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Apple iLife ’11

APPLE ILIFE 11 APPLE SOFTWARE

Rating: ★★★★½

iLife ’11 features a new and improved version of the iPhoto app, which includes full-screen view and the ability to share photos on Facebook and Flickr from within the app.

iPhoto can also pull in photos directly from your Facebook and Flickr feeds, which will live within the interface. There’s also the new Places functionality which highlights geotagged photos on a map.

The UI – which also includes a slideshow feature – has also been overhauled to look a little more like an iOS app than previous versions.

Also part of iLife ’11 is a new version of iMovie. The big news here is the inclusion of face detection technology which makes it easier to find movie frames featuring certain people from within your footage.

There are also 15 new movie trailer pre-sets to allow amateur auteurs to compose the best possible advert for their new blockbuster.

iMovie ’11 also boasts a better audio editing experience to allow easier adjustments to audio levels and new “one-click” sound effects.

Garage Band has also undergone a facelift, with a cool feature called “groove time” which brings all of the other instruments into time with the “star instruments”, so if the guitars are out of time with the drums, you can fix that in one click.

The new “How am I playing” feature will allow users to play along with real orchestras and receive feedback from Garage Band on their instrumental performance – kind of like a Guitar Hero for Garage Band.

iWeb 3.0.2 and iDVD 7.1 are also included in iLife, but not reviewed separately here.

Apple iPhoto ’11

Apple’s iPhoto ’11 is all about new ways of enjoying and sharing your photos. This is achieved with improvements to the full-screen mode, the online sharing features and the books, cards and slideshow tools.

Also, the full-screen mode has been extended so that you can now browse your Faces, Places, Events, Albums and Projects. You can choose which of these you want using buttons at the bottom of the screen and then double-click the Album, say, that you want to look at.

Albums look very different now in full-screen view. Previously, they were just entries in the source list, but in this new mode they get their own icons, just like Events – they’re styled like stacks of photos, with the Key Photo you’ve selected on the top. When you’ve finished browsing your Album, you click a button at the topleft to go back to the main view.

The full-screen mode is a terrific way to browse your photos, especially if you’ve got other people crowded round your Mac to watch.

Full-screen view

But there is a flaw. Full-screen view feels different and separate to the standard view. It’s like an alternative interface rather than an extension to the existing one. And you’ll still have to swap back to the standard view for some routine housekeeping tasks, including imports.

Full screen

Never mind, though, because iPhoto ’11 has lots more to offer. iPhoto will now download existing Facebook albums from your account, however they were uploaded; it can post pictures to your Wall, as well as albums, and can upload Profile pictures too.

The comments synchronisation is smart – comments made by your Facebook pals show up in the photo’s Info panel.

iPhoto’s new book tools are equally impressive. The highlights here are the new dynamic theme browser, which uses your own photos to preview the book design, the fact that you can edit books in full-screen mode, and an All Pages view that shows you the layout of your whole book in a single screen.

The Autoflow feature will make your highest-rated photos the biggest, use face detection to crop photos intelligently and keep photos together when they were taken on the same day. It really does take just a few minutes to make a ready-to-print, professional-looking book, and the design themes are good enough to flatter even the most amateurish pictures.

Apple’s new letterpress cards are pretty pricey, but it’s the quality of the production process and the finished product that you’re paying for. And while a couple of the six new slideshow themes are a bit odd, the overall standard is excellent.

But is this all a bit superficial? Yes, a bit. If all you want iPhoto for is to organise and fix up your photos, there’s really not much here that’s different. The reorganisation of the editing tools is handy, but other aspects of the interface design are less successful.

iPhoto '11

You now have to click a button to activate the search box on the bottom left, as well as using the thumping great Info panel on the right rather than a little box at the bottom of the source list to type in photo descriptions.

Apple iMovie ’11

Since iMovie’s complete overhaul in 2007, its mantra has always been to appeal to novice users. While more experienced video editors complained of this streamlining, beginners positively lapped up the changes. The interface was clearer, the options sparse, and the way it worked was completely different from any other video-editing program on the market.

Over the last two revisions, more advanced tools have been added, but these are cleverly hidden by default so as not to intimidate a person launching the program for the first time. Yet they offer enough power to perform complex edits without having to resort to more advanced applications such as Final Cut Express or Final Cut Pro.

So what’s been introduced this time around? The feature that’s taken most of the limelight is Movie Trailers. With it, iMovie can help you create impressive-looking trailers. You can even add a company logo that looks uncannily like one of those from the big Hollywood studios.

iMovie '11

But although it works incredibly well and iMovie will tell you which shot you need next, finding a requested close-up or wide shot within your clips can be a daunting task. Therefore, don’t think about using Movie Trailers until you’ve analysed your footage using the People Finder command.

This process also figures out the type of shot that’s been used, and coupled with iMovie’s keyword tool, it makes creating a trailer a breeze.

Audio is back

The other big new feature is the re-introduction of audio editing (it was available in iMovie ’06 but has been conspicuous by its absence ever since).

The way it’s handled is remarkably simple: every action is performed by dragging and dropping: if you need to raise a clip’s volume, drag its audio level up. Need to lower a specific section? Select it then drag down – iMovie even creates handles on either side to gradually fade the changes (drag these points to alter them as well).

iMovie '11

You also have a collection of 20 audio filters to alter the track’s pitch, make it sound as if it was recorded in a wide open space, make a voice more robotic, and so on.

The new One-Step Effects are designed to make complex visuals in seconds with hardly any input from you: just select the clip, or part of the clip, you wish to modify then go to the Menu Bar’s Clip menu to select from one of seven options.

But that’s not to say these effects aren’t customisable – that part’s up to you. There have been a few tweaks in other places too: you can now upload your finished film to Vimeo and Facebook in addition to YouTube and MobileMe. You even have the option of exporting your work at the highest HD resolution available: 1920×1080.

The Maps feature has been improved as well and now gains a zoom option, although this is nowhere near good enough if all you want to do is depict your trip between Bath and Oxford. However, it’s still the best tool for transcontinental travel.

Uploading upgrade

The best part, though, is that all these new features are tucked away and casual users would most likely never notice them. For instance, you can have a traditional left-to-right timeline view, rather than the default top-to-bottom configuration.

iMovie '11

Apple GarageBand ’11

GarageBand ’11 isn’t a radical upgrade; instead it largely builds on features introduced in GarageBand ’09, along with bringing across useful tools from Logic, Apple’s more advanced audio production offering. The end result is an unremarkable update, but nonetheless one that will without doubt benefit both beginners and dedicated amateurs.

First, it’s worth noting that everything that made GarageBand great last time around remains in this version. You still have first-class tools for the quick-fire creation of loop-based songs and podcasts, while those who want more depth can go for MIDI and recorded audio.

GarageBand '11

There are loads of high-quality voices, effects and mixing tools built in, and a largely intuitive interface for working with everything.

Lessons for everyone

The update is primarily concerned with three things: lessons, electric guitars and timing. On the first of those, Apple has added a bunch more free lessons (including genre-specific collections, such as Pop Piano and Blues Guitar) but, more interestingly, it has gone all ‘Guitar Hero’ on GarageBand with the video game-like ‘How Did I Play?’

This new feature enables you to record your performance alongside the teacher’s and get a running accuracy score. Progress is graphed, so you can easily see if you’re improving over time, and exactly where you’ve been going wrong.

On the piano, this is a fantastic motivational tool and it makes the lessons more fun; on guitar, GarageBand doesn’t always seem able to recognise correctly played chords, to rather comical levels in the Chord Trainer, which we aren’t ashamed to admit led to us yelling “but I am playing E!” at a slightly bemused iMac.

Elsewhere, electric guitarists will be happy to see the amp and stomp box collection expanded. You get seven new amps and five new stomp boxes (bringing the totals to 12 and 15, respectively), providing many hundreds of new combinations for guitarists to rock out to.

Annoyingly, external controller options remain thin on the ground – in fact, GarageBand only officially appears to support the £300 Apogee GiO.

The time is right

On the timing front, Apple’s brought across Groove Matching and Flex Time from Logic. Groove Matching enables slightly sloppy timing between tracks to be globally fixed with a single click and will undoubtedly prove invaluable to many users; Flex Time is for amending the duration of single notes and can be impressive, but we found it more fiddly to use.

GarageBand '11

It’s a pity Apple didn’t bring across multiple time signatures from Logic, too, but perhaps that’s asking for a bit much; however, it wouldn’t kill Apple to finally enable you to open more than one GarageBand project simultaneously to make it easier to move content between your songs. Still, we’re only complaining because we love GarageBand so much.

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Pros

  • iPhoto '11 Good Facebook integration
  • iMovie '11 Great, simple audio-editing tools
  • iMovie '11 Powerful One-Step Effects
  • GarageBand '11 Groove Matching is great

Cons

  • iMovie '11 Needs Snow Leopard
  • GarageBand '11 Flex Time is a bit fiddly
  • GarageBand '11 A little buggy here and there
  • iPhoto '11 Full-screen mode feels separate

Verdict

iPhoto ’11 – You’ll soon adapt to the new screen layouts, though, and iPhoto’s new
sharing options are so good you might be inspired to start using your
photos in new and more adventurous ways, which can only be a good thing.
Besides, it’s only £45 for the whole iLife suite, and for this you’re
getting new versions of iMovie and GarageBand too.

iMovie ’11 – So iMovie ’11 is now easy enough for novices, but powerful enough for
editors serious about film-making yet not quite ready to jump to Final
Cut.

GarageBand ’11 – For amateur musicians, it’s easily worth the price of iLife on its own;
as a pure upgrade, it’s a slightly tougher sell, at least if you own
GarageBand ’09. That said, we reckon Groove Matching alone will pay for
itself in no time if you work with a lot of live-recorded audio, and
‘How Did I Play?’ adds a much-needed injection of fun to lessons, making
you far more likely to persevere with your learning regime.

And
remember: if you’re buying a Mac, iLife is included!


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