What I love (and don’t love) about the new Flickr for iPhone

“Did you know? Double tap on a photo to quickly fave it!”

That’s one of a small number of welcoming messages in the new Flickr app for iPhone, greeting you as it guides you through the completely overhauled interface. There is much to love about the new iPhone app, but also a few things that are not so great. First, a look at the things I really like about the new application.

It’s fast. It’s clean. It’s purposeful. Just about everything is a dramatic departure of not just what the old Flickr app for iPhone used to be like, but also of what Flickr on the web is like. The new iPhone app made me realize that I had basically stopped using Flickr beyond just “dumping” my photos there as a sort of backup service, not because Flickr stopped being interesting and fun, but simply because I no longer dedicate desktop browsing time to looking at my community streams[1]. Checking up on my friends has become one of my core mobile activities, but Flickr’s previous iPhone app didn’t cater to this well. Instagram did, on the other hand, so it became my new photo community quite quickly. The new Flickr app changes this around so effectively that I now use both to see my family and friends’ photos.

In all the obvious ways, the new Flickr for iPhone follows the path paved by Instagram: a stream of your contacts’ latest photos in the app’s main view, filters, and easy photo taking, editing and sharing features. Yet in the not-so-obvious ways, the app stays true to Flickr itself. It features the brilliant new “justified” layout algorithm that makes your friends stream on the web look fantastic, but it works even better on the iPhone. And while it seems as simple as Instagram, Flickr for iPhone still packs all the powerful features that make Flickr such a pro service: groups, sets, (proper) tagging, per-photo privacy controls, and so forth. The well-designed User Interface does a great job stuffing the many features into a small-screen app without making it feel cluttered.

Flickr’s new filters remind of the glory days of Instagram 1.0’s great filters, delivering vivid vibrancy and punchy effects—much unlike Instagram’s current filters, or Twitter’s new photo filters, all of which suffer from a sameness and blandness that end up adding little interest to your photo, with but a few exceptions. I’ve started uploading photos through Flickr first for their filters (and sometimes, a non-square crop), and Instagram second just to have something there.

Overall, the new Flickr app gives me the sense that Marissa Mayer knows exactly how to make great use of the very talented people she has working for her, which in turn gives me hope for Yahoo! overall. That’s a great achievement of course, but let it not distract us from what a great achievement the app is itself. If you’re an iPhone-owning Flickr user, pro or free, you should get this app right now, simple as that.

The not-so-great parts

While I still highly recommend it, there are a couple of aspects to the app I don’t like and think can be improved upon. None of these are particularly painful, but they are encountered commonly enough that they stand out.

To start, that “double tap to quickly fave” feature only works on views where the photo is a thumbnail. On a dedicated photo page it doesn’t work, yet seems like it should. That double tap zooms the photo when you’re viewing it in Lightbox mode (i.e. fullscreen photo view) makes sense, but I often want to check a photo bigger than its thumbnail to see if the photo truly merits a fave or not.

Then, the navigation at the top changes the left-to-go-back button into a function-less Flickr logo when you look at a photo up close. Why this is, I have no idea, but the back button is now a close button on the right, forcing you to either reach with your finger, or switch hands. It’s awkward and it breaks the navigation bar’s convention, which is a bit of a faux pas on iOS. Similarly, you can go into the Lightbox view of a photo by rotating your phone, but you can not back out of it with the reverse gesture.

When it comes to sharing a photo, Flickr offers you the usual options, but they’re not as flexible or enjoyable to use because they’re all “custom” designed: sharing via email doesn’t use the normal send mail pane, so you can’t use any of your contacts’ known addresses for this, you have to type it in by hand. And you have no control over the message body whatsoever, either, which makes sense when you look at how information-dense their sharing emails are, but I much prefer ease of use and quick and comfortable sharing over this over-designed but slow and painful experience.

Worse is that you can’t get the URL for a photo through the app, as far as I can tell. When you share to Twitter, you compose the tweet but the app will append the short URL for you, and it is not copy-able for you to use manually (or use in any other app). Again, over-designed and impeding on a pretty common use case, though here I wonder if the team behind it considers this too much of a “power user” feature that they think not enough people would need. Regardless, not being able to just get the URL feels very limiting, and doesn’t sit right with me as a web-entrenched consumer (and customer).

Lastly, while I enjoy the notifications the app offers, it doesn’t list the people who have added you most recently, nor does it offer a way to quickly add the ones you want to add back. Following a notification takes you to that person’s profile, but if you simply open the app directly, or have more than one person who added you, there’s no way to get to them other than tediously searching for their name and hoping you find them.

These are all quibbles though, which I—an interaction designer and developer—may care more about than most people. But I also think they are things which the great Flickr team can fix or improve without too much compromise, and I know they’d make this already great app even better.

Overall a fantastic app, and a great milestone for a bright and shining future for Flickr.

  1. With the exception of Tweetbot for Mac, which, the way I use it at least, is just a mobile experience stuck on a desktop screen.

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