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iPhoto '08: Apple learns to skim

After announcing a tweaked iLife recently, Apple invited us to view the new product. We discovered that iPhoto has benefited from features borrowed from other Apple software

Yesterday Apple invited Crave to touch and stroke the new iMac, iLife and iWork products at its UK headquarters in the West End of London. We were particularly keen to find out if the improved iPhoto can compete with Google's magnificent Windows-only photo-organisation program Picasa. We quickly discovered that Apple has built on one of its greatest strengths -- integration across its whole range of software -- to stick ideas from other programs into the previously lacklustre iPhoto.

Photos are automatically sorted into events. We know, we know, it's date sorting, but hey, it just works, right? You navigate through photos within each event by 'skimming'. This is like a mouse mash-up of iTunes Cover Flow and the iPhone's gesture-based navigation. You skim your photos by hovering over the cover image of each event, with the speed controlled by how fast you mouse left or right. To change the cover photo, simply skip to the picture you want and hit the spacebar.

Individual photos can then be tagged with keywords, flagged as favourites, or hidden if they're just average but not quite deletion fodder. Star-based ratings of photos and smart lists will be familiar to users of iTunes. Combine all these together and you could create a smart-list folder that automatically updates itself with all five-star pictures tagged with a certain person's name, independent from the event folder they reside in. This means you use events to organise your massive library, and smart lists to home in on more specific contexts.

Apple has once again delved into its other software to beef up the editing options by borrowing from pro photography program Aperture. The palette does some similar things to Picasa's, such as using sliders to boost shadows or highlights and so on, but has more options.

Once you've organised and edited your pictures, you'll want to share them. Although Apple has bowed to the inevitable by integrating YouTube uploading in iMovie, it's not so keen on sharing photos via Flickr and other services. Apple would rather you paid for the .Mac Internet service and Apple keepsake books than give money to Flickr and Photobox but, hey, that's business, and third-party uploaders are available.

There's no denying that the presentation of the .Mac Web gallery beats Flickr, Webshots and just about everyone else into a cocked hat. Most impressively, .Mac integrates both ways with iPhoto, so if someone uploads an image to your gallery, a high-res editable version pops up as if by magic on your desktop. Still, we're not sure if all that's worth £69 per year.

iPhoto is available now as part of iLife for £55, or comes bundled with all new Macs. -Rich Trenholm