The iPad's journey to becoming more of a content-producing and creative tool took another step forward recently with the release of a new app called Pholium (US$9.99). The app is centered around the creation, viewing, and sharing of iPad photo ebooks.
All of the creation of the photo ebooks is done on the iPad. Whether you're taking images from a camera through the Apple Camera Connection Kit or using photos you took with the iPad's camera, all of your camera roll images are available in the Pholium Gallery. The Gallery lets you bring in Photo Stream images as well, and you can store the pictures that you want to use in your ebook.
Once you have a collection of photos to place in your ebook, you move to the Studio -- a place in the app where images are placed into the book for viewing, arranged or rotated, and text is added. One issue I had with the app is that text can only be added to certain special pages -- when producing photo books with iPhoto, I like to put some captions on images and occasionally write a paragraph or two describing a place shown in the pictures. At least with the 1.0 version of Pholium, you can't do that.
Pholium optimizes photos to look their best in the books, and you can only had cup to 42 images per book. With a 2-page spread, you're limited to 4 images, or 1 image on a full 2-page spread. Pages can be added or removed easily, so it's easy to make your book a bit larger. I felt that the 42 image limit was quite limiting, and I'm hoping that the next version of the app will increase or eliminate the limit.
Once you're done creating a book, you can store it in the Pholium Library, and also share the book through the Pholium website with up to 10 recipients. After the first 10 recipients, you need to purchase a new "Pholda" that provides another 10 readers with the ability to see your ebook. Reading the ebooks is a treat -- the app uses an animation that's familiar to iBook readers to emulate the turning of pages. One gripe I had was that the faux "fold" between the left and right pages was too darkly shadowed and really distracting when looking at images that went across both pages.
If your recipients don't have Pholium -- which is likely to be the case -- they're sent a low resolution PDF of the images in the books. I preferred the look of the images in the book, where they could be rotated during my production of the book, then tapped by readers for viewing in a larger, non-rotated image.
One cool feature was the ability for readers to tap a single button to see a slideshow of all of the images in the book. However, the timing of the appearance of the images and the transitions between images could not be adjusted.
Pholium is a pretty powerful and very useful photo ebook tool, but it could benefit from some additional work. I'd like to see the app get rid of the 42 image limitation, add the ability to send the formatted ebook to a print-on-demand service to create a "real" book (like those created with iPhoto), and the ability to add captions and text boxes to every page in the book. Still, if you want to create and share your own picture ebooks with friends or relatives, Pholium is a really easy way to publish without a lot of hassle.