Apple's New iLife '11

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Even if you’re not really sure what iLife is, I’m willing to bet that it may already be a part of your life, whether you realize it or not. The introduction of Apple's iLife '11 means that life just got better. It brings GPS slideshows and expanded printmaking abilities to iPhoto '11, a super cool automated movie trailer-making ability to iMovie '11 and a toolbox to tighten up your Garageband.


One of the pillars of Apple’s iLife suite is the ubiquitous iTunes application, the virtual jukebox software that has not only turned the music industry on its head— but has fundamentally changed how people access media. The question is, if iTunes is available as a free download, why would you pay for iLife '11?

The answer is that iLife is much more than just iTunes. It's a full suite of digital lifestyle applications. Every couple of years iLife gets updated to keep up with the way people interact with media. Instead of inducing you to buy a whole new computer to get the latest version, Apple gives you the option to update your old Mac for under fifty bucks.

When you buy a new computer you expect it to come with a certain amount of included software. Some computer companies give you a calculator, a media player and a notepad. Maybe if you're lucky you'll get a card game that you can play when you're lonely. When you buy a new Mac, you get iLife, a vibrant collection of software that enables you to explore the far reaches of your creativity and to share your productions with the world.

What's new in iLife '11

iPhoto '11 — iPhoto '11 is Apple's solution to managing, touching up and sharing your digital photographs. The new version features many more "full screen" modes, making it even easier to sort through and look at your pictures. For those of you who are familiar with iPhoto, Full Screen mode has expanded to Events, Places and Faces. For those of you unfamiliar with iPhoto, "Events" is a feature that helps you organize groups of pictures, "Places " is a feature that takes advantage of GPS photo tagging and "Faces" is an automatic face detection feature that can help you sort your images.

One of the really cool new features is the Places slideshow. It uses the GPS data from your photo locations and combines them with animated maps. The slideshow  moves you along from one location to another, pausing to display the slides from each spot. When the slideshow travels to another pushpin location, the map in the backgound will move as well, creating a fun and interesting virtual trip.

What's interesting about iPhoto '11 is that one of its most compelling features has nothing to do with computers. It enables you to create your own custom professional-looking photo books. You assemble them in the application, and when you're done you select what kind of book you want (paper cover, hard cover, etc). You pay a reasonable fee (without needing to leave the program), and a couple weeks later the book arrives at your doorstep (or at your faraway friend's and relative's doorsteps). I created a photo book in the last version of iPhoto of a family event and had it shipped to my mother's home thousands of miles away. She's been raving about how much she loves the book ever since. In terms of present-giving, this feature is a grand slam home run.

The new version of iPhoto has made the process of making a book even easier. In addition, you can now make your own custom greeting cards with your images. Apple went the extra mile to include a "letterpress" on the card, which embosses a textural quality to the card to enhance the printed graphics. You pay for the cards the same way. Someone else prints them out and puts them in the mail, while you relax on your couch.

While you're chilling on the couch with your Mac, you can use the new features in iPhoto '11 to share your pictures on Facebook. It also makes it easier to e-mail multiple pictures. Sending more than one picture through e-mail "the old-fashioned way" is a bit sluggish and time consuming. In iPhoto '11 all you need to do is highlight a group of pictures, select the Share in an E-mail feature and it does the work for you. You can do everything without having to leave iPhoto. You get to keep your train of thought. 

iMovie '11 — iMovie is Apple's movie-making application. It offers a totally unique way to edit and share videos. iMovie's operational workflow is completely different from Final Cut Pro, Apple's professional video-editing program. iMovie is almost a completely drag-and-drop, graphical working environment. It's a great way for people who have no interest in complex video-editing software to quickly edit and share their stuff.

There are some really cool new features in iMovie '11. The most prominent is the new Movie Trailer function. It assists you in creating a slick-looking trailer for your film, complete with a soundtrack, graphics and even the standard end-of-the-trailer style credits.

Now, when I said it adds a soundtrack to your trailer, what I mean is that the London Symphony Orchestra is playing an original score created just for iMovie '11 that was recorded in Abbey Road studios. Not too shabby, right? The way it works is that the software gives you a basic framework of shots that you need. For example, it suggests that you add an action clip in one segment and a close-up in another. This way the moving images in your trailer will match the dramatic shifts in the music. There are several themes for trailers in iMovie '11, and of course, you're provided with ways to easily share them directly to Facebook and Vimeo.

In addition to the fun trailers, iMovie '11 features new audio-editing capabilities. Waveforms of audio tracks are easily visible and they're color coded to indicate when they got too loud and distorted. You can now go through your video and edit the audio to your liking. Fade-ins and automating the volume levels are accomplished in just a couple of clicks.

Audio effects have been included as well. You can now transform people's voices with iMovie '11. There's no limit to the fun you can have making your friends and family sound like robots and chipmunks. Well, on second thought, maybe there is a limit to the fun you can have with that, but it's cool that it's there nonetheless.

There are some intriguing new video effects in iMovie '11 as well. You can create an instant slow-motion replay of a clip without much effort at all. There is also a way to have the last frame of a slow-mo clip freeze on the screen and pan around in the signature "Ken Burns" style. 

Garageband '11 — Garageband is Apple's entry-level "digital audio workstation" or DAW software. It basically turns your Mac into a multi-track recording studio, with a full-time music teacher built in. New to Garageband '11 are functions called "Flex Time," "Groove Matching" as well as guitar effects and amplifier simulations.

Flex Time and Groove Matching give you tools that you can use to correct timing mistakes that may exist in your recordings. If the bass player flubs the timing of a note, and the rhythm guitarist isn't living up to their title, these tools can correct them so that everyone sounds like they played their instruments accurately. 

All in all, I think the new iLife '11 is a really impressive update to software that I've come to depend on. For me, it's worth the price of admission alone so that I can send my mom new photo-book and greeting-card themes. What do you think? Is updating to iLife '11 worth it?