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iLife '11: Evolutionary, not revolutionary

The release of iLife '11 has been anticipated for months now. While many expected to see iDVD (the suite's DVD layout and burning tool) bundled into iMovie or removed completely, the iDVD icon was still in multiple slides during the presentation and doesn't look to be going anywhere.

Yesterday's presentation focused on just three iLife apps: iPhoto, iMovie and Garage Band, all of which had notable updates. With the exception of iMovie, most of these updates seemed evolutionary, made in response to customer feedback and feature requests.

iPhoto '11 and iMovie '11
IPhoto '11 and iMovie '11 (courtesy Apple).

IPhoto offers additional options for printed photo books and cards (including a new pressed or embossed card option). The new book creation interface offers some nice tweaks such as live previews of different book styles with your selected photos and auto-grouping of pictures taken around the same time or on the same day. Other welcome additions are full-screen mode, the new projects view (reminiscent of the library view in the iBooks app for the iPad and iPhone) and the new albums view, which borrows from the Photos app on the iPad.

Some tweaks to slideshows allow for unique viewing options such as a slideshow based on real-time map data for geocoded photos. Slideshows also now include features such as animated backgrounds and 3D visual effects.

Probably the biggest iPhoto update is significantly better integration with social networking -- namely Flickr and Facebook. Users can now see their photo albums from both sites, even if the photos in them haven't been loaded into their iPhoto library. More importantly, when sharing photos with these sites, users can see comments and likes from other users of each service in an expanded Info panel.

Garage Band's update focuses on cleaning up recorded music with a feature called Groove Matching; if, say, the guitar and bass tracks are out of sync with the drums, you can auto-adjust the tracks to match the drum's rhythm. Another feature called Flex Time makes it easy to adjust the timing of individual sections of recordings (either elongating or compressing specific notes or sounds).

The Learn to Play feature that offers virtual piano and guitar lessons got additional lessons in specific forms including blues and rock guitar and classical piano. More useful is a new How Did I Play? feature that highlights your note or timing errors and tracks progress over successive practice sessions.

Of the three iLife apps demoed, iMovie offers the big-money update. The ability to adjust audio within a clip or project (including raising or lowering sounds and fading between clips or segments) has been reinstated -- a big feature request since Apple removed it when it redesigned iMovie from the ground up for iLife '08. The new version also lets users easily add effects such as instant replay or flash and hold (which displays a quick flash and then a still version of the previous frame).

On a similar front, Apple introduced the ability to create movie trailers for projects. This feature includes a variety of themes and soundtracks recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra at the iconic Abbey Road studios. The feature uses predesigned storyboards and effects to get users started and makes use of a new People Finder feature that can identify individuals or groups as well as action-style and close-up shots. It looks like a really fun feature, and the ease of it may encourage people to jump in and use iMovie more.

Apple also updated the ways you can share movies from iMovie, adding Facebook, Vimeo and even CNN's iReport Web site as options alongside YouTube and Apple's MobileMe. No mention was made of further integration with the iMovie app for the iPhone 4 and fourth-generation iPod touch (another big feature request from users of those devices).

Additional themes and templates, including news and sports themes, have also been added to iMovie. All in all, iMovie makes its remarkably easy to compile and share a very polished and professional-looking project in a short amount of time.

ILife '11 is bundled with new Macs for free; it's $49 to upgrade from earlier versions of iLife.


Between yesterday's event and Monday's earnings call, Apple has certainly managed to stay in the news this week. While iLife might be an evolutionary update and the jury is still out on many Lion features, the company's emphasis on the Mac, the preview of Lion and the new MacBook Air show that Apple remains committed to its vision of an innovative future -- and it has the cash, talent and marketing savvy to make that vision a reality. Whether you love that vision or hate it (or fall somewhere in between), it's clear that Apple still has what it takes to captivate its large and, by all appearances, increasingly loyal audience.

Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and technology consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. He has been a Computerworld columnist since 2003 and is a frequent contributor to Faas is also the author of iPhone for Work (Apress 2009). You can find out more about him at and follow him on Twitter (@ryanfaas

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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