By Monte FergusonIt has become routine to look forward to a new version of iLife every January. This year Apple did not disappoint. iLife ’09 is another big step forward for the application suite. Increasingly iPhoto has emerged as the flagship program. This year most of the new features, and the attention, belong to iPhoto.
What iPhoto does well is to make storing and organizing digital photos easy. It presents a streamlined face to the user. Rather than force a user to have to think in terms of a hierarchy of nested folders. iPhoto lets you sort and organize your photos using rules like keywords, dates, and events.
iPhoto ’09 continues this trend with two new features called Faces and Places.
Faces uses face detection, to identify the faces of people in your photos, and face recognition, to match the faces that look like the same person. To start using the feature you start by naming a face in a couple of photos. iPhoto will then suggest a set of possible matches for you to confirm, or reject. Based on that initial input it fetches more photos and has you confirm or reject them. As you go along you’re further refining, or teaching, the facial recognition algorithms. Once you’ve identified a face it is added to a virtual corkboard. You can skim the snapshot of the face to choose a different photo as the key photo. Flip the snapshot over to reveal the person’s last name and Facebook ID. You can also use Faces to create Smart Albums. To do so you drag snapshots to the Source list. iPhoto will generate a Smart Album that automatically updates every time you name and confirm more photos of those people.
Places uses data from GPS-enabled cameras, or the camera on the iPhone, to categorize photos by their location. It converts GPS location tags to common, friendly names like Boston Massachusetts. If you don’t have a GPS-enabled phone you can manually add location information to your photos. You add a location by typing the name of a place, entering an address, or dropping a pin on a map. iPhoto makes use of Google maps to track the locations of all of your photos. You can browse your collection by clicking on categories like: country, state, city, or point of interest. Personally I like the map view where you see pins indicating all of the places you have taken photos in.
Themed Slideshows make their debut in iPhoto ’09. Apple now provides six professionally designed themes for slide shows. These include Classic, Shatter, Snapshots, Scrapbook, Ken Burns, and Sliding Panels. They look great and sound great. (Apple also includes some nice music selections to compliment the themed slideshows. Taking advantage of the Faces feature allows iPhoto to position photos to ensure faces stay onscreen. A handy filmstrip, a transparent display, at the bottom of the screen lets you control your slideshow manually. You can export your slideshow, as a movie, direct to iTunes and then view it on your iPod, iPhone, or Apple TV.
Face Book and Flickr
These days social networking sites are all the rage. iPhoto ’09 lets you easily upload your photos to two fo the biggest: Face Book and Flickr.
Adding pictures to your Face Book account from iPhoto is drop dead easy. You just select the images and click the Facebook button. iPhoto takes the names you added to the photos when you used its Faces feature and converts them to Facebook nametags. As soon as you post new photos of them on your Facebook page, notifications are sent to the friends you’ve named who also have Facebook IDs.
Sharing photos with Flickr is just as easy. Select the photos and then click on the Flickr button. Photos shared with Flickr retain their location information, from the Places feature in iPhoto. Those locations are automatically incorporated in Flickr photo maps. Photos that are shared with either service show up in special albums in the Source list. You can add, remove, or edit these photos and the changes are updated automatically on Flickr or Face Book.
Enhanced Photo Editing
Photo editing is not something that iPhoto is generally known for. Apple does not got out of it’s way to tout the feature. Perhaps they hope to not anger Adobe. Whatever the reasoning, photo editing is practically a stealth feature of iPhoto.
Yet, each version of iPhoto gains incremental improvements relating to editing photos. With the 2009 release Apple has added a Retouch brush, which includes a detect edges feature. It acts like a clone tool but prevents blurring of detail when it detects an edge. It’s great for removing spots or dust in your pictures. An improvement to the Saturation slider makes colors in your photos pop, but leave skin tones unaffected. The Auto Red Eye tool takes advantage of the new face detection to make removing red eye a one click affair. A Definition slider acts like a sharpening tool. Apple says it improves clarity and brings out detail.
Late Updates and Corrections
TidBits has listed several things that have been fixed since iPhoto ’09 was released. Some of them might make the jump to iPhoto ’09 worth it to you. You can now double click on an iPhoto Library to open it. No more arcane commands to switch between different library’s. iPhoto ’09 also lets you save your photo library to the Users/Shared folder so everyone who has an account on your computer can share the same iPhoto library using the double click to open trick. (You may be prompted to repair permissions on the first access - click the Repair button to do that.) Apple has also given us the ability to name a picture on the fly by right, or control, clicking on it. This even applies if you’re training it to recognize one persons face. Another cool feature is a Unnamed Faces. Once you designate a face as unnamed iPhoto creates a Smart Album of unnamed faces. Once you name one of those unnamed photos they disappear from the Smart Album. In previous releases of iPhoto ’09, when you manually named an unrecognized face it would auto-complete the name from previous entries. Now it will also suggest names from your Address Book, complete with email addresses.
Apple does not making any claims of a speed up in this version but my subjective tests show iPhoto ’09 feels faster. If you’re looking for new ways to organize your pictures the new faces and places are great. I found them to be very fun to work with. If your photo library has a bunch of photos, mine has about 10,000, be prepared to spend a good chunk of time with Faces. It takes a while to go through and confirm/reject potential face matches. Places is another fun, but potentially time consuming, feature. If you happen to have a camera that has a GPS unit, it’s a fun and quick feature. If you don’t, be prepared to spend time manually adding location information. I think Faces and Places are a great way for people to gain another insight into their photos. Much like Smart Albums work in iTunes.
Apple has always done a great job with the photo books you can create from iPhoto. This year they’ve added the ability to add customer maps, in conjunction with Places, to document your travels in your photo books. The maps are fully customizable. They show a point-to-point path of your travels and also allow you to mark points of interest.
Faces is good but it’s not perfect. Adults it works pretty well with. But children can throw it for a loop. To be fair I’ve been impressed with how well it works. It will be interesting to see how this feature evolves over time. The photo retouching features are welcome but they are pretty basic. These features are welcome but they will not replace a full fledge image editor. You also need to be careful when modifying pictures in the saved albums for Flickr or FaceBook. There is no undo. If you accidentally delete a photo, like I did, it’s also erased from those sites.
iPhoto remains the most popular program in the iLife suite. Apple’s continual efforts to improve upon the previous release makes a compelling case for upgrading. I have found the new features to be both compelling and fun to use. Just be prepared to spend more time in iPhoto initially than with other previous upgrades.
Posted: Wednesday, July 1st, 2009