iMovie for iPhone review
iMovie ’09 is a kind of litmus test for Mac users. There are those who admire its simplicity and the fact that it requires virtually no knowledge of video editing to operate. Others loathe it largely because it behaves so little like a traditional video editing application. iMovie on the Mac will likely continue to be controversial, but if you have your expectations regarding iMovie for the iPhone screwed on just so, you’ll find very little to argue with.
And how might those expectations fit comfortably? By accepting that, in most cases, iMovie for the iPhone isn’t going to replace the full-blown video editing application on your Mac. While you can produce and deliver polished movies with the mobile version of iMovie, it’s very much an on-the-go editor that’s necessarily limited to help you work faster on a small-screen device.
What came before
Prior to iMovie for iPhone, you had precious few Apple-supplied editing options for the video you captured with the iPhone. After shooting video you could open your clip in the Photos app, trim its front and back, and sync it back to your Mac or share it via e-mail, MMS, or to a MobileMe gallery or YouTube. These options still exist within the Photos app, but iMovie additionally allows you to piece together multiple clips, place transitions between those clips, add titles, incorporate stills with the Ken Burns pan-and-scan effect applied to them, add a music bed that attempts to get out of the way when there’s audio in video clips, and apply a theme to the finished product.
I’ve gone into detail about how this is done in my hands-on with iMovie for iPhone. Rather than repeat those details, I’ll sum up the way it works.
iMovie for iPhone is compatible only with the iPhone 4. You can't use it with earlier iPhones, the iPod touch, or the iPad. iMovie's interface is made up of a preview area that takes up around 80 percent of the iPhone’s screen when in landscape orientation. Below the preview area is a timeline with a non-moving playhead in the middle of that timeline. Rather than moving the playhead to select a different portion of the video, you move the timeline itself—dragging back and forth anywhere on the screen to move the timeline. Anything under the playhead appears in the preview area.
When you launch iMovie for the first time, you're asked to create a new project based on one of five themes—Modern, Bright, Travel, Playful, and News. You see evidence of these themes in the finished movie only if you apply a title, choose a theme’s optional transition effect, or add a theme’s canned music to the project. Do none of these things and you have a movie with no discernible theme that places cross-dissolve transitions between clips.
Into this project you can add video clips that you’ve shot with the iPhone (but not videos in the iPhone’s iPod library), still images from the phone’s Camera Roll and photo library, and unprotected music tracks you’ve synced to the iPhone or tracks included with the five themes.
Regrettably, theme music tracks are only a minute long and you can't have more than one music clip in a project. If you assemble a longer project, you'll want to use music from your iPod library instead. However, you can't use music that was sold in protected form from the iTunes Store. DRM-protected tracks can't be added to projects.
iMovie offers two volume settings for background music. While playing a still image or a video clip with no audio track (because you've removed it by double-tapping a clip and toggling off the audio track option), iMovie plays background music at the louder setting. For video clips that include an audio track, background music is played at a lower volume. Even at this lower volume, however, I found cases where the background music track over-powered the voice of someone speaking in a video clip.
Adding clips, stills, and audio is as simple as tapping a Video, Photos, or Audio button and then tapping the item you want to add. In an instant, the item appears in the timeline. You can stretch clips and stills in the timeline so that you can more easily select a specific spot in the clip while editing. You can also add live video by tapping a Camera button and recording video from either the iPhone’s front or back camera. Do this and you see an interface very much like the Camera app where you can shoot your video.