It's been a quiet week for the App Store. Aside from a couple large game releases, things have been somewhat slow. I have to say, I was a little disappointed that my options were so slim but it only took a few hours of playing with Ember to change my tune.
Ember is the latest app from independent development team RealMac software, best known for their to-do list app, Clear. RealMac continues the tradition of minimalist aesthetic design but seems to have taken a different approach to the functionality of the app. Clear created a better user experience by excluding features that complicate the process and, in a world of cluttered day planners, it ﬁlled a gap. Ember ﬁlls almost the exact opposite gap, providing a replacement to your photo library that actually works in all the little ways you want it to.
Apple's attempts to turn Photos and Photostream into a truly powerful system have been interesting but largely unsuccessful. Syncing is a mess, organization is a joke, and doing anything more than viewing or sharing is just miserable. iPhoto ﬁxed some of these problems, offering more powerful editing tools and better syncing (if you're willing to take the time). However, Ember shines brightest when it comes to organization. All of the metadata you've come to expect from desktop photo work is present, offering tags, URLs, device origins, and plenty more. On top of that, Ember is fully equipped to create powerful ﬁlters and smart folders that make sorting pictures incredibly easy. And, unlike Photostream, syncing is ﬂawless. Ember is available universally on iOS and also on Mac. If you use a Mac as your primary computer, switching to Ember for your library management could be a totally viable option.
There are problems, of course. iOS is still restricted to opening pictures exclusively from the photos app and Windows users have no easy way to access Ember photos on their PCs. Some of the feature sets are not nearly as well rounded as I would like, such as the ability to set parameters for what counts as "processed" vs "unprocessed" or an easier way to see what photos haven't been tagged. The fact that Ember doesn't have an auto-upload feature may be a choice to promote curation but it also makes it difﬁcult to use as a full time Photos replacement. However, RealMac has proven they can dedicate themselves to a project and make it into something truly amazing. It may not be perfect yet but I see the potential for Ember to become one of the strongest library management tools available and that is why it's my free app of the week.