Ember can be many things to many people. The app can function as a private digital scrapbook, collecting images and screenshots on your device and presenting them to you in a custom list. It can be used to organize images for graphic designers — or for reviewers, who take screenshots of apps.
At its most basic level, Ember is a way to collect and store images of any type away from the stock photos app. It makes browsing those photos easy, and it makes sharing those photos seamless. With its Mac client, it also becomes an effective way to manage a library of specific photos and screenshots. But, with competitors like Evernote available, is Ember worth it?
Simple App, Simple Purpose
The premise of Ember is simple, so it stands to reason that the app should follow that line of thinking. It does, and the current version of Ember for iOS is an incredibly simple app.
The color orange is dominant in the UI, which makes sense. After all, the app is called “Ember.” The primary screen of Ember is a list of collections. By default, the app gives you various preset categories, which help you to sort through your photos and images. The default options are obviously geared towards the more technically savvy, with options for screenshots from tablets and phones being on the list.
You can add your own collection by tapping the plus button. Also available are smart collections, which cleverly sort images based on preset options, tags, or attributes. The rules to sort and group images into a smart collection are very robust, while also being accessible to users with limited technical knowledge. The system works well, and is useful for quickly sorting through photos and screenshots.
Images go directly into these different categories. From there, you can share them using different options, such as AirDrop, Message, Mail, or Twitter. You can also assign attributes (tags, descriptions, and addresses, as well as a star-based rating system) to each image, which allows Ember to group the photos in to smart collections.
In terms of app design, expect a fully modern iOS 7-inspired app. The typical gestures, minimalist iconography, and emphasis on light typography are present throughout the app. The app’s color motif helps it to stand out.
Ember, Mac and iOS
Most serious users of the app will also be owners of the Ember Mac program, which is available on the Mac App Store for $49.99. That price is expensive for the desktop client, though Ember on the Mac is a quality piece of software that also offers a lot of utility to people that need it.
The iOS app does sync with the Mac client by way of iCloud. That means that you are at the mercy of relying upon Apple’s online services to manage your data. iCloud as a service has had a rocky history, though improvements have been made in the past. Personally, I would prefer an option to use Dropbox which, while less accessible to the average user, is far more stable.
Using the Mac client does make Ember on iOS feel more useful. However, Ember is usable as a stand-alone iOS app in most every way.
Using Ember to sort and categorize images is an interesting experiment for me. I use my iPhone’s camera every day, and for the most mundane of tasks. From snapping a photo of something I find to be interesting, to taking pictures of what I need to go to the grocery store in search of, Apple’s stock camera and photo apps are among my most-used.
Ember forces me to take a step back and try to sort through these photos. That process would become cumbersome if Ember ever lagged or crashed. Ember does neither, in my experience, even when handling large images or a large amount of photos. Stability seems to go hand-in-hand with simplicity, and it’s something that the developers of Ember have nailed.
I enjoy using the app and trying to organize my photos and screenshots. It makes it easier to find That One Photo that I know that I took, but can’t quite find in the ocean of photos in the stock app. If it meets certain criteria, I know that I’ve stored it in Ember, where it is easier to find.
Getting in to that habit is probably the greatest barrier of entry. It does take some time — I’ve been using the app since its release earlier this month, and I have only just managed to begin categorizing images immediately and without conscious thought.
So, do I recommend Ember? Yes. For the price (free), downloading it and playing around with it makes sense for almost everyone. It isn’t the most feature-rich scrapbooking application, and it still feels like an immature app. However, with its developers promising updates in the not-so-distant future that will make it even more capable, it’s a safe assumption that the strong foundation that currently is Ember will only improve over time.