You can buy a $5 version of iPhoto for your iPad and iPhone now. You can edit your photos to make them look better, on your handheld Apple device. It looks very handsome. But it's also confusing, superfluous, and a little dumb.

The iPad without having an extra $5 injected into it, can already view your photo albums. It can zoom into them, swipe through them (with lag), present them to friends on a platter. It can make them look enhanced and portable.

iPhoto, miniaturized, wants you to do a lot more with your photos: crop them, change contrast, apply "cool vintage Instagram-ish nostalgia filters" (not an actual quote), and other manipulation basics. It delivers on this. You can do these things. But you can't do them very well, and there isn't much of a need to.

The feature pile is just poorly placed: menus are inconsistent, it's never clear where to look for a particular editing function, and why can't you fullscreen a photo while editing it? Maybe you can, and it's just too difficult for me to find, but it's sure simple on the desktop version of iPhoto. The app has a wonderful patina, but it's scattered, loose, and confused; I spent more time trying to figure out how to edit than editing.

And doesn't that defeat the purpose of a friendly pretty screen you carry and touch? The iPad's central conceit? Yes. But iPhoto is the reverse: nothing is intuitive, everything is a hunt. A beautiful hunt—like shooting giraffes—but a hunt nonetheless.

But where does this mess come from? The same place it does when it shows up in Mountain Lion. Once again, Apple is trying to make a thing that doesn't exist in the real, physical world (said iPhoto app) resemble actual objects. The technique is called skeuomorphism, and more often than not, it's disgusting. This time it most definitely is.

Your photo albums rest on tacky sea foam green "glass" shelves that look like abandoned art deco furniture from a tacky beach house. The controls to add effects—such as the aforementioned faux-Polaroid action—swivel out at odd angles like paint swatches. The brushes look like paintbrushes, which is cute and actually kind of handy, but overdone. The photo "journals" you can assemble from your albums—a clear grab for the same graphical emotion of Facebook Timeline—is just a redundant jumble. Laid over your choice of virtual fabric backgrounds, of course.

There are apps that do much of what iPhoto does already that are as cheap or cheaper. But even putting aside the questions of utility and necessity, the editing and viewing muscle that's so wonderfully friendly on your Mac feels watered—and dumbed—down here. Which isn't really a shame, because again, you probably didn't need this to begin with.