If there’s one thing I’m addicted to about my iPhone, it’s the camera-taking experience. I love Instagram. When I do creative work, it’s the place I share my progress with my friends and followers (so long as the client allows it). It’s also where I share photos my other loves: coffee, technology, and more coffee. (I promise I have real friends; I just keep most of my relationships private.)
Some apps make the Instagram experience a little better, though. One of my favourites (apart from the indisputably excellent VSCO Cam) has been around a long time, and it’s called A Beautiful Mess. I’ve been meaning to review it for a while, but I decided to let the developer finish up the iOS 7 update. It was worth the wait. Read on to find out more about what makes this a great, and fully-featured, photo editor for picture sharing.
A beautiful mess isn’t quite like VSCO or Instagram, in that it’s not all about features. There are certainly features in the app (people would probably dock it marks if it didn’t include filters, only because they’re so popular), but they aren’t the selling point. The selling point is how easy it is to frame pictures, put doodles on them, or even add a few words to them.
You’ve likely seen collages on Instagram with a cute saying splashed on top. This is one of the apps people make those with.
But again, A Beautiful Mess is more than just the sum of its parts, because that would be to avoid mentioning all of its parts. Instead of just applying a filter or adding a few words of text, you can add hand-drawn doodles from real designers — or even make your own. Collage support is a part of the iOS 7 update, and it’s a really nifty feature.
You can also add colours to collages or photos or use nifty backgrounds for text instead of photos. One of the big improvements with the app is the addition of another fifty million different typefaces and doodles, all of which are fantastic, but most of which come at a cost. I love that the app includes popular favourites like Proxima (I adore Proxima) and Lobster Two.
When you’re done editing a photo, it’s automatically saved to your photo roll and optionally exported to different social networks like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Interestingly, you can select the resolution you’d like to export the photo at, which is great for those of us who are on more data-sensitive carrier plans.
Designing a Photo App
One of the more impressive things about A Beautiful Mess is that its interface, which rocks some serious transparency and some awesome parallax effects. (When you’re done editing a photo, check out the screen asking what you’d like to do next. Moving the phone around moves the entire screen with it. It’s great.)
The nicest things about the app design are the ways in which it encourages you to work more efficiently. Want to see how multiple different colours would look? As you go through and select them, you get live “previews” of your changes. I imagine these are even more impressive on a 5s, where you’d be getting a significant speed improvement. On my iPhone 5, I have no complaints.
The app updates everything on the fly though, and not just colour updates. Want to adjust some frames? That will render in real time. So will any font adjustments you make. You can pinch to zoom in or out on font and move it around without a problem. It’s a piece of cake to use, and because the focus is on your image, you never feel lost despite the plethora of features.
Interestingly enough, some elements of the app haven’t changed. The app doesn’t use a slide-out drawer for navigation, and much like your favourite social apps, it keeps all of its most-used tools right on the bottom of the screen for easy access. The iconography is fantastic; you can tell this came from a real designer.
In-app Purchases Galore
If there’s one thing that I have against the app, it’s all the in-app purchases. It’s not so much that they’re there. I understand that everybody, especially app developers, have to make money. But my problem is that I’m already paying $0.99 for the app, and all these different in-app purchases add up.
I know that fonts are expensive, but I’m not sure I feel comfortable spending $0.99 an additional ten times to unlock all the different doodles, typefaces, and built-in expressions in the app.
I think the problem is partially the original app pricing, which is a little conservative. If the app were $2.99 or $3.99 instead of $0.99, I would hope that would mean fewer in-app purchases and a better experience out of the gate for new users. It’s one thing to have to purchase in-app extras if the app is free, but with an upfront cost already attached, convincing me to spend money elsewhere is a losing battle no matter what app you are.
Despite the in-app purchases, you’re probably going to find a lot to like about A Beautiful Mess. I love the way the app lets me doctor up a few things before sharing to social networks. The new collages are fantastic and more numerous than most options out there, and the doodles and built-in sayings have only gotten better with updates.
The typography is superb, and yes, the filters are almost always worth using. I have yet to find a set of photos that filters can’t improve in this app. They almost always bring a sense of legibility to text that wasn’t there before, so you can tell they were constructed with a real sense of purpose in mind. If the filter-loving, thought-sharing part of you likes the idea of an app like A Beautiful Mess, it’s worth springing for. You’re going to love it.