Apple last week released the long-awaited iPhoto 1.1.1, the first update to the company’s popular photo management and sharing software (see "iPhoto Joins the iFold" in TidBITS-611). A 1.1 release appeared briefly the previous week but was pulled almost immediately, likely for quality control reasons.
Diving into iPhoto 1.1.1 shows that Apple has made numerous extremely welcome changes, though most are relatively minor tweaks, not radical new approaches. The changes apply primarily to importing photos into iPhoto, editing them, finding them, and sharing them in new ways.
Downloading and Installing — For some reason, a number of people seem to be getting interrupted downloads of the 25.2 MB iPhoto disk image – if you have trouble mounting the disk image after downloading, check to make sure you got it all.
iPhoto 1.1.1 does modify the format of your iPhoto Library such that you cannot switch back to iPhoto 1.0 after you’ve updated. Depending on the size of your library the conversion may take a while, but it needs to be done only once. I strongly recommend that you make a backup of your entire iPhoto Library folder before installing and launching iPhoto 1.1.1 for the first time.
I experienced no trouble installing over iPhoto 1.0, but some people have reported problems. If you’re concerned, or if your initial installation doesn’t work, use Sherlock to search for "iphoto" and delete iPhoto 1.0, its preferences file, and the cache folder before installing. That search won’t find the BookService, HomePageService, and PrintsService files that live in /System/Library/Services, but you can’t delete those without changing their privileges anyway (those files are necessary for the Order Book, Order Prints, and HomePage buttons in the share pane).
Easier Immigration — An immediate criticism of iPhoto 1.0 was that when you imported your existing photo collection, any work you’d put into naming photos in the Finder and organizing them into folders was lost when iPhoto renamed the files and reorganized them into its chronological hierarchy. No longer: iPhoto 1.1.1 retains your file names and instead of creating a single film roll for the entire import, creates a new film roll for each folder, naming the film roll for the folder. (That in itself is a welcome change from 1.0, where film rolls were merely numbered and dated – you can also rename film rolls and change their dates manually.)
iPhoto is less concerned about the location of its iPhoto Library folder as well. That folder can now live anywhere – in a shared folder on a Mac or on a server – as long as you put an alias called "iPhoto Library" to it in your Pictures folder. This should let multiple users share iPhoto Library folders much more easily than in the past. It also simplifies working with multiple iPhoto Library folders (which you might want to do to keep collections of photos separate from one another), but that activity is still made easier by a free tool like iPhoto Library Manager or iPhoto Librarian (both of which seem to work with iPhoto 1.1.1, despite not having been updated for it specifically).
People were also frustrated that you could create albums only within iPhoto. Now, if you drag one or more images, or a folder of images, into an empty spot in iPhoto’s album pane, iPhoto imports the images into your photo library and creates a new album for you with the imported images. Unfortunately, if you have enough albums to cause iPhoto to show a scroll bar in the album pane, there’s no empty space left as a drag destination. If you instead drag images into an existing album, iPhoto imports them and adds them to that album. Speaking of albums, you can now rearrange them in the album pane by dragging them to the desired location.
iPhoto now retains EXIF information associated with each image by the camera, and it can also display that information. It’s unclear if this will play a role in improving the quality of ordered prints.
Finally, for those people with Kodak Photo CDs, if you insert the CD into your Mac, switch to iPhoto, switch to import mode, and then click the Import button in the import pane, iPhoto will import the images directly from the Photo CD without you having to find and import them manually.
iPhoto Gets Brighter — Apple intentionally kept iPhoto 1.0’s editing capabilities minimal because image editing is one of those tasks that’s difficult for people who aren’t fluent with graphics programs. Plus, you could always set iPhoto to open images for editing in another application, such as Caffeinesoft’s brilliant PixelNhance. I had high hopes that Apple would license PixelNhance’s code and add it to the next version of iPhoto. That hasn’t happened yet, since the only addition to iPhoto 1.1.1 are simple sliders for adjusting the brightness and contrast of images. They work, but PixelNhance’s approach of letting you drag a divider bar across your image to see how a change affects the image in an interactive before/after preview remains better than anything I’ve seen. PixelNhance’s interface is so effective that I recommend every iPhoto user – heck, everyone with a digital camera who’s not a Photoshop wizard – download the free PixelNhance and use it for editing photos.
The only other visible change to iPhoto’s editing tools is the removal of the redundant Rotate button in the edit pane. Since there’s a Rotate button always available underneath the album pane, removing the extra one in the edit pane makes good sense. Speaking of rotating, although holding down Option still reverses the direction of the rotation, you can now change the default direction in iPhoto’s preferences. Interestingly, in a statistically insignificant survey controlled for camera type (the extremely cute Canon PowerShot S100), both Jeff Carlson and I rotate the camera clockwise for portrait shots, whereas our wives both rotate the camera counter-clockwise. I’ll bet there’s some grant money for someone to investigate that gender-related phenomenon.
Editing photos in a separate window in iPhoto 1.0 was possible but annoying, since it always opened the window with the editing toolbar closed. iPhoto 1.1.1 fixes that minor stupidity – the editing toolbar is now open by default. Finally, Apple seems to have improved the results from using iPhoto’s red-eye reduction tool.
Text in a Graphic World — As much as it makes sense to browse photos graphically, textual descriptions are also important. iPhoto 1.0 let you add titles, comments, and keywords, but the process was tedious. Now, since iPhoto retains filenames on import (even the numeric ones that cameras automatically create), you can use a hierarchical menu in the Edit menu to set the title to Empty, Roll Info, File Name, or Date/Time. You can of course still type your own titles, but beware, since if you type a title, then set the title to any of the previously mentioned settings, your title disappears for good. Editing titles still requires you work in the info pane – you can’t edit the title itself underneath the photo.
Also new is an option in iPhoto’s preferences to replace the keyword buttons of the organize pane with a large text field for entering comments. It’s exactly the same comments field as was available in the info pane by clicking the Info button, but now it’s short and wide as opposed to being tall and thin. Unfortunately, both areas remain terrible text-editing environments. No scroll bars appear when the text doesn’t fit vertically, you can’t necessarily use the mouse or arrow keys to scroll through all your text in the info pane, and the new comments field in the organize pane doesn’t wrap long lines of text (you have to drag the cursor or arrow to the right to see more).
The saving grace of the new comments field is that you can flip the Assign/Search toggle to Search and enter text you want to find in photo titles, file names, keywords, or comments. iPhoto responds by restricting the visible photos to only those that match your search criteria. It’s useful, but it’s too bad Apple chose such an awkward interface – if you normally leave the organize pane showing the keyword buttons, performing a text search requires a trip to the preferences. The feature feels tacked on – hopefully Apple will revisit this interface in iPhoto’s next major update.
Share and Share Alike — iPhoto’s share pane receives three new and utterly self-explanatory buttons: Mail, Desktop, and Screen Saver.
No more do you have to fuss to use your images with Mac OS X’s Slide Show screen saver. Just click the Screen Saver button in iPhoto, select an album, and click OK.
Setting the Desktop picture is even easier; select a photo and click the Desktop button. Unfortunately for those of us with two monitors, iPhoto can set the Desktop picture only on the main monitor.
Sending an email message with selected photos is also easy. Select some photos and click the Mail button to cause iPhoto to create a new message using Apple’s Mail program containing the selected images, along with their titles and comments. It also resizes the photos if you desire, which is a good idea most of the time to reduce the size of the message.
The obvious problem with the Mail button is that it works only with Apple’s anemic Mail program, and not with your default email program. However, thanks to some clever sleuthing and coding by Simon Jacquier, with a little encouragement from me, there’s an alternative: iPhoto Mail Patcher. The trick is that iPhoto, despite falling into the embarrassing category of high-profile Apple programs that don’t support AppleScript, has a script inside it that communicates with Mail. Simon wrote some new AppleScript scripts that work with Eudora, Mailsmith, PowerMail, and QuickMail Pro, and then created an installer that replaces both the script and the Mail icon appropriately. If you’re an AppleScript guru and have ideas for improving the scripts or adding support for other email programs, send me the AppleScript snippets and I’ll forward them on to Simon.
Finally, for those who hate wasting expensive inkjet paper, iPhoto 1.1.1 lets you put two photos on a page when printing at either 4" x 6" or 5" x 7". Plus, there’s a checkbox in the Contact Sheet style to save paper – it reduces the margins and space between images.
Left Wanting More? iPhoto 1.1.1 is a good, solid upgrade, and I recommend that anyone using iPhoto upgrade. Many of the changes are minor usability tweaks that add up to a much improved user experience, and the new features add much needed capabilities.
That said, some changes, such as the search capabilities, the connection with Mail in favor of the default email program, and the new brightness and contrast controls, simply aren’t impressive. Other features, such as AppleScript support and basic color correction controls, remain external to iPhoto. And perhaps most concerning, iPhoto 1.1.1’s performance doesn’t seem to have improved much, if at all.
The question, then, is what iPhoto’s developers have up their sleeves for iPhoto 2.0. Despite the many enhancements and fixes in 1.1.1, there’s still lots of room for Apple to improve iPhoto, even while keeping the program easy to use for those of us who never otherwise work with images.