If you’re a Mac OS X user, then iPhoto is where, from now, all your digital images will live. The system requirements to run iPhoto are steep for such a seemingly simple program. The most stringent requirement for iPhoto is OS X 10.1.2. If you’re still using OS 9.x, you can’t join the iPhoto party. This is a signal of intent: OS X 10.1 is the future; OS 9 is the past. To top this, the recommended memory for iPhoto is 256MB, and a 400MHz processor is advised. iPhoto is a free 13.4MB download from www.apple.com/uk/iphoto. Once installed, the next step is to let it loose on your digital images. The logical place to start is with any images that already live on your machine. Actually, Apple is under-pitching iPhoto, because it’s much more than a digital shoebox – it has editing and output options too. Rather than leaving your pictures under your bed in a shoebox, iPhoto gives you new ways to share your images with friends and family, in many different formats. When you import files, it’ll organize your images into batches – or film rolls – whether you ask it to or not. Film rolls are groups of images that were imported from a camera in the same session, or from a particular folder on your Mac’s hard disk. Import’s a snap
There are two ways of importing images into iPhoto that are already on your hard disk: the right way, and the wrong way. The right way is to drag individual folders of images one at a time, which allows iPhoto to arrange them into separate film rolls. If you haven’t already organized your images into folders, then do it now. The wrong way is to drag your hard-disk icon onto iPhoto. Although iPhoto will work out what to import, it will lump everything together in a single film-roll that could well contain hundreds of images. To import images from a camera, simply connect via USB. This automatically launches iPhoto, which then kindly offers to download the images. You can ask it to erase images on the camera, too. This automated process is lighting fast, and requires no technical knowledge at all. It means I can buy my mum a camera for her birthday, and she’ll be able to use it with iPhoto without me holding her hand. It’s an empowering piece of technology, bringing the convenience of digital photography to those who only dabble with computers. Once images are imported, those folders of images scattered across the hard disk can be deleted. iPhoto gathers all the files and puts them in its Images folder. One drawback with this is that if you have a secondary hard drive, iPhoto doesn’t allow you to use this to store images; these have to live in its Images folder on your hard disk. Apple, please can we use other drives in iPhoto 2? The beauty of iPhoto is that it allows you to be as organized as you wish. Images can be assigned one of 14 user assignable keywords (Wedding, Birthday, Holiday, etc). These categories are displayed as buttons at the bottom of the iPhoto window. If, for example, you click the Wedding button, iPhoto will display only those images with a Wedding keyword. A thousand words
If assigning images with a lengthy commentary is your thing, then you can. My Aunt Judy takes a lot of pictures, and, as she snaps, she jots down a detailed record of what’s shown, as well as the date, time and place. The ability to assign a screen of comment to each image is a feature designed for her, and plenty of others like her. One oversight, I feel, is that comments aren’t searchable – another feature that Apple should add in version 2. The simplest way of grouping images, however, is to create an album, and drag the desired pictures to it. This works in exactly the same way as playlists in iTunes. Images can be added and deleted without affecting the originals in the main Images library. iPhoto also offers a range of basic editing functions. Images can be cropped, red-eye can be remedied, and pictures can be turned into black-&-white. There’s also a rotate button. The clever thing about cropping in iPhoto is that the crop is constrained to a number of preset ratios, including 8:10, 5:7, or 4:3, for viewing images as a slideshow on TV from a DVD. The presets are perfectly proportioned for traditional photo-print sizes. One feature that is sure to be a hit is Slide Show. This allows you to display images from an album with a crossfade between each one, and to lay down a soundtrack over the slide show. This can then be played full-screen on your Mac. The frustrating thing, though, is that the only way a slideshow can be saved is as a QuickTime movie without the soundtrack. Importing a soundtrack is clumsy, too. Instead of linking to iTunes, as would seem logical, iPhoto makes you trawl though the hard disk for the required tune – not quite a digital hub yet. iNtegration
A real boon with iPhoto is the ability to integrate with the HomePage feature of iTools. This lets you to create a Web page from an album in iPhoto. When you’re happy with the album layout, and after the image titles are in place, just click publish and iPhoto takes care of the rest. iPhoto also offers a Print option that automatically optimizes print settings, meaning the usual Mensa-level range of print options offered by much print software is bypassed. Yet with iPhoto, there’s bad news for users outside of the US and Canada: its killer feature – the ability to create a hardback, bound album and order this online from within iPhoto – doesn’t work. Another US and Canada-only feature is that, at the touch of a button, Kodak will print of any of your images. Macworld has learned that Apple didn’t wish to implement these feature globally in case news of iPhoto’s impending release was leaked well before Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ Macworld Expo keynote. However, Apple UK has revealed that the company has every intention of implementing these features in Europe, but could give no time frame. For the record, there are six preset book styles from which to choose: Catalogue, Classic, Picture Book; Portfolio; Story Book and Year Book. At over $3 a page – and a minimum of ten pages – this feature isn’t cheap. You’re looking at over £20 for a ten-page book. The maximum is 50 pages, which will cost around £100 – which might sound expensive, but would make an ideal, inexpensive wedding album.
If I wasn’t already using OS X, then iPhoto would be my reason for upgrading. It’s an incredibly handy application, made all the more alluring by being free. As with iDVD, it may prove to be something of a catalyst in getting people to stick with, and move to, OS X. Gently nudging users toward OS X with great OS X-only software is a good strategy. While it’s working on this strategy, maybe Apple could make room for some improvement to its next release of iPhoto. Most pressing is its need to launch the software’s online-ordering features globally. This should prove to be a fantastic service and, presumably, a great revenue stream. There are also some oversights with the interface, such as no drag-&-drop function for audio files. And a way to save iPhoto-managed images to a secondary drive would be nice – as would a one-click CD-burning function.