Skala Preview: A Designer’s Best Friend

In the Apple universe, certain developers are rockstars – from the OmniGroup to Panic, their apps are high-quality, beautiful, and full of personality. So when developer Marc Edwards and his team at Bjango released their latest app, Skala Preview, the Mac community had high expectations.

Is this tool for designers a follow-up hit from the team who created iStat, or is Bjango just another one-hit-wonder? Read on and find out!

Overview

The Mac app and it's iPhone companion.

The Mac app and it's iPhone companion.

If you’re interested in Skala Preview, you’re probably a designer; and as it’s only use is to send interface previews to your iOS device, designers are just about the only people who need apply. That being said, for designers of iOS applications, Skala is an invaluable tool.

In the words of the developer, Skala Preview is “the fastest way to send pixel perfect, colour perfect design previews from your Mac to your iPhone or iPad”, and that’s really what the app excels at. To send images using Skala Preview you can either connect the app to Photoshop or drag-and-drop images from Finder. The Mac app only costs a few bucks ($5 at the time of this write-up) and it’s iOS companions are free so Skala preview would seem to be a pretty obvious choice for most designers.

Interface Design

If there’s one thing that Bjango can really pat themselves on the back for – it’s great UI design. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Skala Preview is one of the most beautiful apps on the Mac today. That being said, the interface is pretty barebones – much like the app itself.

The majority of the app is reserved for a drop zone for your images, and there’s not much else aside from a few settings menus and a help link that kicks you out to the website. Moreover, there’s no way to open an image from inside the app, and as the “File” menu is all but blank – you’ve got to drag your image into the drop zone or the app icon. But while the interface is simple, I found myself questioning its purpose as a stand alone app – it seems like a menubar applet would be better suited for such a simple utility.

Functionality

Skala also works great on the iPhone and iPad.

Skala also works great on the iPhone and iPad.

Skala works great 99% of the time, with only an occasional hiccup which might even simply be network issues on my end. In order to use Skala Preview, you’ll need to have the Mac and any companion devices on the same network, so keep that in mind.

That being said, unless you use Photoshop Skala doesn’t really make much sense, as you could theoretically accomplish even more with a simple Dropbox folder. With all that in mind, I wonder why the developer couldn’t just have created a Skala Preview folder on your Mac where you could save images from other apps which would automatically be beamed to your device using Skala. In addition, such an approach would really eliminate the need for anything more than a menubar app.

Despite such a major shortcoming, Skala Preview still has quite a bit working in it’s favor. For example, its color-blindness testing feature allows you to see your image from the eyes of someone who is colorblind – allowing you to ensure that interface elements don’t blend together. To be honest, that feature alone might make Skala Preview worthwhile for many designers. In addition, Skala’s images are color-perfect, which is good, but I couldn’t really tell the difference between an image sent with Dropbox versus Skala.

Skala Preview also allows viewing on multiple devices, meaning that if you’re wondering how your design will look on an iPhone 4, iPhone 3Gs, and an iPad, it can all be done without a hitch. Finally, Skala can capture images from your clipboard allowing you to quickly preview it’s contents on your iOS device.

What’s Missing

What’s missing in Skala Preview? Honestly, quite a bit, but for $5 most of it’s shortcomings can be excused. First off, Skala Preview is only properly integrated into Photoshop. Moreover, the way the app connects to Photoshop isn’t available in other apps, which means fans of apps like Pixelmator and Acorn are out of luck for the forceable future. The other major omission from Skala Preview is version history. As a designer, being able to go back and compare designs to older versions is priceless, so I really felt the absence of this feature. In addition, since there’s no “Skala Folder” on your Mac, having to drag-and-drop images into Skala Preview can get tedious to say the least.

Wrap Up

In short – Skala Preview is functionally almost perfect, but only with its admittedly barebones feature set. If you’re not a designer who lives in Photoshop, Skala Preview probably isn’t your cup of tea. But if you do – it will probably change your life, or at the very least – your development workflow.

Cutting out the hassle of exporting images and uploading them to Dropbox or emailing them to yourself simply to preview them on an iOS device is well worth the measly $5 that Bjango is asking. So while I’d like to see features such as a dropbox style folders or version history, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Skala to any iOS designer who uses Photoshop. For users of other applications, that quick-and-dirty Dropbox folder just might do the trick, although you’ll lose the color-blindness-testing capabilities as well as the clipboard integration. So, in the case of Marc Edwards and Bjango, lightning has struck twice.

Author’s Note: After writing this review, I got a chance to have a quick chat with the developer and he assured me that version tracking is definitely on the radar. With that in mind, Skala preview is really shaping up to be a must-have app.


Summary

Skala Preview is an indispensable tool for designers who live in Photoshop as well as nearly everyone interested in iOS development

8
  • Tim

    Why not just use iCloud’s Photostream for free?

  • Dan

    For xScope users (http://xscopeapp.com/features) there is a free xScope Mirror App to easily view the contents of any Mac desktop window on your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. xScope, which is a great set of tools for measuring, inspecting & testing on-screen graphics and layouts btw, costs almost 30 USD tho.

  • http://www.thalesribeiro.com Thales Ribeiro

    Really want to see the version tracking working.
    i’ve been using LiveView to preview things on iPad and iPhone:
    http://www.zambetti.com/projects/liveview/

    • Bart

      I love LiveView. it works perfectly, it;s simple and free.

  • Ray Pello

    LiveView works great for me and since I use mainly illustrator for developing apps it works better for me using liveview, which is… FREE

    • http://alexarena.com Alex Arena

      Thanks for the tip! I’ll check it out and I’ll see about doing a review or roundup of all these apps.

  • http://www.roonio.com Roonio

    Its a pretty nifty tool. It seems crazy to me that you cant flick through a variety of screens or even overlay hot areas to replicate button functions.

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