iPhoto ’09 – Worth the upgrade?

iLife 09As a long time Windows PC user I had become acustomed to managing my data myself. So photos were all organized chronologically by event, backed up both locally and offline (in Flickr), and I was happy that if anything were to ever go pear-shaped, I could recover the situation. This meant that when I switched to using a Mac in February 2008 I was loathed to go anywhere near iPhoto ’08 which came pre-installed. As far as I could see, iPhoto offered me nothing but a fancy front-end for browsing photos and would wrestle control from me such that if I somehow lost my data to a hard disk crash or some other mishap, that would be it… bye bye photos!

Almost a year on and I must say my position has changed somewhat. Now whenever I connect the camera to my Mac I’m happy to let iPhoto import and organize my pictures, and my only caution is that after importing I copy the photos out to the old folder structure I’ve always used, from where I upload them to Flickr as well as backing them up. It’s fair to say here that I really haven’t explored the editing capabilities of iPhoto ’08, nor have I used it’s other features like web galleries and creating books. I’ve done a bit of red-eye removal and the odd exposure tweak but that’s about it. Maybe iPhoto ’09 would change that?

Happily on January 27th a padded envelope arrived on my doormat and within half an hour the new iLife ’09 suite was installed. On launching iPhoto ’09 the first thing I noticed is that it performed an ‘upgrade’ of my iPhoto library. Presumably this is to support the new features, which suggests that going back to iPhoto ’08 is not an option. iPhoto ’09 looks pretty much like its predecessor, the only obvious difference being two new entries under the Library section, namely Faces and Places. I won’t go in to how you set these up as Apple has it’s own very good video tutorials, plus there are doubtless many other reviews that will go into a lot more detail on this aspect of it. I was more interested in how these features performed and how it might change my use of iPhoto.

Faces is a neat idea, the idea being that you teach it a few faces and off it goes, building up a view of your photos organized by who people are. Well that’s the theory anyway because in practice it has been hit & miss and a lot less hit than miss in my case. I have approaching 7,000 photos most of which are decent shots taken with a reasonable quality compact camera. Having taught iPhoto between 10-20 examples of each person in many cases, I sat back and expected wonderful things… only wonderful things didn’t happen. Having left iPhoto open and ‘running’ for 8 hours on my 2008 Mac Pro I was dismayed to find that iPhoto had only managed to come up with suggestions for a further ten or so examples of about five people, and many of them were wrong. I therefore went through the confirmation process following which I started to go through events and manually identify people in them.

Face? What face?

Face? What face?

In ‘naming’ mode, iPhoto ’09 did a pretty poor job of recognizing faces, spotting a fairly obvious two eyes, nose and a mouth in around only 50%-60% of cases. All too often I would see a box drawn around a car headlamp, a brick wall, a fence post, some foliage, a piece of a table or some other inanimate object that looked nothing like a face, with the words ‘unknown face’ underneath it. Assuming this to mean it needed more training I tagged peoples faces in around another 1,500 photos, but this didn’t seem to improve the accuracy of iPhoto’s face recognition at all. Whenever I go into the Faces feature and chose someone for whom I know there are loads of photos, underneath the line that says ‘So and so may also be in the photos below’, it’s empty… there are no suggestions!

So, my overall impression of the Faces feature is that while it must be cool when it works, for some reason I can’t fathom it doesn’t work well for me and that I’ll have to manually add around 80% of the data by using the ‘Add missing face’ function – which is actually quite time consuming. And so on to Places

Not exactly a globetrotter!

Not exactly a globetrotter!

Now while I have an iPhone 3G that sports a GPS enabled camera, I take very few photos with it, preferring to stick with my non-GPS enabled Canon Powershot A720 IS. In light of that I was prepared for the fact that I’ll have to add the location data manually. Assigning a location to an entire event is beautifully simple, simply hover the mouse over an event, click on the ‘i’ that appears and type in the location. Ok for many of the towns and villages around the UK you don’t get a hit in the picklist, but it’s a simple step to choose ‘New place…’ then let Google Maps do the hard work for you. Having assigned a location to a whole event, you can then select individual photos within each event and be more specific, so having tagged an event as being in Paris for example, you can then tag individual photos as the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysees, etc. The more effort you put in to this, the better will be your maps of the world, covered in pushpins to show you where you’ve been. The one thing I would say is that when browsing through all the photos in an event in thumbnail view, there’s no way to tell which photos have been tagged with location data and which ones haven’t. You have to click on the ‘i’ on each photo before iPhoto will reveal the location data, if it’s present. So, you need to be organized and keep track of where you’ve got to when you’re adding location data in thumbnail view. Maybe that’s something they’ll address in iPhoto ’10?

The feature I’m actually looking forward to the most is being able to order up photo albums that show my chosen photos intermingled with routes and maps of where they were taken – a sort of ‘Road Trip’ book. The ideal gift as the Apple marketing men would say.

From iPhoto to Flickr

From iPhoto to Flickr

Finally I wanted to look at the Flickr integration that’s been added to this latest version of iPhoto. Well, when I say integration it’s more just a built in way to upload photos to Flickr and keep track of what you’ve uploaded. The process is fairly intuitive – select some photos and click on the Flickr button. First time through you’re asked to provide your Flickr credentials, then authorize iPhoto to use the Flickr API for your account. Then you specify who is allowed to see the photo using the standard Flickr choices (Only you, Family, Friends, etc.) and choose a size for the upload (web, optimized or actual size). Your photos are then queued and uploaded, with any such photos then being added to a Flickr category in the iPhoto sidebar. Disappointingly you can’t seem specify an existing Flickr set or a new set for photos to be added to, it defaults to creating a new Flickr set with the same name as the iPhoto event you’re uploading from, so this feature seems to be a ‘nice-to-have’ rather than a decent replacement for Flickr’s own Uploader tool, or rather it’s better suited to someone just starting out with Flickr rather than someone who already has a large collection of Flickr photos that are all organized separately.

Flickr sets in iPhoto

Flickr sets in iPhoto

So has the upgrade been worthwhile for me? Well I could argue ‘no’ as far as iPhoto is concerned. The face recognition feature has been a bit of a disappointment, and I’m seeing lots of comments on discussion boards from people who are having a similar experience. If only they could improve the accuracy then it would be a really cool feature, so if you have a large collection of photos you could be in for a lot of hard work if my experiences are anything to go by. The places feature is nice and I can see myself using it a lot, and as for Flickr integration, well I’ll stick with the Flickr Uploader until they make iPhoto a bit more flexible. £69 well spent? Well despite my mixed feelings about how iPhoto has fared, I’m sure there are other improvements I’ve yet to discover, in addition to which all the other products in the suite have also been given new features. So it’s a ‘yes‘ from me. £69 for all this software is a bargain!

Now I’m off to see what wonders the new image stabilization feature in iMovie ’09 can do for my footage of the local air show…

iLife ’09 is on it’s way!

region-capture-3Having watched the demo of iLife ’09 I didn’t need much persuasion to take the plunge and so ordered it back on January 6th. Well, I checked the order status today (25th Jan) and it’s been shipped!

The new features in iPhoto and iMovie look like they’ll be good fun, the idea of being able to make photo albums with route maps etc., in them is quite appealing as something I can give as a gift.

Can’t wait!

The Apple device that I really want…

People love to kick around rumours about what will be the next killer item to emerge from Apple’s secret labs, and there are quite a few on the go at the moment. An updated Mac Mini with nVIDIA graphics, bigger RAM and hard disk capabilities, 802.11n and some fancy unibody case. A speed-freak Mac Pro based around Intel’s Core i7, updated iMacs and even an Apple Netbook.

Yuck!

Yuck!

Thing is, much as I’d be interested in all of the above, there’s something I’d prefer. Something that’s so far off the radar that it’s not got a mention anywhere, yet something that could replace what I consider to be the nastiest piece of tech to emerge from Apple in recent years. You see I absolutely loathe Apple’s Mighty Mouse. Wired or wireless, it’s an abomination. A triumph of well… something over function! The Mighty Mouse included with my Mac Pro was used for all of three minutes before it was put back in the box and replaced by my Logitech MX Revolution. So what could Apple produce that would make me ditch my Logitech mouse? What would be something so much more useful, and that would fit in with the way they’ve been moving?

A separate multi-touch trackpad that users of the Mac Mini, iMac, Mac Pro (and maybe even the future nMac) would love. So what are it’s features?

  • Aluminium surround to match the various Macs
  • Large glass trackpad area, say 9″ x 7″
  • Wireless (bluetooth if it’s responsive enough)
  • Rechargeable batteries (chargeable via a USB cable from your Mac)
  • A switch to toggle between multi-touch ‘finger mode’ and a graphic ‘pen mode’
  • Maybe a few slim function keys around the edge, in the same style as the Apple wireless keyboard keys
  • A nicely weighted pen so it can be used as a graphics tablet (in pen mode)

I could imagine Apple selling a version without the pen for a modest price, and the same one but with a pen for a bit more.

Personally I’d love to ditch my mouse and have a MacBook style trackpad to use instead. Basically I’d be able to do all the things MacBook users do with a mere waft of the hand. I know there are a variety of pretty good graphic tablets out there already, but my primary reason for wanting this is more as a mouse replacement with the multi-touch facility, than for drawing and the like. So, if any Apple employees stumble across my little site – feel free to tell your boss you’ve seen this great idea. I don’t want any royalties, I just want the product!

Entourage 3-way sync with MobileMe

3-way, easy peasy

3-way, easy peasy

So someone asked – how about doing a 3-way sync between Entourage on a Macbook Pro, Entourage on an iMac and iCal on the iPhone? Well I’ll try anything once, though in may case it’s a Mac Pro, a Mac Mini and my iPhone. Sure I’d love a new unibody Macbook Pro 17″ but I just couldn’t justify the expense… oh and I can’t afford it right now!

2-way syncing was already working between my Mac Pro and the iPhone, so it was simply a case of adding the Mac Mini to the mix. At this point I wasn’t using iCal, Entourage or MobileMe on the Mac Mini as it’s currently my ‘server’ in the loft. Still, the joys of screen sharing under OS X make this an easy thing to set up without actually having to climb into the loft, so I did the following on the Mac Mini.

  1. Open System Preferences
  2. Open the MobileMe PrefPane
  3. Entered the same .mac account details I currently use on my iPhone and Mac Pro
  4. Selected ‘manual’ sync
  5. Selected just Calendar
  6. Clicked the Sync button

As this was the first time I’d synced the Mac Mini using MobileMe it popped up a warning, asking me if I wanted to merge events or replace them either on the Mac or on MobileMe. Obviously at this point I chose to ‘Replace data on computer‘ to make sure all the events I already had would be pushed on to the Mac Mini. That was it. After a couple of minutes I was looking at an exact replica of my calendar in iCal. Next I installed Office 2008 on the Mac Mini, and patched it up to the latest level (12.1.5). I then launched Entourage on the Mac Mini and in its Preferences I told it to sync via iCal. A couple more minutes and sure enough the Entourage calendar events from my picture-11Mac Pro/iPhone were showing on the Mac Mini. Having tested it works ok it would just be a case of setting the sync in MobileMe preferences to ‘automatic’.

Obviously the same limitations apply as I’ve mentioned in earlier articles, ie because you have to sync Entourage via iCal and MobileMe, you are limited to calendar features that they both understand, so ‘categories’ are out. Still, it works well enough.

I’m sure it would be pretty straightforward to add another Mac with either iCal or Entourage, or even a Windows PC running Outlook to this little arrangement (the key is in using the same MobileMe account). Trouble is, my life is complicated enough already!

Windows 7 Beta… Silenced!

Despite being a confirmed Mac user at home, part of my job requires me to be familiar with Windows operating systems in all their ‘glory’. Now I have Windows XP SP3 on my work laptop and it is relatively stable and so I was quite relaxed when it came to installing the latest Windows 7 beta (build 7000) on a spare PC. The spec of the PC is pretty good – Asus P5N32-E SLI motherboard, Intel Core 2 Duo 2.6Ghz, 2Gb RAM, 2 x 500Gb SATA disks, Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio, built in gigabit ethernet, etc. All fairly modern stuff, and so no problem for Windows 7 beta… you’d think.

vista_7_1Actually doing a clean installation was relatively quick and painless, certainly faster than Vista Ultimate was (which had been installed on the same hardware). Little did I know that when I clicked on my first mp3 file I would be greeted with the message that there was no audio device! Sure enough, under Device Manager there was a ‘Multimedia Audio Controller’ with an exclamation mark over it. Windows Update didn’t help, so Windows 7 beta couldn’t load anything for a relatively modern sound card. I resorted to Google and found a tip that installing the Vista driver from Creative would fix it (if run in Vista compatibility mode). Tried that – blue screen! Deciding this was a futile battle, I removed the card and enabled the onboard sound on the motherboard. Windows 7 beta didn’t even spot that at all, and trying to ‘force-load’ the Realtek Vista driver for it just got me in a loop of ‘This driver can’t be verified – install anyway?’ prompts.

So, a PC with no sound. Not much use to me and a morning wasted trying to get it working. It reminded me why I switched to using a Mac in the first place – that pain is largely taken away. Now don’t get me wrong, Windows is a huge achievement by any measure and when you look at Windows vs Mac OS you have to remember that Apple is writing code for a known hardware configuration, while Microsoft is writing code to try and handle litterally hundreds of thousands of possible configurations, so it’s a bit of an apples and oranges comparison really. It’s a case of you pay your money and you take your choice, and I was tired (and guess I still am) of spending hours trying to get things working in this fashion. Yes Mac OS has a reputation for being  safe, secure and reliable compared to Windows but let’s not underestimate the scale of what Microsoft is doing. I still prefer OS X but it’s purely a matter of choice and if you enjoy the challenge of Windows and the rewards of getting it all just right with the drivers and anti-malware and stuff, then you’re a better man than I.

Maybe I’ll install OpenSUSE 11.1 on the PC instead… oh hang on, memories of compiling things, the ‘Vi’ editor and frequent trips to the command prompt have just popped into my head. Maybe not…

Stop iPhoto loading when your iPhone is connected

I have a Canon digital camera and an iPhone 3G, and while the iPhone can take reasonable pictures (that look best when they stay on the iPhone), I tend not to use it much for photography. So every once in a while I connect my camera to my Mac Pro and up pops iPhoto ready to transfer my new images. Great, that’s just the way I want it. However, every day I connect my iPhone to the Mac, usually just to charge it or sync some application or music… up pops iPhoto and I have to wait for it to scan whatever images are on the phone before I can dismiss it, and I have to say it bugs me somewhat.

Automator

Automator

Now if you Google for a solution to this little irritation you’ll find slick scripts that, if you find out what name your Mac recognizes your camera by, can automatically launch (or not launch) iPhoto as required. I went for the easier option which was to create a simple Automator Action to take some of the frustration away. It’s not a complete solution, but it does save you having to wait for iPhoto to do its thing every time you plug in your iPhone.

So, open Automator from your Applications folder and choose to create a Custom workflow. From the Library list choose Utilities then drag the Ask for Confirmation action across to your workflow. Give the action a suitable title, then enter some text for the prompt that will appear – in my case I simply entered “Do you wish to open iPhoto for this device?”. Finally, give the two prompt buttons a description – I labelled the button on the left “No thanks!” and the button on the right “Launch iPhoto”.

The next step is to select the Launch Application action and drag that to your workflow underneath the Ask for Confirmation action. Use the picklist on the Launch Application action to choose iPhoto. That’s it, all you have to do now is to save your actions as an Application, so just choose File – Save As then give it a meaningful name like ‘iPhone_iPhoto’, choose the format ‘Application’ (rather than Workflow) and save it. I have an Automator Actions folder in my Documents folder where I save all my workflows.

The final thing is to attach your new ‘iPhone_iPhoto’ application to the Image Capture utility that detects cameras attached to your Mac.

Image Capture

Image Capture

So, open up your Applications folder and launch the Image Capture utility. Go to the preferences for Image Capture and for the application to be launched when a camera is detected use the picklist to choose your new application.

That’s it. Next time you connect your iPhone you’ll just see a prompt asking if you want to launch iPhoto and you can quickly dismiss it if you don’t want to, saving a few precious seconds to waste on something else!

It’s not the perfect solution, but it takes just a couple of minutes to set up and gives you a really good idea of just how useful Automator Actions can be.

So, do you wanna?

So, do you wanna?