Hands On: The Mosaic Photobook

The touchscreen will not replace the book. Until some possible future when the two technologies are indistinguishable from each other, the tangible, sensuous, unpowered nature of the book will never give way to cold, glowing glass. Mosaic proved that once again when it was revealed in October, and now it's live and available to all iPhone owners.

Mosaic is an iPhone app that lets you print dreamlike photo albums on demand. You choose up to 20 photos from your phone’s camera roll, arrange them in a virtual photobook in the Mosaic app, tap ‘Place Order,’ and the real book arrives on your doorstep in days.

The tactile experience of the product begins on the phone. You can endlessly remix the photos that appear in the iconic cover frame by tapping the shuffle button.

Then you drag your photos into the right order, and you can turn every page of the book with your finger onscreen to make sure it looks right.

When you’re ready, you tap ‘Place Order,’ and if you haven’t yet entered your information, you quickly do so.

After a couple days, your book arrives in bare, beautiful packaging that would make Apple blush.

Every detail, down to the ribbon that frees the book from its box, has been tuned to hit the right visual and tactile notes.

When I expressed surprise at how the physical book surpassed my expectations, Caleb Elston, head of the Mosaic team, humbly said, “We’ve sweated the details.”

A Mosaic book costs $20. At first, that price seemed too high to overcome the inertia of people saying “Meh, I’ll just look at my pictures on my computer.” But I didn’t realize until I saw it that the book that would arrive on my porch in days would be something I’d want to keep around forever.

My Mosaic book is exquisite. My roommate and I took drugstore disposable film cameras to Burning Man this year and got the prints on CDs. I chose 20 of my favorite of these ethereal, grainy shots for my Mosaic, and I can’t believe how beautifully they turned out.

I can see ordering these as heartfelt gifts. I can see a whole section of my bookshelf for them. They look like totems from the film Inception, personal tokens for remembering dreams.

Mosaic for iPhone is the first release from the team that brought us the mobile chat room, Yobongo, after its acquisition by Mixbook. The team was tasked with bringing photo album printing from the desktop to mobile, just as it did with the chat room before. Mosaic isnt the first solution for turning digital photos into books, but it may be the first with such a realistic book-building experience on the mobile device. And, wow, did they pull it off.