Hands on with iMovie for iPad

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iMovie on the iPhone showed that a simplified video-editing app could work on an iOS device. With the release of the iPad 2, Apple’s also releasing an update to the $5 iMovie that lets it work on the iPad 2 as well. I used iMovie on my iPad 2 to edit a few video projects; here are my first impressions.

Getting video in

Although iMovie probably wouldn’t exist on the iPad without the iPad 2’s front- and rear-facing cameras, those aren’t the only ways to get videos into the app. Yes, you can shoot video with the iPad’s 720p rear-facing camera and then immediately edit it. But you can also shoot video with the iPhone 4 and then import the footage by connecting it to the iPad via the iPad Camera Connection Kit. I did this, and it worked pretty well.

You can also transfer iMovie projects from the iPhone to the iPad. (But not to the Mac, strangely enough.) Unfortunately, the workflow for this is so convoluted (I counted 15 steps) that I don’t think it’s actually worth it. If you’re planning to edit videos on the iPad, just transfer the raw video files and start your project on the iPad itself.

Unfortunately, iMovie can’t use video files that aren’t in the specific format shot by iOS devices. That doesn’t mean videos shot on all other devices won’t work, but lots of them won’t. My Canon T2i shoots H.264 videos, but at the wrong resolutions. My Canon HD camcorder shoots in a crazy compression format that an iMac struggles to transcode, so I’m not surprised that iMovie on the iPad refuses to acknowledge its existence. Still, if you’re planning on using an iPad to edit your vacation movies, plan on shooting those movies on an iOS device or search out a camera that shoots iPad-compatible video files.

Using the app

Apple says iMovie works only on iPad 2; I was able to install my sample copy on an original iPad and it seemed to work fine, though as projects got more complex it got a little sluggish. This may be one of those cases where Apple decided that if the product didn't worth smoothly and flawlessly on the original iPad, it wasn't worth supporting at all.

Like iMovie on the iPhone, iMovie on the iPad features a scrollable timeline pane along with a video-preview pane. On the iPad, there’s room for both of those to be much larger—and in landscape mode, you also get a view into the iPad’s video library, making it easy to pick clips and add them to your project.

I was able to piece together a video, trim clips, set transitions, and even record a voiceover in no time at all. The act of recording a voice-over feature actually feels superior to the Mac version; after you record the track, you have the options to review, discard, or keep what you’ve done. How civilized.

iMovie offers a bunch of different themes, each with its own title style and set of transitions. Editing a transition is easy—just tap the transition’s icon in the timeline and you can choose a different transition style or set its duration. Once you tap the transition icon between two clips, you can tap a two-headed arrow icon to open the Precision Editor (an iPad-exclusive feature), to make sure your cuts are happening on exactly the right frame.

Titles are limited, but functional. One of my favorite actions while editing video, splitting a clip in two, is fast and easy (if not obvious): you select a clip and then swipe down on the play head, and poof, one clip becomes two. It makes tactile sense, like you’re physically chopping the clip in two.

Though I was able to get up and running in iMovie on the iPad quickly, the app actually has remarkable depth. I was really impressed with the app’s help system, located by tapping the question-mark icon on the main menu screen.

In general, seeing iMovie on the iPad actually makes the design direction of the Mac version of iMovie start to make sense. iMovie on the iPad isn’t the same as iMovie on the Mac, but you can tell how the two are related, and I’d imagine that they’ll become even more interrelated in the future.

iMovie looks like a great way for someone traveling light to edit together home movies. The only thing that will really limit its use is the limited number of cameras that produce iMovie-compatible video files. (Presumably the existence of this product will spur camera-makers to make sure their devices create compatible files, at least as an option.) If you shoot most of your home movies on your iPhone already, though, you will have few complaints about iMovie on the iPad.

These are my first impressions. We will have much, much more on iMovie on the iPad—including an in-depth first look and a full review—in the next few days at Macworld.com.

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