Apple's new iLife application 'iMovie 08'

iMovie 08 is so different from iMovie 06 that we consider it an additional application for iLife rather than a successor to iMovie 06. this is underscored by the fact that apple has created a special iMovie 06 version that can be downloaded freely by iLife 08 owners. we look at iMovie 08 from an iMove 06 user's perspective.

on Tuesday, August 7th, 2007, Apple released a new version of iLife. bundled with iLife comes a new version of iMovie. according to Steven Jobs, Apple's CEO, the new version represents a brand new application, and 'it's not an enhancement to iMovie', but a 'completely new way of editing video'. while the latter part of his statement is debatable (we have seen our share of video editors), his former is spot on. iMovie 08 has been written from ground up as a new application, and appears to have nothing in common with it's predecessors (original iMovie to iMovie 06). it's darker, integrates with iPhoto and iTunes, supports AVCHD source, has an incredibly slick "skimming/scrubing" feature, and makes stringing together videos truly simple. on the other hand, it has no video effects, only a few transitions, abysmal audio control, and abolishes support for third-party plug-ins (such as our products). but why did Apple break with the past?

well, the reasons for this seem clear enough.
first of all, iMovie was originally written pre-OS X, and has become one of the oldest applications in the bundle. it was originally released in 1999, and came pre-installed on some Macs (most notable the iMac DV, and some high-end laptops), and ran on OS 8. now, eight years later, iMovie was getting decidedly long in the tooth, and stability issues were becoming more and more pronounced. iMovie's plug-in architecture and foundation are from a time where OS X was a mere whisper, and 'Carbon' was a radically new technology. we (cf/x) may not like that fact, but iMovie 06 is positively creaking with age, and the plug-in architecture was becoming more and more a limiting factor.

over time, Apple has added a lot to iMovie: themes, a slightly improved plug-in API, enhanced interface elements et-cetera. but all this could not obscure the fact that iMovie was inherently difficult to use, and increasingly unstable. granted, it was easier to use than any other video editor we knew - but once you tried to get serious, you ran into many obstacles, problems, and little idiosyncrasies that made working with iMovie less pleasant.

at the same time Apple made it's astonishing transformation from a computer manufacturer to the undisputed king of 'digital lifestyle'. i believe that fundamental to their success in this domain was, and still is, the relative ease of use of their devices. witness the iPod, and how it integrates with iTunes and iPhoto. no other manufacturer has managed a similar tight, seamless integration. then look at Apple TV - another nicely executed, and well integrated consumer device. or simply pick up an iPhone... during the unveiling of iLife 08, Jobs emphasized this point by remarking how the new iMac's looks and feels like a high-end consumer device. however, when bringing together music, movies and pictures in your living room, iMovie 06 sticks our as a sore thumb. it's clunky. it doesn't integrate nicely, and it's interface harkens undeniably from the last century.

therefore Apple has decided to replace iMovie 06 with a slicker, more consumer-oriented application for video editing. the result is iMovie 08. it looks more modern. it integrates better with your music, photo and video libraries. it streamlines home video production, makes sure you can get your home video done in a short time, and have it displayed on your TV or web site moments later. as such, iMovie is an enormous leap forward, a truly remarkable achievement.

on the other hand, with it's only hand full of transitions, lack of effects and downright spartan (ha! just won the bet that I can sneak a '300' reference in here) audio management, you can't get 'serious' with iMovie 08. just like many good consumer devices are well suited to cover your everyday's tasks, they often fall short when applied to a special, more demanding situation. most times, your videos (e.g. clips shot during your vacation, or of your toddler playing with the dog) can be easily edited with iMovie 08. but there will be some instances, where "08" is too limited. candidates include once-in-a-lifetime events such as weddings, graduation or retirement, and the ever popular christmas videos that people send out to their loved ones across the globe. these videos require much more care and polish but iMovie 08 does not have the necessary features for this. iMovie 06, warts and instabilities non-withstanding, does. Apple appears to have acknowledged this and has made iMovie 06 available on-line in a special iLife 08 version. without "06" there would be no application to cover the middle ground between the low-end casual iMovie 08 and low-end pro Final Cut Express. therefore, with iMovie 08 Apple has in effect added a new application to iLife. some people have called it the 'youtube editor'. while this seems somewhat derogatory, it does capture iMovie 08's essence. it enables you to quickly string together a few clips, and effortlessly share them with the rest of the world. in many respects it mirrors the iPod's astonishing simplicity. this may be what Apple TV needs to become a similar phenomenon.

some people have speculated that Apple dumbed down iMovie because it encroached upon Final Cut Express. i don't believe that for a minute. superficially, Final Cut and iMovie 06 appear to have similar features. however, Final Cut (Express and Pro) are orders of magnitude more powerful than iMovie. anyone who believes that iMovie was becoming a threat to Final Cut Express should spend a few hours working with it. Final Cut's time-neutral transitions and parallel video sources alone are features that effectively mark the difference between consumer and pro territory. there is simply no contest between these two applications.

but back to iLife 08: how will all this impact you, the veteran iMovie 06 user? here's what we at cf/x think:
*** which version should I use?
i believe that you will be using iMovie 08 on and off for quick editing jobs that do not require much finesse or your talent. just throw together a few clips, add a title, and push it to your web. every once in a while, however, you'll want to create a work of art. be it because the recipient of the video, the contents, or both are special. iMovie 08 can't help you there. you'll either fire up iMovie 06 (a short reminder to everyone that as iLife 08 customer you can download iMovie 06 for free), or you may even opt to upgrade to Final Cut.

also, users with large amounts of video will soon find out that iMovie 08 severely limits the way you can store your data. it forces you to put all clips into your iPhoto/iMovie repository (you'll have to use the correct folders in your home directory), and can't group them somewhere else. this makes sense from a 'digital hub' point of view - now Apple TV can find them and stream them anywhere. it does not, however, make sense from a producer's point of view who wishes to separate clips from one event from another, or if you keep your projects with their source material on removable storage. in this case, iMovie 08 is straight out. you must use iMovie 06 or other video editors.

*** will 08 at some point in time support old-style plug-ins?
we seriously doubt that. the old iMovie plug-in API (the programmer's interface) was clunky, based on pre-OS X technology, and not very well thought out. it pre-dates even Apple's own OS X plug-in API, and requires serious magic just to compile on our computers. it is highly unlikely that Apple will implement backward compatibility into iMovie 08.

*** will 08 support plug-ins?
we have been poking around in iMovie 08 and found out that it already has some means of plug-in support: in the application bundle we found plug-ins for various video formats. however, we have no idea how advanced this interface is, and what it can be used for. we also think that ultimately, Apple may decide against it as plug-ins add complexity. since we believe that simplicity is what iMovie 08 wants to achieve this may not be in the cards. in any event, we won't be able to produce any plug-ins unless Apple publishes the new API (interface documentation) and SDK (software development kit)

*** will Apple continue to develop iMovie 06?
we believe that Apple may produce a few stability releases for iMovie 06 should a new OS release warrant this. we seriously doubt that Apple will add any new functionality to iMovie.

so, where does that leave us (cf/x) and you (iMovie 06 users)?
ultimately, iMovie 06 will go away. this line of our business will go away, and with it our revenue stream for existing plug-ins. we'll see if and how we can develop plug-ins for 08 and beyond. this, however, requires some action on Apple's side. we will of course continue to maintain our current plug-in line. we will also, for the time being, continue porting our plug-ins for iMovie 06 to Intel. but this may end some time, and we may end the porting process before all plug-ins are ported. porting a plug-in is expensive, and with little to no expected revenue, this may not be financially viable.

what, then, will become of us? fortunately, our plug-in line of products was not our core business. better yet, during the drought of Intel transition, we have been able to develop a new application that may soon replace the plug-ins as product line. this application, however, is very different from a simple plug-in, and will take a much bigger share of our business capacity. deploying this new application will be both interesting, and a real challenge.

but until then, we'll be here, creating great plug-ins, and caring for you.


Posted: Mon - August 13, 2007 at 06:17 PM