Review: Apple iMovie for iPad 2
Like Pages, Keynote, and Numbers before it, iMovie -- along with GarageBand -- is the latest Mac application to make the journey over to the iPad. Unlike those other applications, iMovie arrived first on the iPhone and iPod touch before coming to the iPad 2 in a free update, making the existing application Universal and saving prior users from needing to pay twice. In gaining iPad 2 compatibility, iMovie also grew a new interface that sits somewhere between the limited iPhone version and the more robust Mac application. Notably, the app does not run properly on the original iPad.
Unfortunately for those hoping that the app could serve as a full mobile replacement for the desktop app, iMovie for the iPad 2 appears to require that videos start out in Apple’s .mov format—meaning that it’s unable to do anything with some videos pulled in from digital cameras supported by the iPad Camera Connection Kit. The Kit can be used, however, to bring in video shot with the higher-quality iPhone 4 rear camera, as well as par-quality video from the fourth-generation iPod touch, and any other device that records .mov files, including some popular Canon cameras. If you have a supported camera, or just want to edit videos shot on the iPad 2 itself, you’ll find a surprisingly capable video editor with both advantages and disadvantages over its desktop predecessor, but considerably more power than its smaller-screened sibling.
Upon launch of the application, users are greeted by a screen that resembles the outside of a movie theater, complete with a marquee that’s used to display the project information, and movie poster-like previews of each project. Buttons underneath provide sharing options, with support for YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, and CNN iReport built-in, along with the ability to send the file to the Camera Roll or iTunes, plus direct-from-iPad 2 playback options. An info button in the bottom left corner brings up an extensive help menu, and a trash can in the opposite corner lets users delete unwanted projects. Notably, AirPlay can be used when playing a project from the playback interface, but the video requires conversion first.
Once a project has been selected, users are taken to a multi-modal screen with a playback area, project timeline, and, in horizontal orientation, a media content browser. In vertical mode, the media browser is a pop-over, accessed via a button at the top of the screen, an interesting inclusion as it’s obvious that the app is meant to be used in horizontal orientation. The media browser contains tabs for accessing video, photo, and audio content, the prior two taking their content from the iPad’s Photo Library, including the Camera Roll, while the latter combines a small number of built-in audio tracks with the iPad’s iPod library. iMovie’s playback area contains buttons at the top for returning to the project selection screen, undoing the most recent action, and accessing the project’s settings, where users can select the project’s theme—new options include Modern, Bright, Playful, Neon, Travel, Simple, News, or CNN iReport—and toggle options for theme music, background music looping, and fade in from/fade out to black. Buttons at the bottom of the playback menu toggle the audio waveform view in the timeline on and off, and allow users to add audio voiceovers or clips recorded from within the app directly to the timeline.
To begin building a movie, users simply need to add movies and photos from the media content browser to the timeline. Users can tap and hold on a movie clip to preview it in the playback area before moving it to the timeline, which they can do by double-tapping on the clip, or by tapping a down arrow button. iMovie automatically adds a simple transition between any two clips or photos, and users can then pinch vertically on a transition to enter a precision editing mode, which is unique to the iPad in the iOS version. Pinch to zoom gestures can also be used on the timeline itself to allow for more accurate fine tuning, or a more comprehensive view of the project’s structure. Double-tapping on a clip in the timeline brings up a pop-over menu where users can set the title style (if any), adjust the clip’s location information and audio, and delete the clip—something that can also be accomplished by simply dragging the clip back out of the timeline. When a clip is selected, yellow bars appear at the beginning and end, with circles above that can be dragged to cut down the portion of the clip that will appear in the finished product; this option appears in both the timeline and in the media browser. Selecting a clip and dragging downward will cut the clip at the playhead indicator, while photos get an automatic Ken Burns slow pan effect that can be fine tuned in the playback window.
Users can also select audio files from the media browser to add to the timeline for use as background music; these clips can be double-tapped to adjust the volume, and multiple clips can be added, provided that looping is turned off. The application automatically applies “ducking” for movie clips that have audio—or that don’t have their audio turned off—letting audiences hear both audio from the clip and the background music simultaneously. Unfortunately, the app is currently missing the audio waveform sliders found in the Mac version that allow for more advanced audio adjustment, a feature that would be much appreciated in an update.
This simple yet powerful workflow enables easy, quick content creation—we put together the sample video below using video imported from an iPhone 4, along with audio from the built-in background music library, in a little under an hour. Performance is notably zippy, with few slowdowns and virtually no lag when moving through the timeline, a testament to the iPad 2’s processing power. While some users have discovered a way to install the app on the original iPad, the workaround is rather convoluted, and leaves the device unable to sync with iTunes until iMovie is uninstalled. In addition, some users have reported crashes and hangs when attempting to export/share clips on the original iPad; for obvious reasons, we don’t recommend trying it.
Our video sharing and importing results have been mixed. We had no problem uploading sample movies to MobileMe or Facebook, had one success and one failure for unknown reasons when uploading to YouTube, and experienced extended export times when uploading to Vimeo. Importing videos worked fine with a Canon PowerShot S90 camera, but wouldn’t work with Canon’s HF100-series video cameras, which use H.264 AVCHD, nor videos shot with a Nikon D90.
As much as we enjoyed using iMovie on the iPad 2, we were on the fence between B+ and A- ratings due to the lack of codec support. The app will be of the greatest benefit to users who can bring in higher-quality video from an iPhone 4 or point-and-shoot camera, and less for users who are limited to editing video shot with the weak cameras inside the iPad 2. Apple provides no sort of third-party camera compatibility list, leaving it up to the user to figure out whether their equipment is compatible with the app. A list of this sort would be extremely useful, and a further selling point for the Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit that iMovie depends upon.
While iMovie for iPad 2 might lack some of the more advanced features of its desktop counterpart—automatic camera shake correction and more fine grain audio controls come to mind—as well as broader codec support, what is here allows users to create nice-looking videos and home movies with minimal fuss. The workflow is actually far more satisfying than the typical editing suite, even including the desktop version of iMovie, because it’s so streamlined. Despite iMovie’s limitations, it’s undoubtedly the first must-have iPad app specific to the iPad 2, and might be enough to convince aspiring movie makers to make the jump to the new model, especially if Apple manages to expand its codec support to include video files shot by more popular DSLR cameras. That’s saying a lot for an app that costs only $5 and was a free upgrade for existing users, the affordable pricing and nice UI meriting our high recommendation despite its potentially troubling codec limitations. We’re genuinely excited to see where Apple takes it from here.