Apple will announce its next iPad this week. It will have a better CPU, a better camera, and a magnificent new screen. While that’s all cool, I’m secretly more excited about another announcement: the software they’ll demo with the iPad 3. Every announcement of iOS hardware has included new software as well; it only makes sense, whether iOS itself is getting an update at the time or not. So, what new app will we get this week?

Photography seems like the obvious target. All of Apple’s creative apps have been ported to iOS with the exception of iPhoto. The built-in Photos app overlaps iPhoto slightly. What aspects of iPhoto aren’t there on iOS today?

  • Photo organization. Clumsy and too user-pestering, in my opinion. Events, faces, and keywords would need a serious rethinking before they made sense on iOS.
  • Extended photo info. EXIF data for each photo, please; heck, just the date would be nice.
  • Effects and Adjustments. Could be neat, though I wish Apple adopted Instagram’s approach of targeting certain “looks” instead of insisting on the mathematical purity of tweaks like “lighten by 1%”. Most people click this 50 times and still end up with a worse result.
  • Prints. This one is interesting… More on it below.

Would Apple need a whole new app to add the first three features? Could they just add some muscle to the Photos app? I think this is doable. I’m glad the Photos app can crop and rotate now. There are many excellent third-party apps that do this with added flair, but the sandboxiness of iOS means that it’s just so much more convenient to stay in the canonical photo store; importing and exporting photos to and from another app is clumsier. So, keeping photos in Photos doesn’t sound bad to me.

Would it be Aperture, not iPhoto? Apple’s first Pro app for iOS? Perhaps. I’m not qualified to speak about the needs of pro photographers, but I imagine it would make more sense to address the consumer, prosumer, and aspirationsumer markets first.

(Note that the iMovie app “imports”, or rather links, its footage from Photos. If you make an iMovie project, then delete its resources from the Photos app, you’ll break the project. In my opinion this is the closest that iOS comes to replicating the messiness of the Finder.)

Now, about those photo prints. This is a nice little high-margin business for Apple, and there’s no reason why they should give it up. Being able to make photo books and calendars on your iPad would be a win for users and for Apple. But something about jamming this into the iPad 3 event seems wrong to me. It’s a strange message: Look at this incredible paper-like screen. Your photos have never looked this good! Now let’s use this futuristic piece of interactive glass to print your pictures, then mail them.

Another rumor claims that the iPad 3 will include a significantly improved new camera - as good as, or even better than, the already excellent camera in the iPhone 4. Silly, huh? Any iPad with any lens may be just too physically awkward to make a good camera. But, there’s something to be said for a device that can shoot and then immediately process shots and footage. The iPad is too big to shoot with; the iPhone is too small to edit on. Bridging the two is fine in theory, but in practice there’s the hairy matter of extremely large file sizes. It may be solved in the future, but it won’t be solved next week. Until then, physical size may be the cross to bear while shooting and editing on a fast, sharp “camera”.

That file size thing plays a part in another issue Apple will need to address soon-ish. Photo Stream is neat, but it’s not what everyone wants: it’s not cloud-based storage for all your photos, mirrored across all your devices. We’ll get there eventually, but I wouldn’t count on it happening this week. 

It’s entirely possible that I’m being too literal with my expectations about Apple’s new photo app. Perhaps they have no intention of porting iPhoto as it is. If I were in their position, I certainly wouldn’t be doing that - iPhoto is not at its peak right now. It’s still a slow app used as a dumping ground for SD cards loaded with mostly bad photos, never to be edited, rarely to be organized, and infrequently to be shared in a haphazard manner. Perhaps Apple is rethinking the whole photo workflow: how we shoot, how we store, how we edit, how we share. If that sounds hopeful, I’ll let it fly on the wings of iPhone’s success as a camera. It would be neat if everything that happens after we tap (tap!) to shoot changes as much as that act of taking pictures itself has changed in the last five years.