Instant Expert: Apple’s iLife ‘09 New iPod + iPhone Features

Instant Expert: Apple’s iLife ‘09 New iPod + iPhone Features 1

As you probably already know, Apple’s final keynote presentation at Macworld Expo 2009 earlier this month was largely lacking in news for iPod and iPhone users, focusing instead on updates to two Macintosh software suites and the 17” MacBook Pro computer. One of those suites, iWork ‘09, was released two weeks ago with the ability to use iPhone and iPod touch devices as a remote control for Keynote ‘09 slideshow presentations. The other suite, iLife ‘09 ($79), was just released today, adding several new features that may be of interest to some iPhone and iPod fans.

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For those who have read about or watched video of the keynote, there don’t appear to be any major surprises in the iLife ‘09 programs—iPhoto, GarageBand, iMovie, iDVD, and iWeb have each received bumps that improve their functionality for Mac users, including such things as photo facial recognition and map functionality. But after testing them all today, we have a better sense of how the new iPod and iPhone features work, and what their limitations are. The details are below.


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iPhoto ‘09: Enhanced iPod/iPhone Slideshows. If you’ve used iPods or iPhones, you know that any photos you synchronize to the device using iTunes can be viewed individually, or in a simple playback mode that switches between images using device-generated realtime transition effects. Apple’s keynote presentation earlier this month included an impressive demonstration that made it seem as if iPhoto ‘09 could rapidly export much more sophisticated photo slideshows, including some cool new 3-D transition effects, directly to these devices. While a new slideshow export feature is definitely included in the software, it doesn’t work exactly as we’d hoped.


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Many people assumed that Apple would release both iPhoto ‘09 and a corresponding iPhone and iPod software update to add new and more powerful effects to the presently anemic selection of transitions these devices presently include. Instead, iPhoto ‘09 does everything itself. It lets you create slideshows with your preferred visual theme, then simply exports the slideshows as movies with the photos and transitions, using a H.264 video format that plays on the iPhone and iPods. These movies then need to be synchronized to your device using iTunes, and wind up along with all of your other movies in the Movies section of the device, rather than under Photos.


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This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. On a positive note, the “Export Photos > Slideshow” command enables iPhoto ‘09 to make slideshows that also work on less powerful iPods, such as the iPod nano and iPod classic. And once you see how impressive the slideshows are, you may wonder whether even the touchscreen iPod or iPhone devices could do the same things in realtime.


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There are consequences, though. An iPhoto ‘09 slideshow we made from 182 photos that were already synchronized to the iPhone, consuming 118MB of storage, added an additional 61MB to the device as an H.264-format movie. The movie took 15 or 20 minutes to export on a brand new MacBook, and since it’s been pre-rendered rather than generated from individually synchronized photos, it doesn’t benefit from the instant library updating capabilities of iTunes—if you want to add a new photo, or delete one, you’ll need to re-render the whole slideshow. Tapping the iPhone’s 3-D capabilities would have been a better, if not easier way to get similar results, though we suspect that the finished product might not have looked as smooth. In any case, users should view the new feature as an alternative to prior iPhone and iPod photo slideshows, rather than as a replacement for them.


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iPhoto ‘09: iPhone Photo GPS Importing. Another iPhone-related addition is that iPhoto can now recognize the GPS data that’s been stored in iPhone and iPhone 3G photos, and use it to place these photos instantly on a map and list of locations you’ve visited. This is a sign of things to come on future GPS-equipped cameras from other companies, and for now, a nice little asset of the iPhone 3G in particular that sets it apart from many other cameraphones. Note that, at least for now, this feature only works with images that were taken with the iPhone’s own camera; not surprisingly, it does not work with screenshots that you’ve captured yourself using an iPhone or iPod touch’s screengrabber feature.


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GarageBand ‘09: Improved Ringtone Creator. Though GarageBand ‘09 has a number of new and cool features—particularly, the ability to use a combination of videos and animated instruments to teach users how to play the guitar and piano—there’s only one semi-notable addition for the iPhone. The prior version of GarageBand received a simple ringtone creator for the iPhone, which has been discussed in an earlier iLounge article, and upgraded a little.


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GarageBand ‘09 now references the ringtone creator on its opening screen, letting you choose to open the feature either with a single sample track, multiple synthesized instrument tracks, or two empty spaces for voice samples to be added. If you’re trying to create ringtones from your favorite existing songs, using the single sample track feature opens an 18-second song sample that can be deleted and replaced with any unprotected song you want to import from iTunes; alternately, you can compose your own tune or add your own voice using the other presets.


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In any case, a yellow bar at the top of the audio sample serves as a “cycle bar” that lets you choose up to 40 seconds of a song to transform into a ringtone, by default cycling back to the beginning after reaching your chosen stopping point. You adjust the length and position of the bar to create your looping ringtone. Once you’ve picked the portion of the song to export, you just use the Share menu and Send Ringtone to iTunes.


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Actually creating the ringtone using these steps is a snap—the file gets exported into iTunes as a 128kbps .M4R file, immediately able to be synced to an iPhone—but GarageBand ‘09 doesn’t walk you through these steps to make the process as easy as it might. Apple still sells ringtones through the iTunes Store and unfortunately seems to be keeping the GarageBand process a little mysterious to generate revenue. It’s a shame, but at least GarageBand has the feature.

iMovie ‘09, iWeb ‘09, and iDVD ‘09. While each of these programs has received new features, none appear at this point to be iPod- or iPhone-related in any way. Interestingly, despite the inclusion of some cool new themes, iDVD is not mentioned in any way on the package, save for in the tiniest print on the side label; the package otherwise lists the suite as containing only iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand, and iWeb. Whether this is a sign of iDVD’s declining importance, or a hint that the next iLife version will either omit it, combine it with iMovie, or contain a renamed version—iBlu-Ray or iDisc, perhaps?—is unclear.

That’s pretty much all there is in terms of new functionality for the iPod and iPhone in iLife ‘09. We’ll update this article if we discover anything else hidden in this increasingly powerful software suite.