Thoughts on "perfect" image browsing

In my previous blog entry I discussed a flaw with iPhoto.  Namely that iPhoto stores your pictures in a screwy library directory structure that basically entraps your pictures in their application.  So it's not permanently entrapped but it is enough of a problem that I spent awhile trying to think of what my ideal solution would be.

What I came to is wondering why doesn't the Finder already do most of the stuff iPhoto does?  Finder (and it's equivalents on the other systems) should be familiar territory to the user because they use Finder all the time to locate their files.  It would be natural for Finder to be used in browsing saved images.  And then while browsing there are a small set of common image manipulations one always wants to do such as rotating or scaling images.  Therefore it would be great goodness and quite convenient if this feature were sedimented into Finder.

What I perceive as my biggest needs are to

  • Browse around my images
  • Retrieve images based on when they were taken, or by the subject of the image
  • Do minor edits like rotating or scaling images
  • Do those minor edits both one-at-a-time and in batch mode

I know that iPhoto does a lot more but I wonder if it wouldn't be better to have a dedicated application for those other features.  For example slide shows, wouldn't a program like Keynote be great for giving slide shows?  And building picture books?  Why not use Pages?

As much as possible I'd like the Finder to have simple image manipulation features.  And if I were a Windows users I'd want Explorer to do this, and if I were a Linux user I'd want Nautilus to do this.  By using the Finder or Explorer or Nautilus the simple image browsing and manipulation is done using an existing and known piece of software, the widget the user uses to browse all their other files.

To find images based on when they're taken I'd do what I already do.  After each picture session make a directory, named to reflect that picture session, and toss the pictures in there.

But what about finding images by the subject?  One wants a search engine that can look at image content, but unfortunately that's a tough job.  It's easy to index text files and make a search engine that can retrieve text files by their content.  And in OS X 10.4 and beyond the Spotlight feature does just that for you.  But images are not so indexable.

The best one can do would be to support adding keywords to files, from the Finder.  The keywords might be added into the image file contents (assumably the EXIF data allows keywords).  And the keywords could be indexed so that Spotlight can find them.

To invoke these features the user might right-click (or option-click) on the file and in the menu that pops up would be choices like Rotate, Scale, make thumbnail, etc.

I recognize there's the possibility of a slippery path here.  When do you stop adding image manipulation features to Finder? I suggest the manipulations be kept very small in number, Finder clearly does not need to become Photoshop.