them selectively. The ability to import either a selection or a whole folder of images is a plus and it looks good, especially when using the tiles.
That said, this app is missing some basic features such as the option to view slide shows, add music or watch video clips. Right now there's a bug in version 2.3 as well which affects access to Dropbox and Flickr, though the developer has submitted a fix to Apple. Management options aren’t protected, but some personalization is possible. This is limited to editing text in the navigation bar but it’s effective and if you’re looking for a step up from the iPad's built-in Photo app but if you don't need a lot of extra functionality, Pholio is definitely worth a look.
Soapbox for iPad (v 1.2) - $5.99 (iPad, iOS 3.2 or later )
|Soapbox is beautifully designed and the option to create custom pages only helps make it look better, but access to the client and management facing pages requires clearer separation.|
Soapbox for the iPad is a good-looking app that offers customizable title pages, stills and video support, slideshows with slide captioning, in-app image editing and up to five galleries or 'Soapboxes' with as many as 50 images per set.
Although the developer boasts of the app's intuitive interface, I found it a little difficult to follow the initial set-up and even after this point, I struggled to get to grips with the app's functionality. That’s a real pity since Soapbox shows a lot of promise and has a clean, polished look that would impress any prospective photo buyer.
Soapbox offers the option to add branding if you wish, and it's as easy as adding a photo. Pages are easy to customize - you can add and edit text, choose the background color alter the layout simply by clicking and dragging. Although Soapbox boasts in-app image editing, this is limited to simply resizing and adjusting brightness using sliders. This is handy for last-minute tweaks, and the option to add captions to either single or multiple images is a nice touch.
My only real grumble is there’s no clear distinction between client-facing pages and the management options, which partly accounts for my initial problems setting up and using the app. Ultimately, though, Soapbox's simplicity and good looks make it well worth a look, and at $5.99 it is still amongst the least expensive apps of its kind.
Clefit (v 1.5) $7.99 (iPad, iOS 4.2 or later)
|Clefit's strengths lie in its ability to edit a range of media assets, mixing text, video and stills together but it’s not quite so convincing when it comes to showing large numbers of images in galleries.|
Clefit differs from most of the portfolio apps in Apple's App Store by providing not only a platform for the sharing and display of a wide range of assets, but also acting as an editor for the creation of media content and 'projects' as well. As such it should appeal to a wide range of creatives including writers and bloggers, as well as photographers, illustrators and designers.
For the most part photographers might not want to add a significant amount of text to their images, but it’s handy to have that option and Clefit offers much more besides. As you might expect this app supports a wide range of media assets including still images, video clips and audio for use with slide-shows. You can limit text to on-screen captions if you wish and add external links to websites as well for a truly interactive and immersive experience.
Clefit is a highly customizable app, almost bewilderingly so at first but there are some handy portfolio templates to jump into straight away. Unfortunately, it’s still not particularly intuitive in use, though to be fair, it’s far more extensive in scope than any other app in this round-up. All of the media assets used for a portfolio are assembled in the editor mode, and the basics are quite quick to master including animating slides with multiple thumbnails overlaid. This is impressive but much more than I suspect most users will ever need, and I'd like to see some more basic options included as well. A simple timed slide-show feature certainly wouldn’t go amiss.
Despite the frills I still can’t find a way of adding multiple images to a Clefit portfolio quickly, and there's no way of adding entire folders either. For all that, Clefit gets points for versatility, although it isn't best suited to the fast creation and display of large portfolios of images.
Foliobook Photo Portfolio (v 2.8) - $9.99 (iPad, iOS4.3 or later)
|One of Foliobook’s key features is the customization wizard, it has a number of themes for personalization without having to resort to adding logos (though you can if you have them).|
Foliobook offers a lot of customization, but it's great to see that it includes several templates for the client-facing pages to get you up and running immediately. Support for video clips requires a paid for ($1.99) plug-in, but Foliobook in its basic form is a well-featured photography portfolio app.
Although you can import your own branding, thanks to an extraordinary level of customization, portfolios created in Foliobook can look very professional without it. Unlike some of its rivals Foliobook does not impose any limits on the number of galleries you can display (though each gallery is limited to 100 pictures). Foliobook will support images at their native resolution thereby allowing more flexible zooming options, though it’s best to resize before you add pictures, purely to preserve storage space. As portfolio apps go Foliobook’s ability to add customizable sub-categories or 'home-pages' is a compelling feature.
If you want to make several different portfolios for different styles of photography, and you don’t want to show Portraits next to Architecture, for example, subcategories allows you to have numerous galleries associated to a genre. If you’re an agent you could use this functionality to maintain several portfolios for several different clients. Like the majority of the apps in this roundup Foliobook supports a myriad of options, and as such, getting the most from it takes a little bit of time.
Nevertheless, thanks to the extensive support for the iPad’s touch gestures, such as pinching out to move up a level, this app is fast to use and with straightforward menus, more intuitive to use than most. It’s also reasonably priced for what you get, but it’s worth pointing out that you can't add music to slideshows, and importing images can only be achieved via Apple's iTunes application (or Apple's iCloud-based Photo Stream option if you're running iOS 5). For all that, Foliobook remains one of the most compelling portfolio apps in this selection.
PadFolios (v 1.5) - $9.99 (iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch, iOS 4 or later)
|Padfolios appeals for its ease of use and instinctive UI. This app is fast to set up and simple for clients to browse through, but we would like to see a slide-show option.|
Although this app is simpler than many of the more expensive rival offerings in this round-up that’s part of the appeal. PadFolios is quick and highly intuitive to set-up and it’s just as easy for clients to use. The app consists of just three client facing pages with up to 30 different placeholders for a gallery. Each has the option to display 400 images up to 2048 x 2048 pixels - larger images will be resized automatically.
Client and user-facing pages are kept distinctly apart thanks to password protection on the latter, so there’s no ambiguity in use. As each PadFolio or gallery placeholder is shown in the set-up page, it’s easy to work methodically adding and (optionally) captioning images from one gallery to the next.
Galleries can be disabled if you wish (to keep things relevant, or palatable for a prospective client) There’s also a reasonable selection of basic customization options, including changing background colors, altering the position of images in galleries and the option to import logos for branding on the home screen as well.
Padfolios isn't completely comprehensive though. There’s no slideshow option, for instance, no support for video clips nor the option to play a sound track. Neither is there any access to images from Dropbox, but that’s not a big hassle if you’re already running Apple’s iOS 5 iCloud-based Photo Stream. Also missing is an option to share sample images in any form, nor are there any templates for a different look, though that’s less of an issue if you’re using your own artwork. Despite some of these missing features, there’s no getting away from the fact this is a pretty streamlined app that is effective, looks good and is and easy to use.
Portfolio for iPad (v 1.5.14) $14.99 (iPad, iOS4 or later)
|Portfolio has a huge range of features aimed at the professional photographer, and yet it remains easy to use. Branding is central to the look of the app though you could circumvent that with a photo.|
Portfolio for iPad is a fully-featured presentation tool offering customizable client-facing pages for specific branding along with the expected support for stills (complete with slideshows with accompanying music/audio), PDFs and video clips.
As befits its relatively high price, Portfolio for iPad is aimed at business users who demand a high level of customization appropriate for their branding. To that end it has three placeholders for externally produced logos (for use in portrait and landscape modes, the third is meant for an external display) but there are a number of other features that will make it appeal to business users, including options to load photos, PDFs and videos from Dropbox and specific URLs as well as Portfolio’s dedicated, but Mac-only Loader software. As the name suggests this allows your Mac and iPad to connect and transfer media wirelessly over a local network and it works very well indeed.
Portfolios for iPad's management interface is intuitive and convenient, and if you get stuck there’s always the built-in Help. Like some of the other apps in this roundup though, this app looks best if you take the time to create and upload your own branding.
Xtrafolio Photo Portfolio Professional (v 1.2.6) $16.99 (iPad, iOS4 or later)
|As befitting a professional-level solution, Xtrafolio has comprehensive control over the layout but it’s not easy to pre-visualise the effect, requiring some to-and fro-ing between the relevant pages.|
Xtrafolio is the most expensive portfolio app in this roundup but it has all of the essential features required of a professional presentation tool. As well as being one of the most customizable apps of its kind available, it has some very valuable additional features including the choice to back-up portfolios to iTunes or Dropbox as well as the option to keep multiple iPads up to date automatically from one nominated 'master' copy of the app.
Of course, these features would be worthless if the app was lacking in core functionality but that’s not the case. Indeed, Xtrafolio is as fully-featured a portfolio application as you could hope for. In addition to stills, there’s support for audio, video, PDFs and even transparent PNGs for branding. Other niceties include media access from Dropbox, and options for watermarking images sent via email, as well as categories and folders for a portfolio of nested galleries.
The cleverly hidden and optionally protected management settings page has an extensive assortment of options, and is the key to the overall usability. But, like rival offerings, if you want it to look good (which of course is the whole point) setting Xtrafolio up can be a long-winded affair. Navigating the management menu with its myriad of options is not particularly intuitive and made all the more tricky because you can’t see how the changes affect the layout. Nevertheless, additional logos for branding aren’t necessarily a must and perseverance with the setting up will pay dividends in the end.
I really like the ability to enable or disable a particular gallery from the menu, it’s an easy way to tailor your images to the client. Also impressive is how stable this app is, even when used intensively. Not once during my testing did I experience a crash nor did I notice a single bug. Despite the minor niggles with the UI, Xtrafolio is one of the most accomplished and pro-orientated portfolio apps on the market and comes highly recommended.