A Look at the Great iMovie Controversy

September 3rd, 2007

Just what is Apple’s iLife good for? That consideration lies at the heart of the objections raised about the major change in the focus of iMovie ’08.

The previous edition, iMovie HD, seemed on the verge of becoming a semi-professional movie editing application in some respects. There were even plugins available to enhance its basic functionality.

With the new version, a lot of that has vanished, along with features that many took for granted, such as the traditional movie-editing timeline and more sophisticated audio production tools. Some called it a dumbing down of the application, in order to cater to today’s YouTube fans. That’s an implied insult, of course, but that’s not the real issue at stake here.

Now when Steve Jobs talked about the changes, he told the story of an Apple software engineer coming up with the basic idea for a new iMovie application while on vacation. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s nothing more than a metaphor for the need to alter the focus of iMovie because it was moving far away from its original goal, which was to be a simple consumer video editing tool.

The conventional wisdom has it that Apple provided the previous version of iMovie because it knew it had a dog on its hands, and hoped to satisfy disappointed customers that way. But that may not be the point.

To understand the logic behind iMovie’s vast changes, you may just want to take a fresh look at the rest of the iLife ’08 suite just to see how they function and relate to each other.

Take iPhoto. Now it’s perfectly true that you can do superlative work in Adobe Photoshop, but the best of its features require talent and a steep learning curve. But if you just like to take family photos with your digital camera, importing it into iPhoto is a snap — no pun intended. If there’s an exposure problem, a fast click of the Quick Enhance button and perhaps a few other tweaks will improve matters immeasurably in a matter of seconds. In addition, the other basic tasks you need to accomplish, such as emailing, printing and even creating a professional-looking photo album, are relatively simple.

In other words, it’s a tool for the consumer who just wants to get things done quickly and easily. You don’t need the sophisticated refinements of which an application such as Photoshop is capable.

Take a tour through the rest of the iLife applications, particularly iWeb, and you’ll see the same aura of easy familiarity, all accomplished without much of a learning curve, and usually without visiting the Help menus.

But as many have said about iMovie HD, it wasn’t quite as accessible. Sure you could do some great work in it, and sometimes approach professional caliber, but the ease-of-use may have been one factor that was lost as the application became more feature-laden.

The more I read about iMovie ’08, the more I am convinced that Apple’s software architects may have a point. What they’ve come up with is a clever tool for people who just want to grab some footage, add a title, some transitions and export it as a QuickTime movie or a YouTube video. This can all be accomplished in minutes without having to learn any new skills. Most everything seems to run smoothly, considering the application’s huge system requirements.

Indeed, to run iMovie ’08, you need “a Mac with an Intel processor, a Power Mac G5 (dual 2.0GHz or faster), or an iMac G5 (1.9GHz or faster).”

Alas, this excludes most Macs built more than two years ago, and some that are even more recent. That’s not a casual system requirement, and it also means that many of those who fall into the new iMovie’s prime audience won’t be able to install it. You’ll be forced to stick with the previous version, which is being offered as a free download to owners of iLife ’08.

Unlike the other applications in the suite, iMovie ’08 is basically a 1.0 version, despite bearing a 7.x designation. This means that there are going to be bugs, and perhaps some of the features that are present are not as refined as they could be. Certainly, the existing line-up of iMovie plugins are non-functional, but that doesn’t mean that Apple isn’t going to provide hooks for them to be upgraded.

As you might expect, some people are already finding ways to perform the functions seemingly removed from iMovie in a different fashion. You can, for example, do all your audio editing in GarageBand, and then bring that into iMovie to merge with your footage.

Over time, I suppose other features will be added that will bring the new iMovie, at least in its own way, closer in capabilities to its predecessor. On the other hand, if you look at Apple’s goals in changing direction here, it appears they may have succeeded, even if some people ended up unhappy with the result.

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14 Responses to “A Look at the Great iMovie Controversy”

  1. Kelly Dumont says:

    I spent part of this weekend creating a project using iLife ’08. I was able to accomplish most everything that I was able to in the previous version. There are a few things that were a little troublesome, but not too bad. I think the biggest hurdle besides features that people are used to not being there is an unlearning curve. You really have to think different if you are used to previous versions of iMovie. I think this new version would be pretty slick and simple for those coming new to video editing. I also believe that this new version is built for short projects. That is how I will be using it. If I need to do short, quick projects I will use ’08. If I am doing a larger project I will go with iMovie HD or move the project up to Final Cut Express or Pro.

  2. steve says:

    I don’t know that I’ll buy ’08. In fact, I’ve thought that maybe I could take that $79 and buy iWork. Numbers sounds like it would be more useful to me than Excel on many occasions. Maybe Pages would be just right for those small projects that are too difficult to get the layout to look right in Word, but don’t need the power of InDesign. And maybe I’d use Keynote for something some day. (My weekly use of PowerPoint ended in June.)

    I found with previous versions of iMovie that I could make slideshows look really slick by coordinating the changes of pictures with the waveform view of the audio. Can you do that somehow in GarageBand?

    I gather that iMovie ’08 does improve on some of the limitations of ’06 in terms of conversion times and quality loss, especially of still pictures, but video, too. I guess what I want is one program with the advantages of both versions and minimal picture quality loss to boot. Maybe what I’ll need is FCE or even FCP when I get back to editing movies, but I don’t know enough about the advantages (or disadvantages beyond price) of each. And isn’t Premiere now available for Intel Macs?

  3. Loweded Wookie says:

    I would change your method from edit in GarageBand then import to iMovie to edit in iMovie then export to GarageBand.

    The reason is simple. iMovie edits the video, GarageBand edits the audio. Generally audio is done after the video has been finished so as to add Folley effects etc.

    Working like this gives you the perfect consumer studio package which can then be exported to iDVD or the Web.

  4. mikhailovitch says:

    So having to export your project to another program to do modestly capable audio is supposed to be an improvement in ease of use? Do me a favour!
    Audio is an integral part of a video project. A video editing program for beginners, or for anyone, should handle it adequately, end of story.

  5. Sam Kawesa says:

    I have a G5 1.6 ghz 2g Ram and 5 drives installed internally. I have iMovie 08 installed without a problem and for 2 weeks I have used it. Every so often one of the internal drives unmounts, I never had this happen before and I don’t know if this is an iMovie problem. Also two of the internal drives are installed as RAID and I found that they do not like iMovie stuff so, I do not direct iMovie to save on them.

  6. Michael says:

    mikhailovitch…yes, audio is an integral part of a video project. But, as I’ve discovered, you can cut video quite adequately to a soundtrack in the new iMovie. Loweded Wookie is exactly right: for fine tuning a movie’s audio, you want to export to GarageBand and finish the audio after you have cut the movie. This is, in fact, ease of use: GarageBand gives you far more control over audio than iMovie 6 ever did, and in a much better interface. Using the best tool for the job, and focusing on one part of the job at a time, is cognitively more efficient than bundling all the tools within the same interface and having to filter out the distractions.

    iMovie and GarageBand, in one sense, are two different apps, but, in another sense, they are two different modes, if you will, of a single app: a sophisticated media creation and management application called iLife.

  7. Pecos Bill says:

    I bought 08 this past Friday (8/31). Apple’s biggest failing is they didn’t provide a “For users of previous versions of iMovie” document that tells you “new ways to do old things.” Apple fully expects you to use Garageband to score your movie if iMovie is too simple. There’s even a mode in Garageband for that. I’m at work on winCrap so I cannot remember how I got that activated (but I think I found it while using iM06). That also gives you as many soundtracks as your computer supports which iM HD does not. Plus, the new interface to Ken Burns effect is worlds better (more visual/logical). Alas, that might not be good for any Red/Green colorblind people.

    The other challenges that I found so far:

    You cannot send something from iMovie directly to iDVD as we/I are used to doing. Instead, you send it to a medium or large movie and make that available in the media browser. That seems more logical as my discs have more than one movie in them.

    Also, themes are not there & I miss them. However, I found a very simple solution: create your theme clips in the ’06 then drag them into the events on the new one. I just wish they’d added the revolution theme to the movie level.

    Alas, I have MANY unfinished projects from past versions (none from 06). I tried importing them and it refused. I tried a shortcut and imported all the clips for one event to the event browser via drag&drop. They didn’t end up in a usable order. So, I can either finish them in 06 or update them using 06 which should make them importable in 08. Haven’t tried either yet.

    Events are freaking awesome and the entire suite is much more integrated by centering everything around the media browser/repository. iPhoto 08 is well worth the cost alone. Also, even though “iDVD is going out of style” -Jobs, they still enhanced the interface and added themes there too. Just look out for the “Optimize photos” option in iWeb. Many people have complained that they are de-optimized (destroyed) when published. I turned that off without even trying it. Supposedly, Web Gallery has the same problem with no place to turn that off in iPhoto that I’ve heard.

  8. Bob Clark says:

    OK, I like the easy ability to upload videos to youTube and mac gallery and the program might be decent for small projects but overall the program is truly aggravating. No volume control!!.
    I use digital audio out (analog very noisy) and system volume control does not work. I don’t think this makes me a freak in the age of the “digital hub”. How can this be overlooked? Why so hard to dispose of unwanted footage. Process seems to involve reject clip, open rejected clips, move rejected clips to trash, quit iMovie, empty trash, reopen iMovie – and hope the clip is actually gone. Too frequently it is still there!
    Other iLife apps are frustrating as well. iPhoto slide show takes up to 20 minutes to launch on first use after application is opened. Often freezes entire Macbook – force quit useless.
    iWeb doesn’t allow me to alter old web pages and now the photos display even smaller than before. The frame is the star. Why can’t the pictures be the star. I’m a staunch Apple user since 1984 and have never been as frustrated, and I haven’t started to play with iWork 08 yet.

  9. david moore says:

    iMovie ’08 is simply the most stunning implementation of software that I’ve ever used. It’s literally 4.5 times faster than the previous version, and entirely intuitive. I understand the frustration of new paradigms – when I first took up the Mac in ’93, it worked so well, I just had to “go under the hood” to understand it…that was a mistake. The beauty of the Mac is that if you allow it to do what it’s supposed to do, it just works.

  10. iMovie ‘08 is simply the most stunning implementation of software that I’ve ever used. It’s literally 4.5 times faster than the previous version, and entirely intuitive. I understand the frustration of new paradigms – when I first took up the Mac in ‘93, it worked so well, I just had to “go under the hood” to understand it…that was a mistake. The beauty of the Mac is that if you allow it to do what it’s supposed to do, it just works.

    I’m happy it runs great, when you have the right hardware. But, as you realize, that can be a problem for a lot of folks out there.


  11. david moore says:

    Gene – I went to Quark from PageMaker, kicking and screaming…hell I went to PageMaker kicking and screaming from posterboard ‘n blue lines. I’m blessed that my work allows me to have the latest and greatest toys at my disposal, and realize not everyone has that luxury. But the fact is that a computer of today (Mac or otherwise) is a different animal than a computer of 5 years ago. BUT we can’t hound the developer for developing…that’s their job.

    Almost all of the complaints about where the Mac is or has been headed over the last 6 years are directed at the changes per se. If, instead, change was just adopted, folks would probably have less to compalin about. There are some still lamenting the death of OS9 and its predecessors. All I know is that my Macs haven’t crashed since Jaguar, and the only time they restart is after an update or install that requires it.

    I run everything at once, Office, CS1,2,3, POS software, web development software…literally everything you can throw at a Mac. I’ve been able to do so at every step of the Mac development…it just gets more stable…and I never bother looking under the hood. That’s Steve Jobs’ gig, and that’s what we pay him for. He did good on this go ’round…it’s a real paradigm shift.

  12. JeffWasHere says:

    What SHOULD have happened was the changes to the UI made into something like a “Fast Movie’ mode where you could use the application in an easy though limited way. Then provided an ability to change the mode to something like “Advanced Editing” and the rest was there. Now what? We wait until 09′ or 10′ to get to where we were? I needed more and FCP is WAY too advanced for me. I think this was the wrong move and will go down in Apple history as a big mistake.

  13. javaholic says:

    Even at its most basic level, iMovie always has been a simple drag and drop, cut and paste app. If the desire to create simple movies that can be instantly uploaded is so important, you can still do this quite quickly with iMovieHD – and without the steep hardware requirements.

    Just the other day I used iMovie HD to complete a fun 15 minute movie (from 2 hours of footage) of my 6 year olds soccer team season. Features such as the timeline, chapter markers, themes and audio and video flexibility are now a natural part of my movie making experience. Oh, and (gulp!), we’re burning 11 copies to DVD to hand to each of the kids. Why? Well, it turns out there are still plenty of people out there making and sharing DVDs that don’t want/have a .mac account.

    At the end of the day, I’d say any software company that decides to discard the capabilities of a popular, mature programme they developed and replace it with something else is potentially asking for it. It’s not that iMovie ’08 isn’t a good piece of software. The problem is the path Apple took to get there.

  14. keyword says:

    This is a drink-the-kool-aid issue. They’ve made the same mistake with this that they made with the glossy screen on the iMac. Yes, more people liked the glossy screen (on a notebook)… but the 40+ percent who didn’t like it, REALLY don’t like it. It’s a show-stopping deal-killer for them. Same thing here. You can debate the worth of the new iMovie, but the real iMovie fans need the old features. Windows users still get moviemaker, right?

    This is CubeThink.

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