For an impressive example of what can be done in a Web application these days, check out Picnik, an online photo site that provides – almost exactly – the same set of editing features as Apple’s iPhoto, and some of iPhoto’s sharing capabilities. Picnik offers, in its Edit tab, tools to auto-fix, rotate, crop, resize, adjust exposure, tweak colors, sharpen images, and remove red-eye. There’s also a Creative Tools tab that provides special effects such as making a photo black-and-white or sepia, boosting color, softening the image, and applying either a matte or vignette effect. The controls are obvious and easy to use, and Picnik provides unlimited undo. You don’t even have to feel constrained to the browser window; click the Picnik name in the upper left of the window to make the Picnik window full screen.
Photos can be brought in from your account on the online photo sharing site Flickr, from your computer, from any Web site, from Yahoo or Flickr searches, and even from a webcam. And when you’re done editing, you can save photos to Flickr, send it to someone via email, save it to your Mac, email it to a Web site (useful for sharing to Ceiva picture frames; see “Ceiva and the Mac,” 2005-02-14, for more on that), or print the photo on your own printer. I don’t see any options for ordering prints from a service yet, but perhaps the assumption is that you’d do that via Flickr and their printing partner QOOP for now.
(To get Picnik working with an iSight camera, Control-click or right-click in the Picnik window, choose Settings, click the little video camera on the right side of the bottom icons, and choose either USB Video Class Video for internal iSight cameras or IIDC FireWire Video for external iSights from the pop-up menu; you may have to try choosing it several times.)
The most amusing part of Picnik? Cute little messages, like “Painting sky” or “Buttering sandwiches,” appear when certain more lengthy operations are taking place. It’s a nice touch.
Picnik’s performance was extremely sprightly, and I didn’t feel as though using Picnik within OmniWeb was problematic. It did crash OmniWeb once, but it is still in beta. Picnik recommends Mac OS X running on a Mac with a 1 GHz or faster processor; a relatively recent Web browser and Adobe Flash 9 are also required.
During its beta phase, Picnik is free, and they promise the basic editing capabilities will remain free after launch, when there will be a for-fee premium version with advanced editing, more tools, and additional features. For now, I suspect most Mac users will think iPhoto is easier and more powerful than Picnik, given that iPhoto is a full-fledged application integrated into Mac OS X. But Picnik’s tight integration with Flickr may cause it to be more interesting to those who use Flickr heavily, and it’s possible that being a Web-based application may enable Picnik to evolve much more quickly than iPhoto, which Apple updates approximately once per year.