Local iPhone app gets international praise

Culture Technology

For professional photographers, or those looking for full control of their cameras, Victoria-based app developer William Wilkinson created Manual, a camera app providing users with control over their ISO, shutter, exposure compensation, and more.

The app was released four days after the launch of iOS 8. By its second day of release, the app was the most popular download for camera apps in the U.S. app store, and fourth place overall. Wilkinson’s app has since made waves in the press, receiving praise in The New York Times, The Verge, and other publications. The app accumulated 66 000 downloads in the first month.

“Basically it’s something I’ve always wanted, but I knew for a long time that you couldn’t do it. The [standard camera] app wouldn’t give you any control,” he said. “The launch went incredibly well, pretty much as good as I hoped.”

Wilkinson began working on Manual in early July, shortly after Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). “They unlock new capabilities that developers can use, that are [then] made accessible,” he said. “[Apple] can do whatever they want—but for developers, they only give you certain toolkits to work with.” The conference gave developers the capability to create an app that could manually control the iPhone’s camera.

The process took two and a half months, between Wilkinson and Craig Merchant, his developing partner in Scotland. Merchant also helped Wilkinson on his first camera app, Everyday, released in March 2011. While building the interface, Wilkinson could not be sure his project would be unique. “We were completely in the dark. We were like, ‘We’ll make ours and hopefully no one will come out at the exact same time and blow us out of the water,’” he said.

From the first day of iOS 8’s launch, manual camera apps were being released, all with the same purpose as Wilkinson’s creation. “That was kind of nerve-wracking—all I knew [was] that people weren’t talking about [the apps already released],” he said

The app’s smooth interface gave it an advantage over competitors. “The hardest part was making up the best way for people to change values, like shutter and ISO, and [making] those controls good,” he said. Wilkinson avoided relying on tabs to change and confirm settings, opting for a sliding selection, giving the user the ability to scroll through all values in one movement.

Popular camera apps VSCO Cam and Camera Plus integrated manual settings shortly after Manual was released, “but in both cases, because both apps do so much, the manual controls are demoted,” he said. “My app is completely focused on that—you start it up and it’s ready to go.”

Some users have found specific niche uses for the app. A Russian dentist emailed Wilkinson praising his app for its capability for preset values, asking him to tailor the presets for dental use. “He was using it to take photos of teeth through a scope,” he said. “A lot of the [responses] were really niche photography things.”

Wilkinson is currently working on polishing a new version of Manual and experimenting with camera app prototypes. “I’m going to focus on pushing it forward,” he said.