Camera+ and successful UI design

Being a fairly prolific iPhone photographer, I?ve been interested in the meteoric rise of the Camera+ (C+) app over its competition like Camera Plus Pro (CPP). C+ has dominated the sales charts for weeks, the only photography app regularly in the top 10 of all paid apps in the App Store. Curious to learn more, I decided to give C+ a try.

After putting C+ through it?s paces for few weeks, I?d argue the app?s appeal is straightforward and instructive for almost any designer: the app adds less functionality than its competitors to avoid being overwhelming, yet throws in enough to feel like a noticeable upgrade coming from Apple?s default app. At the same time, C+ better identifies its audience than its competition, providing an appropriate, well thought out user interface in the process.

Admittedly at first glance C+?s pared down approach appears to be a losing proposition in a crowded and feature rich app market. The economics don?t help either; almost all apps trend in the $1-2 range and it?s hard to stand out with one killer feature.

However, think for a moment about the audience for a $1 camera replacement app. A large percentage are casual photographers who want just a bit more than what Apple provides like a faster snap rate or better Facebook integration. Casual users also generally don?t want to relearn the camera controls, preferring an interface that adheres closely to the Apple?s default setup.

It?s on this interface aspect that C+ shines: C+ has roughly the same amount of input and display information that Apple?s camera app has, breaking down to little more than a shutter button and zoom slider. There?s also four intuitive shooting options (normal, stabilizer, timer and burst) in a side menu that?s small enough to interfere little with shot composition while open. Previously taken photos are accessed in the same bottom left corner that Apple uses for its own camera app.

Compare that with my former favorite camera app, CPP. CPP from the start piles on a transparent status bar with tagging, geo-location and more in the top right corner, overkill for most users. In addition, CPP?s main shooting options are combined with its sharing and settings functionality, giving nine options on one single menu. The menu ends up obscuring much of the shooting area when it?s open and feels overly busy, especially for certain options like tagging or a help menu that are rarely utilized. Taken photos are accessed in the lower right corner, differing from Apple and C+?s placement.

I?d argue it?s these subtle yet critical UI differences that propel C+ ahead of CPP and other competition, in turn highlighting several lessons: Identify the audience, design an interface that matches their needs and sweat the small details. Doing so can have great rewards, not just for iPhone apps, but almost any designed interface.