mobile photography technology, culture and community

Which mobile platform is best for photographers?


There are a number of factors a mobile photographer must take into account when choosing their next device. Certainly the quality of hardware must be considered, but software availability is nearly just as important when it comes to taking photos on mobile devices. 

So what are the dealmakers and dealbreakers when it comes to mobile app availability? 

The three largest app stores -- Google Play, Apple App Store and Windows Store -- for the three top operating systems for mobile photographers -- Android, iOS and Windows Phone 8 -- gave us a lot to consider.

Social Networking Apps

For many mobile photographers, social networking is a great motivation for taking and sharing better photos. With image sharing platforms like Instagram, EyeEm and Flickr, shutterbugs can watch what other photographers are doing with their mobile devices and try out the techniques themselves.

Windows Phone 8 users are more limited when it comes to accessing popular image sharing services from their mobile device.

While the most popular photo networks are all available on Android and iOS, Windows Phone 8 is seriously lacking. Even though EyeEm and Flickr both have apps available in the Windows Phone store, the more niche photo sharing apps like Path and StreamZoo are unavailable and photography social network powerhouses Instagram and 500px are both noticeably absent.

Library Size

Before you dismiss this category with an eye roll and a “quality of quantity” sermon, a mobile operating system’s app store stock size can be an indication of developers’ interest in creating new apps. The Apple App Store has the largest number of apps out of the big three operating systems—beating out both the Google Play and Windows Phone markets.

Of the total apps available, the Windows Phone store has the least, followed by Google Play. The Apple App Store has the most apps.
Apple's App Store takes an even bigger lead when it comes to photo apps—Apple's mobile operating system has double the photo apps of Windows Phone and Google Play stores combined.

iOS’  photographic advantage can be seen when you look at the number of apps for photo capture, editing and sharing. In total, Apple’s mobile app store offers more than double the library of Android and Windows Phone 8 combined. 

These numbers reflect Apple’s appeal to app developers. Despite some frivolous app pulls for content, Apple’s App Store is a relatively friendly place for developers. iOS offers consistency—unlike Android’s open source jumble of carrier and device-specific software. Android allows device makers and carriers to customize its operating system—allowing them to offer special apps and a unique customer experience. While this is great for brand identity and marketing for Android's partners, it often means delayed software updates, complicating the app development process. And iOS has a history—unlike the relatively new Windows Phone 8 operating system.

Relevant Capture and Editing Apps

When looking at large numbers of apps from any operating system, it can be difficult to quantify downloads with effectiveness. Sure, some apps may have more downloads than others, but does that really make them better?

When I was wading through the thousands of photo apps from the Google Play store, Apple App Store and Windows Store, searching for the bite-sized “top five” apps from each system, I took three factors into account: number of downloads, overall user rating and professional application. Meaning, even if the “photo” app had the most downloads and highest ratings, if all it did was add cartoon speech bubbles to images, it would not make Connect's “top five.” 

Android's Google Play store has a lot of apps — but not all of them have a place in the mobile photographer's app collection.

Google Play store

Current number of apps: 625,185
Current number of photo apps: 7,547
(Source: App Brain)

Apps available for devices on the Android platform offer a little something extra for mobile photographers: they are customizable. Camera Zoom FX and ProCapture, on top of having all the popular offerings on iOS’ best photo apps, allow users to modify the use of the hardware buttons for app functionality—something that Apple won’t even let developers do.

You'll also find Paper Camera in the Google Play store, which offers artsy options that turn snapshots into cartoons, sketches and halftone images. For editing your images, Photo Editor by Aviary offers the Aviary editing tools you're used to using in Flickr. Snapseed is an editing powerhouse any mobile photographer would be amiss to have absent from their home screen.

Browsing through Google Play is like trying to find vintage designer clothes at a thrift store: you have to pick through a lot of weird crap to find to good stuff. And once you find your fabulous pair of Prada shoes, you have to make sure they fit. With the wide variety of Android devices, be careful to choose a smartphone that will be able to host all of the great photo apps in the Google Play store.

The Google Play store is not the only place to find Android applications. The Amazon Appstore for Android has 916 photo apps—even more than the Windows Store. Granted, many of them are doubles of apps available in the Google Play store, but the Amazon Appstore is worth a visit even if you don't have a Kindle. Why? Because Amazon offers paid apps for free every day so you might be able to scoop up a deal.

The Window's Store app collection is is small but growing.

Windows Store

Current number of apps: 41,806
Current number of photo apps: 789

(Source: MetroStore) 

Windows Phone 8’s native camera app already allows for the most of the manual features that iOS and Android users need to download a new app for. If users want additional effects, they can download “lenses” that work within the native camera app to take your best shot. Lenses range from the filtering effects of Cam Wow to the live reading and interpreting features of Bing Translator. Because of Windows Phone 8’s standard manual-capturing camera app and the “lens” system, the vast majority of photo apps available for Microsoft’s mobile platform are editors.

Windows Phone 8’s young app store also means that the quantity and variety of photo apps is not huge. While the iOS App Store opened in July 2008 and the Google Play store opened in October 2008, the Windows Phone Store wasn't available until October 2010. As a result, the Windows Phone Store doesn't have the variety of apps of the Google Play store, nor is is curated as well as the Apple App Store.

A browse of the top “photo” apps for Windows Phone 8 brings up dozens of wallpaper apps and even a unit conversion app. Many of the top free apps are either redundant effects already offered in the native capture/editing tools or they are bizarre apps that swap subjects faces or put portraits in fat suits. We expect that the Windows Phone 8 apps will improve over time as more get released.

The iOS App Store has a huge array of top-notch photo apps.

Apple iOS App Store

Current number of apps: 789,459
Current number of photo apps: 20,026

When it was launched in 2008, the iOS App Store set the standard for mobile software purchasing. Currently, it offers more than double the amount of photo apps in the Google Play store and Windows Phone Store combined.

Because of the iPhone's history as a preferred smartphone camera and its older store, the iOS App Store has many high quality photo apps to choose from—from practical capture apps like ProCamera to the extremely specialized but still useful photo apps like NightCap. The options for iPhone photography are seemingly limitless, but Apple does a good job of curating its content to clear the clutter of novelty photo apps that seem to plague the Google Play store and Windows Phone Store.

Even with many stand out apps, browsing the iOS app store can sometimes feel like browsing a grocery store when you are hungry. In fits of necessity, I have found myself thinking: “How many photo collage apps can there possibly be? And they are all 4 stars? I better download a couple just to make sure.” There is nothing wrong with high quality variety, but sometimes you just want to pick quick something and get out.

Don’t Forget the Little Guy

Samsung’s Bada operating system accounts for 3 percent of global smartphone sales and hosts more than 2,400 apps in its Samsung Store. Some photo apps like Adobe Photoshop Touch and Pixlr-o-matic have been optimized for use in Samsung’s Wave devices—the only smartphones currently running Bada.

Newcomer BlackBerry 10 won’t have phones commercially available in the U.S. until late March, but it is already seeing an influx of apps in its PlayBook store. Earlier this year, BlackBerry launched with 70,000 apps and continues to support easy porting for Android app developers to painlessly convert their apps to fit the new mobile operating system. 

There are a number of third party app stores that download and host software independently from the native app stores. Opera, GetJar and Aptoide all allow users to download apps without the control and censorship that can come with bigger app stores. While these stores do have a number of photo applications, none match the selection of the native app stores for iOS, Android or Windows Phone 8.

Bottom Line

While Windows Phone 8 has a lot of potential with its lens feature, developers haven't really yet explored it nor have they ported the social networking or photo capture/editing app selection of iOS and Android devices to the Windows platform. Meanwhile, iOS has the widest array of photo apps with perhaps the best quality selection, but doesn’t have the large screens or high-megapixel counts of Android and Windows Phone 8 devices. And while Android may seem like a good compromise when it comes to hardware selection and app availability, the availability of high-quality photography apps pales in comparison to the Apple App Store.

Tell us what you think: What factors went into your most recent mobile device purchase? How did app marketplaces and options factor into your choice? 


Total comments: 16

I have to admit, iOS wins this one.

I switched from iOS to Android since Android's genesis pretty much. The problem with Android though, as many other Android users point out, is the fragmentation it suffers. A lot of OEM phones, with a lot of different versions of Android, with a lot of different UIs on top of Android and of course a lot of different camera configurations.

iOS developers have to worry about just a few models of the "same" equipment, whilst Android developers, sometimes, aren't even aware of how many Android phones are out there.

In my opinion, the Play Store has a lot less camera apps just because, unlike iOS, Android is an Open Source project.

Edited 1 minute after posting

As a developer (and avid iphoneographer :) I have a slightly different perspective.

I think apps are very important - yes, you can shoot, then edit later on whatever other device. Sometimes that's the best way. But being able to shoot and then quickly edit and share on the same device is a whole lot more enjoyable - I'd say it's equivalent to going from film to digital, and getting an instant look at your shot instead of waiting for the film to get developed.

Besides, the huge app market has changed things. I can do the things I used to do in photoshop (and more!) a lot easier now - with about $20 of software.

Back to the platforms question: iOS is ahead, but it'll likely get further ahead short term. Us developers put our effort where the money is. iOS apps pay around 4x more than android apps. Windows phone barely even registers. Guess which platform will get the best apps?

(And thanks for mentioning NightCap by the way! That's one of mine :)

Edited 43 seconds after posting

PhotoMate allows me to travel light with my Android tablet instead of dragging my laptop. For me it's the only serious app for raw developing in all the three platforms (at least for now). Me neither I don't care about these thousands of "funny" apps.

Edited 22 seconds after posting

You are better off looking at the hardware. 99% of mobile editing apps are bs & useless. You are better off to capture the best image possible, so not much editing is required. So what if there are 20,000 IOS photo app that all do the same thing? We don't download 20,000 apps to edit our images or for that matter even 789!

How about a removable mSD card? This is probably the biggest feature for mobile photography.

This article assumes its readers are stupid.

1 upvote

Camera FV-5 and PhotoMate are two Android photo apps I use every day.


I'm confused, is this article old? It is my understanding there are closer to one HUNDRED and forty thousand apps available at the Windows Store!


My Nokia 810 have a great camera, but the Apps you can get on iOS are more sophisticated. EyeEm for WP8 sucks (they are a small team, they will improve it in time) Fantasia Pinter and Fhotoroom are great, but neither work at full resolution. LoMob for WP was abandoned by the developers and Autodesk have no news about Pixlr-O-Matic for WP (even if they have a desktop program)
There is a Soviet Cam App, similar to Hipstamatic, that have a lot of potential, but limited to 1500 px and made my phone crash a couple of times...
So I have a great camera, better than the iPhone 4s (That I use as camera, not as phone, because the Apps) but not Apps as sophisticated...
Probably Microsoft need to help developers a little more...

1 upvote

As of right now, OIS has the advantage of only releasing one phone a year. All apps are optimized.

For video, I think android has the upper hand. Being open source, you can drive in the OS and up the bit rate and in some cases the FPS.

Who knows, both are becoming good platforms. Within the next year android will pass up OIS in apps. Just too many phones and too many people.


One has to wonder what Combatmedic870 is talking about.
What is OIS? Optical Image Stabilisation... Nokia Lumia 920 and HTC One have OIS. They're pretty new.
What has OIS to do with releasing a phone per year? This post was about photo apps available for different platforms, of which none is a OIS.
What has video to do with photo apps? Nothing. What has open source to do with changing video compression bit rate or FPS? Nothing.
What has android to do with open source? Not much.
To pass up OIS? In apps?
And any platform having plenty of users is a good thing, how is it bad that people buy phones? Too much people, now that is a problem...

Edited 3 times; latest 1 minute since posting
By (unknown member) (Mar 5, 2013)

iOS, you mean? So after several years you think Android will overtake iOS in the total number of apps available? If so, does that mean anything at all? Android apps are notoriously easy to get through the system and even Apple has a metric ass-ton of completely useless garbage apps.
I've heard computer savvy folks talking about the downfall of iOS for a long time now but it never seems to materialize. The Android ecosystem is the Wal-Mart of the smartphone world and Apple is the Target. Apple has a very clean, well controlled ecosystem that is easy to deveolop for. Android is all over the place.


"I've heard computer savvy folks talking about the downfall of iOS for a long time now but it never seems to materialize."
There never was, is, or will be a downfall of iOS.
Except for an initial, start-up, fluctuation there was, is and always will be a normalizing trend driving the market share of all crucial Apple products and services toward 10% whereas maintaining the 50% markup -- and the markup/profit is the number they are really interested in.

Yes, Android 4.2 is light years ahead of iOS 6 in every single aspect (including usability) and yes, at every iOS price point there is a cheaper, better designed and better manufactured Android product.

But this does not matter one bit to the niche Apple is targeting for many years now.

Edited 1 minute after posting

Windows Phones, in their many incarnations, is not tweaked by manufacturers the way Android is, so developing for it's platform is not really that painful.
iOS dominates the market, that's why you can find more and better Apps.

By (unknown member) (Mar 5, 2013)

By photographers do you mean anybody taking a picture on their phone, enthusiasts, pro's? Most people who shoot pictures on their phone would only really be interested in social networking apps. I'm sure having editing apps would also be useful to some of them, but most of the powerful applications are only on tablets.
Enthusiasts and professionals would probably be more interested in storage and interface apps than editing apps, although there again phones can't handle much editing. So for those people I'd say whatever ecosystem their camera will communicate with is the most useful. If they only want to back up their photos then they need an app that will interact with a card reader or wifi. If they need a remote interface that is camera specific....unless you have an EyeFi with its own app.

1 upvote

Exaclty. For one, many of the Nokia devices (old symbian) allow for USB host mode, for connecting a card reader or dslr. That is actually useful, and not something you can download.

Edited 8 seconds after posting
By (unknown member) (Mar 5, 2013)

What completely bottles my mind (no boggling here) is why Apple has an iPad connector kit that doesn't work with the they think using the phone as a backup will lead to uploading a ton of images to the internet? Tons of phones and not as many 4G iPads means that someone still using an old unlimited data plan like myself could eat up a whole bunch of data. I still don't know why we're not allowed to use our data. And yet I can do bascially the same thing using the EyeFi card. Not as easy so less tempting? That must be it.
The only time Apple wanted to have anything to do with photos on a small device was the first color iPod called the "iPod photo". That thing eats power like crazy and you can't power it while downloading a card. I wonder if converting it to a flash drive would allow the poor battery to offload a whole 32GB card.

Edited 2 minutes after posting

how about a system with 2 best cameraphones on the market: symbian OS.
My almost 3y old Nokia N8 still beats everything apart of N808 in terms of sensor size (1/1,7) , image quality and ability to connect to various storage devices (usb host). I don't need to edit my pictures on tiny phone screen using phone app - that is much easier to do on laptop or pc.

1 upvote
Total comments: 16
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