Those who thought the next version of iLife would have a different application lineup than its predecessors may have been surprised to see that iLife ’11 once again presents the usual five suspects: iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand, iWeb, and iDVD. Of those programs, three have received major feature enhancements—iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand—while iWeb and iDVD have been updated only for compatibility with the rest of the iLife ’11 suite.
iPhoto ’11 -- Full screen everywhere is the only really new feature of iPhoto, although a number of existing features have received major quality and functionality enhancements.
All of iPhoto’s interface can now be presented in full-screen mode with a single click, but you lose no functionality by switching out of the previous window mode. You can browse your collections of events, places, faces, and albums (including Facebook posts); create books, cards, and slideshows; and create and send email. With email, the mail message is composed within iPhoto instead of taking you on a side trip to your email program. iPhoto in full-screen mode can also present an information column that describes which pictures in your iPhoto library have been used in what collections, albums, and other places.
Apple enhanced Facebook functionality so that photos posted on Facebook by other means sync back to your iPhoto Facebook collections (including comments on photos). You can also set your Facebook profile picture directly from within iPhoto. Flickr integration is similarly improved: you can post directly to your photostream (instead of being forced to choose or create a photo set), and photos already present in your photostream are also synced back to iPhoto.
Much was made of the fact that books and cards have received design upgrades, and the composing interface has become something that Apple calls the “carousel”: you spin it to access the different components of the card or book you’re building. The printed card templates include a letterpress card template that you can use and then have printed on a high quality mechanical press to create imprinted paper cards. Book and card projects are all collected in a projects bookshelf interface that can be quickly browsed to pick the one on which you want to work.
On the downside, calendars aren’t supported in the initial release of iPhoto ’11, and Apple has said only (in a support note) that support will return “very soon.” If you are planning on making calendars for the holiday season, do not upgrade to iPhoto ’11 until Apple has either brought the feature back in a minor update or promised that it will return in time for you to make and order calendars in time. You cannot switch back and forth between iPhoto ‘09 and iPhoto 11.
Speaking of upgrading, the other fact that should give you pause is that some users (including [TidBITS friend Liz Castro][*]) are reporting significant data loss as iPhoto ’11 attempts to upgrade the iPhoto Library. It’s not universal, of course, but we recommend either holding off entirely on the upgrade until Apple has released an update or making sure that you have easily restored backups of your entire iPhoto Library package (along with the rest of your Mac’s data, of course). Downgrading to iPhoto ‘09 may be difficult as well.
iMovie ’11 -- Trailers and vastly improved audio editing are the most significant iMovie enhancements. Perfectionists can now fine-tune the audio track with a waveform-displaying audio-level editor that allows adjustments to the audio levels for each clip or part of a clip.
The new Movie Trailers feature provides an interface for assembling clips into a complete imitation movie trailer. It has Outline, Storyboard, and Shot List tabs in which you specify the titles and credits that appear in the trailer, as well as the shots and kinds of shots that make up each part of the trailer. When you compose your trailer, iMovie can winnow your clips down to the clips that are appropriate for each part of the trailer that you defined in the trailer’s storyboard.
Apple has borrowed some of the Faces technology from iPhoto so that iMovie can analyze your clips and find just the clips that contain people or groups of people in them. (iMovie uses face-detection, not face-recognition, technology; it can tell you when a human is in the shot, but can’t identify the person.)
Although some might think the Movie Trailers feature is a gimmick, it’s still fun. We can imagine that kids might put it to uses that staid technology observers can’t even imagine. Now if only iMovie could automatically create the movies promised by these trailers! (I say that facetiously, but, in fact, iMovie’s new Storyboard interface could be extended—even by independent filmmakers—to enable the creation of longer films. The animatics used in trailers are also found in the Maps, Backgrounds, and Animatics panel, ready to be dragged into a project as a placeholder.)
GarageBand ’11 -- In iLife ’11, GarageBand gets smarter, with features that analyze recorded performances and provide you with the capability to improve them after the fact.
The Groove Matching feature uses one audio track as the basis for analyzing the rhythm of the other tracks. It then adjusts the playback of each track using sophisticated audio transformations to bring all of the tracks into sync without altering the pitch. Similarly, the Flex Time feature provides the capability to take any part of a recording’s waveform, such as one that contains specific notes or phrases, and stretch or compress that part to adjust the timing.
Other new GarageBand features include seven new Guitar Amps and five new Stompbox Effects, new music lessons for piano and guitar, and a How Did I Play feature. How Did I Play monitors your performance of a selected piece (either on guitar or keyboard) and detects incorrect notes or timing mistakes. It can keep track of multiple performances of the same piece and show you how, or if, you have improved over time. In essence, it turns practicing a piano (or guitar) piece into a game that you can play repeatedly—it could prove to be a hit with kids who have trouble finding the motivation to practice.
Pricing and Availability -- Low, and now. iLife ’11, like its precursors, is included free with every new Mac, and costs only $49. (Apple calls this an “upgrade,” but $49 is the only price. If you’ve purchased a Mac that can run the iLife applications, you own a previous version—and there’s no serial number to enter to get that price, since you have to have a Mac to run iLife.) Customers who purchased Macs between 1 October 2010 and 19 October 2010 can upgrade for the cost of shipping, which Apple pegs at $6.99. iLife ’11 is available from the Apple Store online, Apple retail stores, and other resellers as well.