On an App Store that today sports over a million applications and a set of recommended design guidelines that hold a heavy influence over how developers proceed, it’s rare to come across an app that offers a unique perspective. But a newly launched photo storage application called Pictorian does just that. The app, a simple utility for storing photos outside your iPhone’s Gallery – including animated GIFs – has developed an intriguing interface for interacting with its service which involves a menu in the form of concentric rings.
This menu is dubbed a “Concentric Radial Menu” by Pictorian’s creator, Chris Stroud, a part-time undergrad researcher in Human-Computer Interaction who’s now working toward his computer science degree. Stroud has been building apps for around seven years, he says, and has spent the last five months or so coding Pictorian.
“I spent a tremendous amount of time sorting out the menu system and polishing the overall user experience,” he says.
The original idea for the app itself came from Stroud’s desire for a place to properly store his animated GIFs, which he liked to send out over text message to his friends. While he admits there are several other apps that also do this today, he wanted to improve upon the experience with “careful design and engineering.”
“I wanted something that if I were browsing Twitter and came across a funny GIF or meme, I could quickly stash it for later. When I wanted a relevant GIF for an iMessage chat, I could quickly get to it again,” explains Stroud.
With Pictorian, you can easily save GIFs or other pictures you come across while surfing the web, and the app will even try to identify image URLs saved to your clipboard, if you’re not able to copy the image itself.
After finding the image you want to archive, you just copy it, then switch over to Pictorian, which seamlessly imports the file to your collection. These images are not also saved in the iPhone’s photo gallery; Pictorian serves as an alternative storage system. Here, you can annotate the image with a text description to help you find it later, plus search and share your photos.
But what really makes the app interesting is its “Concentric Radial Menu” which is how you interact with the images, once archived in Pictorian.
From the homescreen, you can press and hold with your finger to bring up menu options like “View,” “Copy,” and “Delete,” and from the photo’s page itself, you can press the blue button at the bottom then slide your finger up to other choices like “Share,” “Describe” and “Delete.”
The “Share” button is what makes it easy to text your photos using iMessage or SMS, as it takes advantage of iOS 7’s default sharing interface, which also allows you to email or share your photo on social networks like Twitter, Facebook or Flickr.
“To me, the CRM the most exciting thing. The app is cool and all, but the menu interactions are really different from what else is out there,” says Stroud. “You put your finger down and it’s there, pick it back up and it’s gone again. The beauty is that it doesn’t try to force you to tap a tiny button; the symmetry of the rings allows you to drag your finger outward in whatever direction is most comfortable for you in that moment,” he adds.
There have been a handful of apps over the years that have experimented with different ways to navigate or interact, and it’s always interesting to see how well they work out. Some have involved dials or wheel-like menus. And just year, for instance, a unique photo-sharing application called Viewfinder was acqui-hired by Square for their design and engineering talents.
In the meantime, the so-called “hamburger button” has become exceedingly common in mobile apps, even though it’s bad for engagement and inefficient. It’s time for new ideas.
Over time, Pictorian will be updated with a number of features, including batch imports, photo library imports, iPad support, cross-device syncing and more. Stroud is also going to Apple’s WWDC to learn about porting the app to iOS 8, and will later be submitting a short paper about the app to SIGCHI.
Pictorian is a bootstrapped creation from Stroud’s SnarkyBits, and is available for $1.99 on iTunes.