For the first time in recent memory, Apple's announcements at the latest Macworld Expo didn't involve any new consumer Mac hardware, instead focusing primarily on software improvements and the iPod mini. The star of the show was iLife '04, an upgrade to Apple's iLife suite of digital hub applications, which now includes the music-creation tool GarageBand as well as improvements to iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, and iTunes.
Attendees were able to get only a taste of iLife '04 on the show floor. In contrast with the initial version of iLife released at last year's San Francisco expo, iLife '04's individual applications, other than iTunes 4, are not available for free download. Until last week, you could download iPhoto 2 and iMovie 3 for free, but you had to buy the suite to get iDVD 3, which was too large to download. This change, designed to make the iApps into a revenue center rather than a significant financial drain, is likely to engender significant grousing among existing Mac owners.
The iApps do remain a reason to buy a Mac, since purchasers of new Macintosh models receive iLife for free. If you bought a qualifying Mac on or after 06-Jan-04 that does not include iLife '04, you can get it for $20 (see Apple's iLife Up-To-Date Program page for details). Also, an iLife '04 Family Pack, which licenses up to five Macintosh computers for household use only, is available for $80.
Apple dubbed iLife '04 as being "like Microsoft Office for the rest of your life" (which sounds more like a curse if you read it as "until the end of your life" instead of as "the time when you're not working"). Is the new package worth the upgrade price? Here are details on what's new based on Apple's information and our hands-on experience from the show floor.
GarageBand -- According to Apple, about half of U.S. households include someone who can play a musical instrument. While several of us attending the keynote tried to determine how all of those people manage to hide their talents, Apple announced GarageBand, a program that enables even the casual musician to play over 50 software-based instruments (such as pianos, drum kits, basses, organs, and UFOs from outer space) using any USB or MIDI keyboard or controller, digitally mix up to 64 tracks, and integrate live audio, whether recorded from a microphone or an electric instrument plugged in to the Macintosh. In traditional Apple fashion, GarageBand's interface is fairly simple to understand and use. Like iTunes's playlists or iPhoto's albums, you click a plus-sign icon to add new instruments, then customize their specific sounds (such as adding distortion or using a British Invasion guitar sound).
The software offers over 1,000 music loops (professionally produced drum beats and backing tracks), 200 pro-quality audio effects (from traditional echoes and phasing to wacky filters), plus a small collection of vintage and modern guitar amplifier emulations to intrigue the Hendrix wanna-be in your household. When you've recorded and tweaked your next chart-topping hit to your satisfaction, GarageBand offers one-click export to iTunes; from there, you can share your work with other iTunes users and other iLife applications, transfer it to an iPod, or burn your magnum opus to CD. (During the keynote we were commenting that the only thing missing is a "Sell my song on iTunes" button that would upload it to the iTunes Music Store.)
In addition to GarageBand's default sounds and tones, Apple also offers the $100 GarageBand Jam Pack with 2,000 additional loops and over 100 additional software instruments. Apple is also selling an M-Audio 49-key USB keyboard (like a piano keyboard, not a typewriter keyboard!) for playing software instruments.
We're curious to see how GarageBand is embraced. Adam and Jeff, for example, have little musical inclination, but we can easily envision budding 14-year-old musicians adopting it immediately. Apple also pointed out several times that GarageBand is great for practicing one's guitar or keyboard with background instruments. Your kid's next Battle of the Bands competition at school may be just a single lad onstage with a guitar, PowerBook, and GarageBand. By the way: Apple licensed use of the name from GarageBand.com, which (with the demise of MP3.com) now claims to be the largest online musicians community. With the debut of the GarageBand application, even more aspiring artists are sure to join GarageBand.com's ranks.
iPhoto 4 -- Apple claims that the latest iPhoto now supports up to 25,000 photos in the browser with no display delays, time-based organization features and "smart" albums (similar to smart playlists in iTunes), and network photo sharing via Rendezvous. The previously U.S.-only photo book and print ordering feature of iPhoto will expand to Japan later this month, and to Europe in March. Unfortunately, Apple said nothing about Australia, New Zealand, or other parts of the world.
Other new features in iPhoto 4 include a keyboard control overlay on slideshows that helps users quickly rotate photos and cull bad ones from the last import, star ratings like those in iTunes, new slideshow transitions, a new Sepia button for making photos look old, and batch processing of photo titles and comments.
Those frustrated with iPhoto 2's limitations may still have issues. You still can't create hierarchical albums (Apple feels the new smart albums and time-based albums will "scratch that itch," to quote Phil Schiller). There's still no provision for sharing photos among multiple users on the same Mac (something we provide instructions for doing in Kirk McElhearn's "Take Control of Users & Accounts in Panther" ebook). And as far as we know currently, iPhoto still lacks Image Capture's capability to import selected photos from a camera or memory card.
iMovie 4 -- On the surface, iMovie 4 doesn't seem like much of a change over iMovie 3, but two improvements are particularly welcome. Apple boasts improved performance, specifically when rendering titles, transitions, and effects. Copies running on demo models on the show floor seemed snappier than iMovie 3 (which initially had terrible performance issues; see "iMovie, Take 3" in TidBITS-665), but we won't know if that was just due to beefy hardware until iLife '04 ships.
The second major improvement is that iMovie has implemented non-destructive editing. Previously, trimming away a section of a clip threw it in the Trash, and the only ways to get those frames back were by using Undo or restoring the entire clip. Now, you can simply drag the edges of a clip to hide the frames you don't want to use; dragging them back makes the frames reappear. This is the method used by professional video editing programs such as Final Cut Pro, and promises to make the editing process much easier for iMovie editors. Other improvements include a keyboard shortcut (Command-E) for switching between the Clip Viewer and Timeline Viewer, bookmarks for marking spots you want to return to easily (and which are separate from iDVD Chapter Markers), and the capability to insert Color Clips, which are the same as earlier versions' black placeholder clips but with the option of choosing solid colors.
iMovie 4 also offers new and enhanced title options, such as clipped image or video showing through a title, and an angled vertical scroll that drew cheers from the Star Wars fans in the Macworld keynote audience. The new version can also import video directly from Apple's iSight camera, easily share movies (either full movies or single clips) to a .Mac account's Web space, and scrub audio (i.e., hear the sound as you scroll) by Option-dragging the playhead. To bone up on some of the new features, in addition to some existing ones, check out Apple's new iMovie 4 Hot Tips page.
iDVD 4 -- Like iMovie 4, iDVD 4 appears unchanged at first viewing, but several things have changed in the latest incarnation. In addition to adding 20 new "Hollywood-quality" themes, iDVD 4 adds a navigation map and enhanced menu capabilities (including one of Jeff's favorites, the capability to create multi-line chapter titles). iDVD 4 runs on Macs without built-in SuperDrive DVD burners, so owners of older Macs can work on an iDVD project and archive it to be burned later on another Mac (this feature was quietly added to iDVD 3.0.1; see "Using iDVD 3.0.1 on Non-SuperDrive Macs" in TidBITS-690).
Most exciting for iDVD users is the capability to create projects up to two hours in length. Previous versions were limited to 60 minutes at good quality, or 90 minutes with added compression and decreased visual quality. We don't know yet what a two-hour project will look like, but Apple's implementation - the same used in Final Cut Pro, according to Steve Jobs in his keynote - sounds smart. By default, projects are still set to 60 minutes and can be rendered in the background. If you switch to a manual mode, you lose the capability to render projects in the background, but iDVD determines the amount of compression to use based on the length of your project; so, a 30-minute project will be rendered at very high quality, while a 100-minute project will be rendered at lower quality - but both occupy the same amount of disc space.
iTunes 4 -- iTunes 4 didn't receive an update in iLife '04, but Apple did improve the iTunes Music Store slightly by adding Billboard charts from 1946 to the present, collections of classic songs labeled iTunes Essentials, 12,000 new classical music tracks. Apple now boasts that the iTunes Music Store contains a total of 500,000 tracks, including an increasing number of independent musicians, although Apple executives said they're still working on the necessary infrastructure for the indie labels to submit songs and metadata to the iTunes Music Store.
Apple claims that the iTunes Music Store, which has now topped 30 million tracks sold, currently has a 70 percent market share of the online music market, prompting Steve Jobs to note drily, "Feels great to get above that 5 percent, doesn't it?" Apple also announced that one person, whose identity wasn't revealed, has spent $29,500 on the iTunes Music Store - now that's pent-up demand.
Add It Up -- As with nearly every Apple software release, some people were annoyed that Apple would charge for the iLife '04 update, while others were quick to point out that single improvements - such as iDVD's capability to store two-hour projects, or GarageBand's 1,000 professional musical loops - were more than enough to justify the $50 upgrade price. Steve Jobs illustrated in his keynote that buying Windows applications that approximated the same features of iLife '04 would cost $306. We prefer to think of iLife as a collection of five $10 programs, making the bundle worthwhile even if you don't end up using one or two.