Apple iLife '09 - First Look

Apple has updated its iLife application with a number of new features to iPhoto, iMovie and GarageBand, but will it be enough to make you want to spend £54 on the upgrade? We managed to grab some time with the new software application at Macworld 2009 in San Francisco.

iPhoto 09
The main focus in the application, and the keynote for that matter, is iPhoto. It gets three main new features amongst others - Faces, Places and more connect-ability with services such as Facebook, Flickr, and Apple's own MobileMe.

Faces will allow you to organise your pictures via faces of people that you know. Using face detection technology the software will supposedly automatically work out who people are once you've told the software, and then allow you to find that person in your photos.

Tagging people in photos is easy - merely a case of clicking on a Name Faces button and rather like Facebook you can select a face or multiple faces. Once you've done so you can then group your photos by that person - ideal if you want to find a picture of your wife or kids for example.

Sounds great, in our play it worked a treat on the beautifully taken images that Apple had pre-loaded into the system, but people don't all take beautifully taken pictures all the time. So we downloaded a stack of photos from Flickr of us and friends, imported them into iPhoto to see whether the system would cope with average pictures rather than just great ones.

The results, as you probably guessed, already are disappointing. The new software couldn't recognise one of our pictures, and even went as far as to suggest that we looked like an 8-year-old girl it already had in its iPhoto collection.

Not wanting to give up that easily, we tried it with pictures of a friend. Still no luck. Face detection is, it seems, still very hit and miss.

Luckily it's not the only trick Apple has up its sleeve for iPhoto: it has introduced Places as well.

Taking advantage of the GPS geotag feature on the iPhone 3G, users who geotag images (you can also do it with other devices of course from Nokia, Samsung and Nikon to name a few) will be able to place them on a Google map that has been built into the software.

Importing the images with geotag data automatically locates them on the map for you to see where you were when you took them. For those images already in your collection that aren't geotagged - and there are likely to be a lot - you can manually go back through them and add geo data based on the location (if you can remember it).

It's a nice idea and one that is likely to appeal to the travel set, but if you're not one to wander much further than your home town, this isn’t going to get you excited.

What might is the social networking features. Basically you can now sync your Facebook albums, better still you can use the Faces element in sync with Facebook. It's a nice touch and one that is likely to appeal to the web 2.0 crowd.

Users will also be able to make slideshows with new templates and then transfer them to their iPhone or iPod touch in the same format.

iMovie 09
After having such a radical update in iLife 08, it's understandable that iMovie 09 is more about tweaking the offering rather than yet another drastic overhaul.

Here the key features that users get is the image stabilisation feature that will, post-shoot, stabilise your image so you can actually see what you were filming. It's like a software steadycam fix and will certainly help improve movies for the better.

Elsewhere you get a precision editing tool so you can clearly see what you are doing in more detail and overall there seems to have been a stronger focus on making it easier to do everything - be it edit audio or insert a clip in another one.

Like iPhoto, iMovie has also taken advantage of the world stage and you can set places of where clips were filmed. With this information you can then add graphics of you flying around the world - just like Indiana Jones movies (think Temple of Doom).

We were one of the few to actually like the iMovie changes last year and the tweaks here only help to make it a better product.

GarageBand 09
While we are sure there are new features and updates to the music software, the main focus here and one that will be most interesting to aspiring musicians is the addition of a learning element.

You'll get nine free lessons in the box with the ability to buy further tracks to learn. Each lesson walks you through playing the song via a video tutorial and shows you the notes you've got to play and whether they are on a piano or guitar so you can follow. You'll also be able to plug in a piano or guitar and record your track to see how you're doing.

However where Apple has impressed the most is that instead of getting some boring music teacher to teach you how to play Sting's Roxanne, they've gone to Sting and got him to do it instead.

It means you get the artist teaching you in your home - a pretty compelling offer. Of course it's not just Sting. Although the demos we saw were mostly American singers, there are names you'd recognise - Norah Jones and Fall Out Boy for example - and you just know that Apple will keep adding more and more over time. Imagine learning Sweet Child O' Mine with Axel Rose - awesome.

Currently only available for guitar and piano, Apple will also no doubt add more instruments if it takes off.

Verdict

So what do we think? Well iLife is one of those packages that at £54 is always good value for money. Apple don't take advantage with a high price - you'll get it free if you buy a new Mac and there is enough to warrant an upgrade.

However the new features aren't going to be for everyone. We struggled with Faces, while if you're not a jetsetter then Places isn't really going to make a difference.

Likewise if you don't edit home movies that much the new additions won't be drastically missed and if learning a guitar or piano isn't on your list for 2009 you won't miss GarageBand 09.

Think refining an already good product rather than an all out show stopper.

Apple iLife 09 is due out at the end of January.