First Look: iPhoto ’09

I’ve spent several hours tinkering with Apple’s new iPhoto ’09 — part of the newly updated iLife ’09 suite of media applications — and I like what I’ve seen so far. The entire application is a strong step forward, and the exciting new features (facial recognition and geotagging) don’t disappoint. The following is a focused walkthrough of iPhoto ’09 and the interesting new features it boasts.

Faces

The most interesting (to me at least) of iPhoto’s new tricks is facial recognition. Immediately after firing-up the application, your library will be updated, and then analysis of all captured faces begins. The nearly two thousand photos in my library took around 30+ minutes to process. Once it was done, I named the members of my family and began training it for accuracy. After confirming about 20 photos for each person, the results were pretty accurate. I’d get an awful lot of utility from this feature in Aperture — fingers crossed that it comes sooner than later.

An unexpected side effect of Faces was an answer to the question my wife and I ask each other often — which one of us do our kids look like? It was interesting to see my oldest showing up, mingled amongst images of me, and our middle mixed in with photos of my wife — we always considered it the other way around. I’m no expert on how the face-matching algorithm works, but its accuracy is enough that I trust its take on the question.

From the high level corkboard view of all the Faces you’ve identified, you can add extra information about each individual. Specifically, their full name and email address. A peek at Help, and I discovered that the email address comes in handy when using the Facebook upload feature, but details on this below.

A small niggle comes when updating the keyphoto (or identifying photo for a grouping of photos) for an individual. When reviewing the info for a person, you can scrub through their pictures and click on one to change the keyphoto. The keyphoto doesn’t change until you exit the info screen. Lack of instant gratification led me to believe it hadn’t worked. I would suspect this behavior to change in a later update.

iPhoto Faces Corkboard View

iPhoto Faces Corkboard View

iPhoto '09 Picture Info Bezel

iPhoto '09 Picture Info Bezel

Places

Thanks to my GPS location tagging on my iPhone, Places immediately had some points of interest for me to review. The rest of my photos lack geographical EXIF data, so it was on me to mark them accordingly. Thankfully, the Events grouping makes it relatively easy to grab all images from a specific place and mark them at the map in one fell swoop. My preference is to geotag the trips we’ve taken — places that aren’t home, because home is the obvious place for the majority of our family photos.

The map displays pins, in typical Google Maps style, where your photos were shot, and hovering over the pin displays the name of the location and an arrow to view the related images. It’s simple and effective. The Smart Album button below the map makes it easy to create an album of all the photos from the location of the selected pin — nice if you want to group all of your ski photos for instance.

If you decide to email off some of your photos, you can choose to include location information. When I tested this however, I couldn’t find the location in EXIF, or captioned beneath the photo in the email. It’s quite likely I didn’t look in the right place, but from my experience, it didn’t seem to work. (Feel free to point me in the right direction in comments, if you’ve found it to work properly!)

The Places feature is nice, though for my family who doesn’t travel too terribly much, it’s not all that interesting. Though it does have me thinking much more about grabbing one of those slick Eye-Fi Explore memory cards which will handle the geotagging for me.

iPhoto '09 Places Map

iPhoto '09 Places Map

iPhoto '09 Places Assignment

iPhoto '09 Places Assignment

The combination of these different grouping options (Events, Faces, Places) is ridiculously powerful, with little user input. Suddenly we can find any photo or group of photos in a variety of different ways, cross-checking them by parameters in what might be described as different dimensions. This is very cool and I’m excited to see how my photo management evolves because of it.

Facebook & Flickr Upload

Prior to iPhoto ’09 you could upload your photos to these two popular services, but through third party plugins. Now however, it’s baked right in (along with Mobile Me, if you like that sort of thing). The process is simple and streamlined, and when the upload is complete, iPhoto displays a clickable URL to go directly to the photos in your favorite browser. Very handy!

The Facebook integration has a couple of extra features that are nifty in an understated sort of way. At upload time, you can choose (directly within the iPhoto interface) the security level of your photos — who can actually view them. The other comes from the Faces feature, when you add the email address to an identified face in your library. That email address, when an associated picture is uploaded to Facebook, is matched to your Facebook friends and alerts them that a photo of them has been uploaded. This is quite nifty indeed!

iPhoto '09 Facebook Upload Link

iPhoto '09 Facebook Upload Link

Slideshows

If you’ve ever used the Flash gallery plugin SlideShowPro, it feels like much of iPhoto ’09’s slideshow layout and functionality came from there. This isn’t a bad thing mind you, it just has a very familiar feel to it, and it works.

The slideshow setup options are a bit more intuitive than they were in earlier versions of iPhoto, and get out of your way for full screen play as soon as you’ve selected your desired settings. Of the settings, there are 6 themes to choose from for presenting the photos. These themes give a fresh feel to the slideshows that were once ‘wowing,’ and as of late, getting a bit stale.

iPhoto '09 Slideshow Launch

iPhoto '09 Slideshow Launch

Export

While you can use the Share menu in iPhoto to export your photos to iWeb, there’s a simpler option hidden under Export in the File menu. Webpage gives you some simple options for generating a barebones web gallery page with navigation. It’s nothing elaborate like iWeb, just a quick and dirty HTML generated gallery for when you need to throw some pictures up quickly (temporarily?).

There’s no doubt that iPhoto ’09 is a wonderful update. The highlight features seem to work very well, and haven’t disappointed. I haven’t had time to play with the other iLife apps yet, as I’ve been working on this article. But if the rest of the updates are on par with iPhoto, the suite as a whole is certainly (as always seems to be the case) a steal at only $79.

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