Front Row finally gets the picture

This morning I got a pretty funny e-mail about the Mac mini photo story I posted yesterday afternoon. I have to admit, though, that I saw this e-mail coming.

You are MacWorld not Mac Word.

Actually, unless you’re Swedish, the web site and magazine is Macworld without the capital W. (And by the way, how great is the Internet? My Mac mini take-apart has already spawned a Swedish news story !)

This blog, meanwhile, is indeed Mac Word. We held a contest among members of the Macworld staff to name my new, all-Jason-Snell-all-the-time blog on Macworld.com, and obviously nobody won. So… Mac Word it is, then!

But enough blog talk. The real subject of this entry is Apple’s Front Row software. When Front Row was originally announced, I was pretty excited. I had spent most of last summer trying to program a Keyspan USB remote to work with my first-generation Mac mini, and it was not a great experience. With Front Row, I thought, Apple was finally providing that missing link: a simple, remote-control-driven software program that lets you drive a multimedia Mac while sitting on your couch. But as I found out upon reviewing the Front Row iMac, Front Row was most definitely a 1.0 product, one with plenty of promise and plenty of holes.

So here’s the good news. Yesterday, Apple released a Front Row update that adds support for navigating through and streaming content from the iTunes and iPhoto libraries on remote systems.

That’s the feature Steve Jobs mentioned at his presentation Tuesday in Cupertino. What Jobs didn’t mention is that the new version of Front Row finally gets iPhoto slide shows right. The new version of Front Row honors your iPhoto slideshow settings, including support for sepia tones and black-and-white images, honoring of your Ken Burns Effect settings, and even custom transitions. Of course, Front Row should’ve supported this right out of the gate, but it’s good to see that it’s finally gotten where it needs to be. I’m encouraged that Apple’s engineers continue to improve Front Row.

If I can make a request, the next no-brainer addition to Front Row should be adding the complete iPod user interface to the Music section of Front Row. You still can’t shuffle within a playlist or artist using Front Row, leaving you with the black-and-white options of Shuffle All or a linear progression through a playlist, artist, or album. The iPod’s interface is really quite good, and Front Row users are most likely going to be familiar with it. So go ahead and replicate it, menu for menu. Then users can do what they know — go under Settings, choose Shuffle Songs, and shuffle to their hearts’ content.

I really, really want to love Front Row. But there’s more to be done before it can start living up to its potential.

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