Imagining iLife '11

We know for a fact that the next major release of Mac OS X will play a prominent role in Apple’s October 20 press event. The company told us as much when it sent out invitations for next week’s event on Wednesday. But an event dubbed “Back to the Mac” figures to be about more than just Mac OS X—it means a new version of iLife could appear next Wednesday.

It’s not that much of a leap to think that iLife ’11’s arrival is imminent, especially since Apple last updated the suite of photo, video, music, and Web management tools at the start of 2009. The company has had its hands full since then, what with the mobile phone and computing spaces exploding and iOS, iPhone, and iPad leading the charge. But with the iPhone 4 and iPad launches complete and much of Apple’s Mac hardware having undergone updates in recent months, the time seems right for an iLife revamp. After all, we (still) have to sync our media with—or at least activate—all our iPads, iPhones, and iPod touches on some kind of traditional computer, right? And what better computer to do that with than a Mac running iLife ’11?

So it’s a reasonably safe bet that iLife ’11 is on the horizon. Less certain is what new features Apple will introduce into the updated suite. But I have some ideas, and I’ve asked my Macworld colleagues to pitch in with a few suggestions of their own. We’re not saying these features will make the final cut for iLife ’11—or whatever Apple will call the update. But it sure would be great if they did.

iPhoto

I’d really like to see the next version of iPhoto overhaul the Events feature. It needs some smarter logic and an interface adjustment that can distinguish between which photos are events and which ones aren’t. The weekend camping trip I took with friends? Definitely an event. The 15 iPad wallpapers I’ve added to iPhoto since iTunes only lets me sync photos to the device from one source? Not an event, and definitely not the multiple events that iPhoto created. It would be great if iPhoto provided easier management control and a way to weed out these non-events from the actual memories I want to browse.

Deeper support for social media would also be most welcome. Most of us probably share photos almost exclusively online these days, whether completely in public or by harnessing the privacy features that many services now provide. Facebook, for example, offers a tremendous amount of control for sharing photos only with specific friends, or perhaps with everyone, but not specific friends or friends on a list that you create. Having that kind of control when uploading a photo from iPhoto would save a lot of time, as would the ability to manage all of one’s photos and albums from a service in iPhoto, whether we originally uploaded them with iPhoto or not.

Lastly, full support for multiple users would also be a nice update for 21st century households. Sure, you can share an iPhoto library between multiple users right now—sort of. But that’s not officially supported and there are caveats, the largest being that you could run into Ghostbuster-type consequences if two users cross the stream by opening iPhoto at the same time.

iBooks

No, iBooks isn’t a part of the current iLife suite. But it should be. The e-reading app has been a hit on the iPhone and iPad, and its arrival on the Mac has been a source of speculation practically since Apple first announced the product last January.

Now I’m not necessarily champing at the bit to sit in front of my Mac for yet more hours out of the day to read digital books. But a client to view the books I’ve bought would be useful if I want to search for a passage, check a highlight for a project, or simply top off a chapter on a break. It could also be useful as a document portal since iBooks on iOS devices can handle PDFs now and perhaps other file types in the future.

iMovie

Jeff Carlson’s review of iMovie ’09 called the video editor “the version Apple should have shipped when it decided a year and a half ago to start from scratch and build a new video editor for iLife.” If iMovie ’08 broke the ground for this redesign and iMovie ’09 was the OK-it’s-out-of-beta 1.0, then iMovie ’11 should polish and build on the foundation for this unique consumer video editor.

Senior editor Christopher Breen chimed in on this one, noting that iMovie ’11 could still really use some actual timeline-based editing tools for the budding video editors who don’t want to pay $199 for Final Cut Express, but still want finer control for crafting their next viral YouTube hit.

Staff editor Serenity Caldwell mentioned that syncing with iMovie for iOS to take projects on-the-go would be a great addition in iMovie ’11. But if two-way sync isn’t an option right now, at least one-way from iPhone to Mac would be welcome. I’d love to start a project with an iPhone on the plane home when inspiration strikes, but easily finish it with a Mac’s greater power, screen space, and flexibility.

As with iPhoto, better social media integration would also be very welcome in iMovie. I can’t remember the last time I burned a DVD (more on those in a minute), but I do get reminded almost weekly of how much of a pain it can be to craft a video and get it uploaded to services like Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, and Tumblr. Building more of these services straight into iMovie as sharing options would reduce overhead for the exponentially increasing number of digital-only video producers.

Speaking of DVDs though, it’s probably time to take iDVD out behind the discontinued software shed with Sherlock, various .Mac features, and Shake. It’s barely been touched in the last couple of iLife updates, and it’s a logical extension of iMovie these days. Turning iDVD into a component of iMovie, or perhaps the entire iLife suite, might reduce some technical overhead and make more sense to the handful of users still burning DVDs.

iWeb

So full of potential, iWeb has struggled since its introduction in iLife ’06. It offers surprisingly simple and powerful drag-and-drop Web page creation, but it creates really sloppy code. Plus, since it's is document-based, your iWeb file can balloon to an untenable size with just a few shared videos and photo galleries. Apple’s heart is in the right place with creating a Web page and blog client for its MobileMe Web service, but iWeb’s current implementation runs into too many brick walls as a local, document-based app.

I hope Apple gives iWeb ’11 the radical redesign I believe it needs, turning it into a client for hosted, Web-based content management systems (CMS). Yes, that means Apple would also have had to create a Web-based iWeb CMS for MobileMe’s online tool belt.

This way, iWeb ’11 on the Mac would act like a client, allowing users to drag-and-drop Web pages, draft blog posts, and create image galleries, but the media and heavy lifting is all uploaded, hosted, and managed online. We’ve already seen a glimmer of Apple’s ability to pull this off in MobileMe’s Gallery Web-app, which lets users drag-and-drop media and albums, double-click to rename photos, and use other desktop-like gestures in the browser to manage one’s gallery.

iWeb ’11 for Mac could even support another CMS or two in addition to (or, heck, even lieu of) a MobileMe iWeb CMS, and competition like WordPress and Blogger are obvious options here. As with the rest of the suite, more and better social integration makes a lot of sense for iWeb. It currently offers some basic social widgets like YouTube and MobileMe Gallery, but the social realm has explode since iLife ’09 was introduced. I’d love to be able to embed a Twitter widget, a Facebook profile badge, or a “latest YouTube videos” player without having to resort to iWeb’s existing-but-clunky HTML snippet, as it sometimes hasn’t played well with embeddable widgets, even from popular services.

GarageBand

Once again I defer to the experience of Chris Breen, as I’ve taken time off from recording my experimental concept rockudrama album to focus on my tech writing career. (Yeah, that’s the ticket.) Chris hopes that Apple revisited the lessons idea it introduced in GarageBand ’09. “I think the artist lessons turned out to not be a big seller and so Apple didn’t pursue it,” Chris says, but he sees a lot of opportunity for Apple to introduce lessons that help users with the more fundamental aspects of learning an instrument. “I don’t care about learning a song from Sting,” Chris lamented. “But I do care about learning more about playing the piano and guitar.”

Another new feature in GarageBand ’11 could be auto-accompaniment, similar to Band-in-a-Box, which is basically the reverse of GarageBand’s existing Instant GarageBand feature. Instead of you picking from a limited handful of built-in, static templates to jam with like in GarageBand, Band-in-a-Box lets users enter a series of chords and then automatically generates accompanying instruments like piano, bass, drum, guitar, and strings. If anyone could pull this feature off in a more stylish and intuitive way, it’s Apple.

Creating loops in GarageBand is also still a bit lacking, according to Chris. Especially for the podcasters in the crowd who need catchy intro and closing sequences, a more streamlined way to crate short loops would be most welcome. Also for podcasters, a smarter volume analysis tool would do wonders for production time when balancing disparate audio sources like Skype-in guests, music loops, and other tracks.

Wishful thinking?

Will we see every one of these changes at Apple’s event next week, or even iLife ’11 at all? We’ll just have to see. But considering that we’re at the tail end of an iLife sabbatical akin to the one Apple took between iLife ’06 and ’08, no one would blame us for dreaming big about what might be announced.

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