First taste of iLife '09: iPhoto's face recognition

We take a first look at iLife '09, Apple's suite of lifestyle applications that include iPhoto '09, iMovie '09, GarageBand, iWeb, and iDVD.

Nicole Lee Former Editor
Nicole Lee is a senior associate editor for CNET, covering cell phones, Bluetooth headsets, and all things mobile. She's also a fan of comic books, video games, and of course, shiny gadgets.
Nicole Lee
4 min read

Jasmine posted her brief sneak peek at iLife '09 yesterday with a slide show, and it's pretty clear that major improvements have come to Apple's suite of lifestyle applications, most notably iPhoto '09, iMovie '09, and GarageBand '09. Since I'm an amateur photography nerd with aspirations of rock stardom, I'm most interested in iPhoto and GarageBand, though the new iMovie may be enough for me to whip out my Flip camcorder and record more than just dogs riding on skateboards. Of course, iWeb '09 has a few updates, too. I have just got through the iPhoto '09 face recognition hurdle, and am just starting on the rest of the iLife suite. So here's an in-depth look at the facial recognition bit of iPhoto, with more to come later.

iPhoto '09
Lets start with the belle of the ball, iPhoto '09. Why do I say that? Because the new Faces and Places feature on iPhoto '09 was definitely one of the biggest news out of Phil Schiller's Macworld keynote. While iPhoto '08 introduced Events, which lets you group photos based on the dates they were taken, iPhoto '09 introduced three new features that got the Mac community buzzing--facial recognition, geotagging, and social network support. For the facial recognition, you don't have to tag every single photo you have with a name and a face; the idea is that iPhoto '09 will be smart enough to do the facial recognition for you. However, it will only work after you do the necessary legwork to make it all happen.

Assuming you don't have photos in your iPhoto library already, you'll have to import them. Me, I have about 3,500 photos sitting in my Aperture library on the laptop, and that's not even counting the more than 10,000 photos I have in my external hard drive at home. So if you're a big photography dork like me, it'll take some time for all the photos to import over. Once that happens, you can immediately start identifying faces and names. Sometimes iPhoto will be smart enough to detect faces for you, and sometimes it won't be. If it does detect a face, it'll display a square over what it thinks is a face, with a placeholder name "unknown face" underneath it. If it doesn't detect a face, you'll have to hit the "Add Missing Face" button on the bottom left, select the face, and add a name. Once you identify a face with a name, you can go to the Faces corkboard, select a face, and iPhoto '09 will scout out your entire library to find photos with a similar face. Once it does, it's up to you to go through the results to confirm or not confirm if the photos really do show that person. This is how the facial recognition training works.

The tiger's ear is a face? Really?
The tiger's ear is a face? Really? Nicole Lee/CBS Interactive

In my brief 30 minutes or so futzing around with the application, the facial recognition is impressive, but it's by no means perfect. The biggest hurdle seems to be with simply detecting faces in the first place. Not every photo of a person is necessarily a perfect head-on style portrait, especially if you take a lot of candid shots of people looking away from the camera, resulting in a less-than-ideal profile. What's weirder is that iPhoto often sees faces that aren't even there--any combination of shapes or shadows that sort of resemble a face gets picked up mistakenly. In the beginning, it can get a little tiresome selecting and confirming faces.

Once you're done adding the name to the face, you can then run the face detection engine. After that, you should go through the list of results to confirm or not confirm them.
Once you're done adding the name to the face, you can then run the face detection engine. After that, you should go through the list of results to confirm or not confirm them. Nicole Lee/CBS Interactive

As for the actual face recognition itself, this will only get better the more samples you have. I tried this out on my own photos, and at first almost every single person who wears glasses was mistaken as yours truly. Alternately, almost everyone who had a beard was identified as the same person. As I started to really go through my photos, confirming and not confirming them, did the results get better. It's not ideal, but the facial recognition goes a long way in making photo organization that much easier, so I'm mostly happy with it.

The next big feature add-on in iPhoto '09 is Places, which lets you geotag your photos. I haven't played around with this too much yet, but I can give you a few brief details about it. The Places feature is especially useful if you have a GPS-enabled camera or camera phone, since iPhoto '09 will detect the longitude and latitude of photos taken with those devices immediately. Bear in mind though, that if you took the photos at a place where you can't get GPS signal, the location won't register. But even if you don't have a GPS camera, you can enter in the location manually by going to the Info page on each photo (you go there by selecting the "i" icon on the bottom right of each photo). Now you can see where your photos are on a map.

The third big update in iPhoto '09 is that you can upload the photos to Facebook, Flickr, or MobileMe. If you add Facebook IDs to the faces in the photos, iPhoto can then match them with your list of Facebook friends. Similarly, the geotag information in your photos is transferred over when you upload your photos to Flickr. Last, but not least, iPhoto '09 comes with a few image enhancement tools such as red-eye reduction, smart saturation, definition improvement, and more. The slide show tool is also improved, as there's an option to use the face detection to do the Ken Burns pan and zoom effect. When you're all done, you can load the slide show to your iPod or iPhone for portable viewing.

I'll need the whole weekend to get going on the rest of iLife '09 here, but here's a taste of what's coming: iMovie '09 sees more advanced features but there's still no timeline, music lessons make GarageBand '09 completely worth the money, and iWeb '09 still can't win me over despite its newfangled widgets.