It has felt like a long time coming, but late last week Apple finally released the least biggest surprise of the year in terms of applications, iLife '11. In this review, we are going to be covering just iPhoto '11 with the other application reviews coming later next month.
iPhoto is my main photography application. I don't feel professional enough to use Aperture or other high end programs and iPhoto does just about everything that I want it to do. So what is new this year? In fact, not much, in terms of drastic new features, but pleasingly the additions are good and some performance issues seem to have been improved. Let's get on top of the new features first.
New Full-Screen Modes: Anyone who edits or views photos tends to want to use the full area of their screen and iPhoto '11 makes it very easy. We can finally browse, edit, and share everything in full screen compared to the past version. You can now basically use iPhoto solely in this mode and it makes all the difference. It is just a shame that you can't seem to open it straight into full-screen mode, which would be perfect.
Facebook Integration: This is more of an improvement than a new feature in my view as there were already some reasonable Facebook features included in iPhoto '09, though this years version adds integrated comments, the ability to post photos directly to your wall or to an album and even tag faces in them too. iPhoto '11 also now shows you all of your Facebook photo albums and lets you keep track of them.
Emailing Photos: This is another improvement, as it does now allow you to create and send photos without ever having to leave iPhoto. You can also choose from eight themes and customize them with photos, images, and your own text. You can move the photos around via drag and drop and change styles and sizes. Another good part is that you can now also attach the high-resolution versions of the photos for recipients to download. Finally, it also saves the sent email so you can share it with others too. However, this took me a while to find, as it is hidden under the "Info" part of the photo/photos that you just sent.
The built in book system has also been updated with a new theme browser that you can move around, and it also displays all of the images you have added. Once you pick a theme, the images are automatically placed for you and the main key photo becomes the cover shot. The feature also now uses the rating system in iPhoto to move those higher rated photos to a more suitable position in the book. Also, thanks to the face detection, all of the photos containing people seem to be properly framed compared to the last few versions. I've enjoyed creating one so much that I might actually pay for a book of my own photos to massage my photography ego.
Letterpress cards are personalized with your own photos and text. It helps you make cards for Christmas, baby births, etc. All very easy to create but without paying for one, I can't say how well they work or how good they look, though in fairness, Apple's system has always provided great quality across their photo books so I can see the same happening with the letterpress cards.
The final new feature we have is slideshows, though once again it is more evolution rather than revolution. We have new themes such as places, reflections, and a few others. They also have new soundtracks and if you are doing a slideshow of faces, the detection used makes sure they are perfectly positioned for their best view. It’s a good feature for showing off photos such as weddings or birthdays to friends.
So, what else has changed? Not too much, really. The UI has been improved and is less cluttered than before and in full screen mode it looks great and this seems to be where the main work from Apple has been. One of the main features last year, Faces, has seen some improvements too. An actual button to find new faces is now in the UI and a slightly better looking layout with larger size photos to choose faces from.
I have noted that performance in general is faster than before. I have what I feel is a reasonable amount of photos, around 8000, and running iPhoto had become very slow even when creating new libraries, but iPhoto '11 has managed to improve things to make it far more usable once again.
Overall, as I mentioned earlier, the feature set is more evolution than revolution, with a few new features mingled in with some good improvements and that is how I best describe iPhoto '11. Full Screen mode is great and it is how I have been running iPhoto nearly all the time since I got it. It is just a shame that there isn't an option to run it in that mode when you load it right away.