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New iLife ’08 Revealed, .Mac Upgraded

At last week’s press event, Apple took the wraps off the next version of its iLife suite, bumping the name from iLife ’06 to iLife ’08 and providing a completely new version of iMovie. The suite retails for $79 (with no upgrade discounts) and ships for free with all new Macs.

iLife ’08 requires a Mac with an Intel, PowerPC G5, or PowerPC G4 processor running Mac OS X 10.4.9 or later and QuickTime 7.2 or later. Some other special system requirements apply as well: iMovie ’08 requires an Intel processor, a Power Mac G5 (dual 2.0 GHz or faster), or an iMac G5 at 1.9 GHz or faster; iMovie no longer supports PowerPC G4-based Macs. Also, iDVD requires a 733 MHz or faster processor.

iPhoto ’08iPhoto ’08 seems largely to be an evolutionary upgrade, with the primary new feature being the concept of “events,” since many photos are taken at a particular event. Events are created automatically and contain the photos taken on a particular day (unlike film rolls that contain all the photos imported in a particular session), and events can be split or merged as need be. When you’re browsing by event (as opposed to the traditional method of browsing by individual photos), you can “skim” through photos in an event by moving your mouse over the event icon, itself set to one of the pictures in the event.

iPhoto ’08 also adds hiding: a way to suppress the display of photos you don’t want to delete. The feature could reduce the visual overload of dealing with many thousands of photos. Searching has been improved, with a single interface for searching by date, text, or keyword. Jobs said iPhoto ’08 would feature theme-based home printing, new books with dust covers, and 75-percent larger calendars at the same price. iPhoto’s editing capabilities see improvement as well, with shadow and highlight tools that work on just portions of photos, a cropping tool that helps you follow the “rule of thirds,” and tools for noise reduction, edge sharpening, and white balance. You can even copy
and paste a combination of adjustments from one photo to other photos that need similar fixes.

iPhoto ’08 has tighter integration with the updated .Mac as well, enabling users to publish Web-based galleries – a feature cleverly called .Mac Web Gallery – and featuring one-button photo sharing. Photos in Web galleries can be viewed four ways: in a grid, in a slideshow, in a mosaic, or in a CoverFlow-like carousel. Other features in .Mac’s Web galleries include print-quality downloads, uploads via email, easy uploading of photos taken with your iPhone, permissions for who can view or contribute to the galleries, and synchronization back down to iPhoto for photos contributed by others.

The iPhone feature, while useful, is essentially an extension of email. Many photo-sharing services, such as Flickr, provide a unique and complex email address to which you can send photos to be immediately posted. The iPhone addition, according to Apple’s notes on setting it up, essentially streamlines sending photos from the iPhone via email instead of creating a new conduit over which photos are directly transferred. Apple says that your .Mac email account must be set up on your iPhone, and you need a software update for the iPhone which appears to have been delivered automatically; iPhone owners who have .Mac email accounts set up on the device were able to
access the Send to Web Gallery command shortly after iLife ’08 was announced. The iPhone software lets you pick a Web gallery into which to email the photo you’ve selected. There still isn’t a way to choose multiple photos to upload at once or to attach to a single message.

Shortly after the iLife announcement, Apple released iPhoto 7.0.1 (available via Software Update or as an 8.8 MB download), which fixed issues with publishing photos to .Mac Web Galleries.

iMovie ’08 and iDVD ’08 — The most aggressive change in the iLife suite is iMovie ’08, which is a completely new application with a new interface. Following in the vein of iPhoto, iMovie keeps track of all your video in a library, using events to make finding clips easier. In addition to standard DV and high-definition HDV video formats, iMovie now supports editing AVCHD (Advanced Video Codec High Definition), a compressed format introduced last year that’s designed to be saved onto random-access storage devices such as SD memory cards, hard disks, and MiniDVD discs.

iMovie also beefs up its sharing capabilities by providing options for encoding and sending movies directly to YouTube, to an iPhone via iTunes, and to Apple’s enhanced .Mac service.

However, applying the title “iMovie” to a brand new application has resulted in a few differences that are likely to flummox people accustomed to previous versions of the program. For example, iMovie ’08 offers no support for third-party plug-ins such as extra effects and transitions. And some features you may be accustomed to aren’t present at all, such as DVD chapter markers, bookmarks, and themes. Also, iMovie ’08 can only import (not open) projects created in earlier versions, and even then the process only acquires the raw video; transitions and effects don’t move over. So, although this advice has always been true, it’s even more important now: If you’re working on an iMovie project in a previous version, finish the project in
that version

The good news is: if you’re upgrading to iLife ’08, your previous version of iMovie HD 6 remains intact, giving you the option of editing video with either application. But if you’ve just purchased a new iMac that comes with iLife ’08 pre-installed, you didn’t have that option until today.

Apple has now made iMovie HD 6 available free for owners of iMovie ’08. The installer checks to see if iLife ’08 is installed, so it’s not a gift to owners of earlier versions of iMovie. iMovie HD 6 is a 154.6 MB download.

iDVD ’08, on the other hand, sees relatively few changes: mostly better performance, professional grade encoding, and 10 new animated themes.

iWeb ’08 — Apple’s easy Web-page creation software, iWeb ’08, gained support for widgets that you can embed in your pages, much as YouTube videos can be embedded in any Web page. It’s thus easy to add Google Maps to a Web page now, or even almost any HTML snippet. If you want to make a little money from your site, you can easily integrate ads via Google AdSense, registering directly from within iWeb. iWeb ’08 also supports personal domains, provides media index pages, and enables you to change themes.

GarageBand ’08 — The signature new feature in Apple’s music-editing component of iLife is Magic GarageBand, a way to play music in a “virtual band”: choose a genre, assign some instruments on the faux stage, and then pick an instrument for you to play along with a pre-loaded track. (Guitar Hero seems to have made a slight impact on GarageBand.)

GarageBand ’08 also supports multi-track recording and 24-bit audio, and adds a new arrangements feature that lets you define sections of a song (such as the chorus) and easily reposition them elsewhere in the song. A visual equalizer enables you to change EQ bands by dragging sections of a waveform; professionally designed presets are also available.

.Mac Bulks Up Storage and Transfer — Almost as an aside, Jobs said that .Mac’s current 1 GB of storage “might be a little small.” Now, .Mac accounts include 10 GB of storage for a combination of mail and iDisk. iDisk is a rubric that covers anything you store in your own folders, and all publicly available content uploaded through old and new iLife tools. That’s a much better limit for a $99.95 per year offering. A Family Pack option provides one master account and four sub-accounts for $179.95.

Jobs also said that .Mac users will have 100 GB of monthly data transfer included. That’s a far cry from the early days, when an amount wasn’t specified, and a tenfold leap from the previous limit of 10 GB per month (see “Apple Updates .Mac with More Storage and Features,” 2005-09-26), now close to or exceeding that offered by most Web hosts.

The additional levels of storage and transfer are correspondingly higher, too: an additional $49.95 or $99.95 per year brings the total storage and transfer to 20 GB and 200 GB or 30 GB and 300 GB, respectively.

Base pricing has also been set for other nations: Canada (CAN$139), the euro zone (€99) the UK (£68.99), and the non-EU European nations and Africa (€81.82). All countries not enumerated pay U.S. prices. Upgrades are also available.

Apple’s making good money; Apple said that .Mac has 1.7 million subscribers, which is something north of $150 million per year when you factor in discounts for retailer kit sales and bundles, while adding on for storage upgrades and family plans. People with storage upgrades will likely drop down, saving $50 to $100 per year without giving anything up.

With the ongoing drop in storage, operations, and data transfer costs, it’s neat that Apple is now catching up with their nearest competitors. It’s the first time .Mac has seemed like a good deal for what subscribers might typically use the service for, instead of a necessary purchase for those of us tied to the Mac platform for synchronization and media.

It’s interesting that Apple has retained the subscription model in the face of much more heavily used ad-supported Web services from companies like AOL, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. Those four services tend to focus on email, with more limited or no support for sharing media. Yahoo’s Flickr Pro service, for instance, includes unlimited photo uploads and unlimited viewing each month for $24.95 per year; free Flickr accounts have a 100 MB monthly upload limit.

Note that if you have iDisk Syncing turned on in your .Mac preference pane, it will now use 10 GB of space on your hard disk, which could be problematic on a Mac with relatively little free space available, especially laptops with smaller hard disks. The simple workaround is to turn off iDisk Synching.

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