It wasn't so long ago that there were very few options for Mac users in the graphics department. There was 800 pound gorilla, Photoshop, and Adobe Photoshop Elements for the rest of us. Adobe was behind on its product cycle and for Intel Mac users, Photoshop in any iteration was a slug.
In just one year, this space has completely turned around. Adobe finally got its act together and released CS3 and an Intel friendly Adobe Photoshop Elements version 6. Likewise, Apple beefed up the core animation, core graphics, and other elements of OS X to allow developers to create their own graphics applications. In short, there has been a boom of quality graphics software including Pixelmator, Acorn, and now Iris.
The developers of Iris bill it as a graphical and photo editing application "designed from the ground up specifically for Mac users." In large part, Iris delivers. It features a simple interface that is much less intimidating than Photoshop. Iris uses a "one window" metaphor for the application. It has simple sliders that are in obvious locations that allows you to adjust color or zoom just like you would in a lot of current OS X applications.
One of my favorite features was the inclusion of a small pane at the bottom of the Iris window that includes thumbnails of all of your current open images. When you're working on several images at one time, this is extremely convenient.
Within very little time, I had easy access to common tools such as dodge and burn and a decent set of drawing tools. The implementation of layers is both easy to use and powerful once you start using the built-in filters. Iris also accepts and writes a wide variety of files depending on your needs.
Another function that I thought was pretty slick was the inclusion of a "new from clipboard" command. This really made sense to me. In fact, I could see this command being used in a variety of applications.
While Iris does a very credible job of giving you easy photo editing and drawing tools, it is not going to replace Photoshop. Indeed, I don't particularly see at replacing Photoshop Elements. The selection tools are not as robust and some of the deeper features from the Adobe offerings are simply nonexistent.
Iris fits in that space already occupied by Elements, Pixelmator and Acorn. All of these applications are aimed squarely at that user who does not want to spend the time and money required to master Adobe Photoshop but still wants some photo editing tools beyond iPhoto. If that is you, take a look at Iris. I can't make a recommendation between Iris, Pixelmator, Acorn and Elements. I think that depends a lot on the user and I simply haven't spent enough time with the applications to give an intelligent recommendation. Regardless, all of these applications have trial periods available. When making a decision such as this, it's probably best that you kick the tires yourself.
Iris retails for $79. You can find it at Nolobe.com. You can listen to this review on Surfbits MacReviewCast episode #167.