Every time a new photo effects app pops up, it’s often frustrating to see the same sepia toning filters, blur effects, and other reliable features that are all getting rather long in the tooth. This fact makes the appearance of Fragment all the more exciting, as it produces effects that nothing else in the App Store even attempts to mimic, yet remains exceedingly easy to use and explore. The app lets you choose from one of 46 built-in base effects, which are essentially distortion masks based on a variety of shape combinations, from simple frames to abstract designs – including crystal shards, geometric patterns, and circular constructs – which distort the image in any number of ways.
Using Photoshop to retouch the human face and body is a process that requires learning about the inner workings of channels, layers, masking, and many subtle techniques to get truly professional results. However, for iOS users, there’s a better solution for these particular tasks in the form of Facetune, a deceptively simple gem designed for fashion and beauty work that is capable of delivering some minor miracles with the utmost of ease.
Virtual ANS is a happy aural mutation unlike anything else on your iPhone or iPad. While it bears a resemblance to the longtime Mac-only wonder MetaSynth, it’s a lot easier to fall into from left field, not to mention much less expensive. The app is a software recreation of an extremely rare Russian synthesizer (of which only one remains in existence) that used light and optics as the foundation of its synthesis engine. Time is plotted from left to right, pitch is mapped vertically, and onto this grid you'll use a variety of basic drawing tools to "paint sound," essentially.
Designers and Photoshop pros from an earlier generation will remember the venerable Kai’s Power Tool Photoshop plugins, and even though they’ve been M.I.A. for years, one of the wackiest of those plugs – the Fractal Explorer – has been reincarnated as Frax, a seriously cool graphics toy and perhaps the single most impressive bit of graphics code we’ve yet seen on iOS. Available in separate iPad and iPhone versions (iPad reviewed), Frax is a full-screen, interactive fractal playground, with a very fluid, straightforward interface and a decent amount of customization possibilities for generating a wide variety of truly attractive fractal graphics.
If you could reduce the 20th century optical artist Victor Vasarely to his essence and jam him into your iOS device, you’d end up with Isometric, a sparse design app with a single creative element: the rhombus. There’s an old design adage, “less is more,” that seems to be the underlying philosophy of this universal app, which presents an almost Zen-like simplicity (in terms of interface and toolset), challenging you to make the most of its one basic building block. While this limitation is meant to be a creative motivator, we found it to be a little, well, limiting.
It's hard to keep track of the seemingly countless photographic editing tools on the App Store, but Tangent actually brings some new tricks to the virtual light table, combining some very appealing graphic design elements together with a really slick, effortless interface, making it easy and enjoyable to add visually pleasing effects to any picture.
If there’s one thing a designer loves more than typography, it’s discovering new colors. Thanks to Adobe Kuler (derived from the Mauritian creole word for “color”), capturing and sharing any shade of the rainbow is now as easy as opening an iPhone app. Much like the Flash-based web version, which is one of the more intriguing services included with Adobe Creative Cloud, Kuler allows designers to play with and save five-color swatches (called “themes”) for later use in desktop applications like Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign.
At this point, it’s easy to get lost in the endless stream of iOS photo apps that basically offer variations on the expected themes of color tinting, vignetting, posterization, and other usual suspects. While lots of them are nice, it all gets a bit repetitive and predictable. Every now and then, something unique and different pokes through the pack, and Tangled FX is exactly the kind of app we love to see. It might seem a little limited in scope, but it’s a darned good gag with enough flexibility to make it compelling, plus a look that is like nothing else we’ve ever seen.
Before Adobe Photoshop Touch appeared on iOS, ArtStudio was considered the go-to image editing app, with the best selection of editing tools available on the iPad, including some decent artistic paint brushes. In its most recent revision, ArtStudio has undergone a radical interface overhaul, ultimately looking a lot like a desktop graphics tool, and making critical controls -- such as the extensive layer options, including blend modes and layer masks (the latter missing in PS Touch) -- more accessible. The result is a slick, smooth program that proves worthwhile to vets of Photoshop or any other full-featured image editor.
Enterprising indie software developers trying to gain ground on the industry’s major players can take a couple of approaches. One is to ape what’s come before, but with a fraction of the resources. Another is to try to do something entirely new. Sketch 2 goes with the ballsier tactic, and largely succeeds in creating a sleek and modern app for crafting vector graphics.