iLife '09 review: iLife '09

MSRP: $79.00

The Good Apple iLife '09 sees several improvements over iLife '08: iPhoto now has face recognition, geotagging, and social network integration; iMovie regains a few advanced tools; and music lessons come to GarageBand.

The Bad iPhoto's face detection isn't perfect, and the social network integration needs some work; iMovie's great for simple editing, but advanced users might find it lacking.

The Bottom Line Apple iLife '09 is a great application suite for simple media organizing and editing, and the addition of features like face recognition, geotagging, and music lessons makes it worth the update.

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8.0 Overall
  • Setup 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Support 8

Apple's iLife '09 may be just an evolutionary upgrade from iLife '08, but oh, what an evolution. iPhoto gets some major new features with face recognition, geotagging, and social networking integration; iMovie sees a return of advanced features that went away with '08; GarageBand gets some major star power with music lessons from genuine recording artists; and iWeb makes it that much easier to design your own personal Web site. If you care about face recognition and basic music lessons at all, iLife '09 is a must-have upgrade. And for $79, it's not a bad deal, plus it's free with a purchase of a new Mac.

System requirements are as follows: an Intel-based Mac, a Mac PowerPC G5, or a Mac PowerPC G4. Older Macs require at least a 2GHz processor. If you don't want either iMovie '09 or iMovie '08, you can still get iMovie HD (or the '06 version), and that one will be able to run a slower machine. Our iLife '09 installation took around 15 minutes.

iPhoto '09
iPhoto has traditionally been the headliner in the iLife suite, and it's no different in the iLife '09 package. While iPhoto '08 introduced Events, which let you group photos based on the dates that 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. But that happens only after you do the necessary legwork.

Assuming you don't have photos in your iPhoto library already, you'll have to import them. We had around 3,500 photos sitting in our Aperture library, so it took some time to transfer all the photos over. After you're done importing your photos, you can immediately start identifying faces and names. Sometimes iPhoto will be smart enough to detect faces for you, and sometimes not. If it does detect a face for you, 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. Then you select "Confirm Name" and 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 facial recognition is impressive, but it's by no means perfect. Detecting faces in the first place is the biggest hurdle. Not every photo is necessarily a perfect head-on style portrait, and iPhoto has trouble with such shots. 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. False positives are better than false negatives, but it can get a little tiresome in the beginning.

As for the actual face recognition itself, this will get better the more photos you have. For example, on our first attempt, almost every person who wore glasses was mistaken as the same person. Only when we started to really go through the 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. It's definitely better than going through each photo one-by-one, so the Faces feature gets thumbs-up.

If you click the "i" button on the lower right hand of the photos on the Faces corkboard, you will see more information about that person, like the number of photos you have of him or her. There are also two optional fields, where you can enter the person's full name and e-mail address. Since you can match a face with an e-mail address, it would be nice if iPhoto could incorporate the Faces feature into Address Book for photo ID.

The next big feature add-on in iPhoto '09 is Places, which lets you geotag your photos with a location. The feature is especially useful if you have a GPS-enabled camera or camera phone and can get a GPS signal, since iPhoto '09 will immediately detect the longitude and latitude of photos taken with those devices. Just note that if you're using the camera on the new iPhone 3G, you'll have to turn on location services in the phone's settings so the iPhone can detect the GPS information.

To start with Places, select the "i" icon at the bottom right of a photo for a pop-up information box. Click the "Enter photo location" field and select "New place" if this photo was taken at a place you've never recorded before. A map window will then pop up. If your camera is GPS-enabled, there'll already be a pin pointed at the photo's location. If you don't have a GPS device, you can enter in your location manually; just enter in something like "Disneyland, California" in the Google Search field, and Google will do the location work for you. Once you're satisfied that the pin is pointed at the right spot on the map, just select "Drop Pin" and name the place. Once finished, you can see a map with all of your photo pins.

Facebook and Flickr integration
Another major update to iPhoto '09 is the ability to upload your photos to Facebook, Flickr, or MobileMe. You also can e-mail them or add them to your iWeb folder for use on your iWeb's photo page or blog. For Facebook, if the names you assign to the faces are the same as your friend's Facebook ID, iPhoto will match them with that friend automatically once you upload them to your account. If a friend adds photo tags to the published photos on Facebook, the names will automatically sync to iPhoto as well.

As for the Flickr integration, you'll have to authorize the iPhoto Uploader on your Flickr account. From there, you can select the photo size you wish to upload (Web, Optimized, or Actual Size) and whether you want the photo to be viewed by anyone, only family and friends, or just you. If you want, you can also upload an entire album at once. If you matched those photos with a particular location in Places, that photo will appear on your Flickr map.

Once you upload them, iPhoto automatically creates a Flickr photo set for you, and the title of the photo set is based on the photo's Event name. Also, any changes you make to the titles or descriptions in iPhoto will sync with Flickr, and vice versa. Truth be told, we're a little annoyed that iPhoto creates a photo set every time we upload something to Flickr because we don't necessarily want that, especially if you're only uploading a single photo. (A whole photo set for one photo seems a bit silly.) What's more, there are no other Flickr settings in the iPhoto Uploader; you can't add the photos to non-iPhoto sets, add them to Flickr pools, or add tags to your photos. This severely reduces the functionality of the Flickr integration in iPhoto '09. We would recommend using Flickr's own Flickr Uploader instead.

Image editing
In addition to these three new features, iPhoto '09 has also made some improvements in its existing features. First, there are improved editing tools. There's now a "Smart Saturation" check box below the Saturation slider so that you can enhance the vibrancy of your photos while keeping natural-looking skin tones. In our tests, we found this to work as advertised.

Another image editing improvement is a better Enhance tool, which promises to improve a photo with a single click. As the one-click wonder of iPhoto '09, Enhance is designed to better adjust contrast, exposure, and color in the photos. Sliders in the Adjust window move automatically to detail the changes.

Other image editing enhancements include a new red-eye correction tool, a Definition slider to adjust clarity and sharpness, highlights and shadows, and an improved retouch brush. The red-eye correction tool now uses iPhoto's face detection so it automatically knows where the red eyes are. The Definition slider is just as it sounds; sort of an amateur version of Photoshop's Unsharp Mask for cleaning out blurry edges. Highlights and shadows is simply a way to adjust the light and dark areas in your photos--Aperture users might find this familiar, as it's the same technology from Apple's pro-level photo management software. Lastly, the improved retouch brush now detects edges, so it's easier to clean out stains, blemishes, or anything unsightly in the photo.

The last major update to iPhoto '09 is the revamped slide-show tool. It now has six themes: Ken Burns (pan-zoom effect), Classic, Scrapbook, Shatter, Sliding Panels, or Snapshots. Thanks to the new face detection in iPhoto '09, image cropping in the slide shows now centers on the person's face, which works really well in the pan and zoom effect in the Ken Burns. Of course, you can also add your own music to the slide show, and if you prefer, you can create your own custom slide-show theme. A nice bonus is the ability to export your slide show to iTunes for syncing to your iPod, iPhone, or Apple TV. Note that you can only do so after you exit the slide-show interface, and make sure you export it immediately after creating it; it's easier that way.

One final note to the new iPhoto '09 is that you can use it to create new printed albums or keepsake books complete with the maps you created using your location data in Places. You can even customize the map with notes, zoom in or out, and create route lines.

iMovie '09
When iMovie '08 first debuted, there was quite a substantial outcry in the Mac community. iMovie '08 was drastically different compared with its predecessors, without a lot of the depth and advanced features to which most Mac users have become accustomed. The outcry got so loud that Apple allowed users free downloads of iMovie '06 (also known as iMovie HD), which offered the lost functionality.

Fortunately, it appears that Apple has learned its lesson; iMovie '09 brings back many of the features that were missing from iMovie '08. These include dynamic themes, video effects like speed and reverse play, and plenty of new title animations. And of course, iMovie '09 has a couple of new offerings that help replace the missing timeline that was in iMovie HD.

Precision editor and advanced drag and drop
The most interesting addition is a new precision editor window. Right-click on one of your selected clips and choose "Precision Editor" to access it. The precision editor essentially lets you "zoom in" on your video clips, magnifying the transition between the selected video clip and the one preceding it. A grayed-out area will show where the clips overlap in transition, which will give you better control over the spot you want to cut.

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