Apple announced an impressive number of advances today at MacWorld, everything from facial recognition to advanced drag and drop video editing. But which of these software upgrades are truly innovative and which ones are simply Apple’s ‘improvements’ on what’s already been done?
1. Facial Recognition
Consumer grade facial recognition is already available in point-and-shoot cameras, such as the Canon PowerShot SD900. But Faces, the update in iPhoto that puts a box around the face of the person in your photos, is rather novel. This 2D algorithmic facial detection is far less complex than the 3D nodal point mapping (which you see mostly in sci-fi movies because it hasn’t worked very well in the real world). But it’s unusual to see this application in consumer photo organizing software at all, and it does give you a shortcut for organizing your photos. The biggest hurdle to making any photo album useful is your own ability to organize everything inside. Once you’ve tagged a person’s face the first time, iPhoto takes over and applies that name to any photo in which the same face appears. It’s not exactly a ‘killer app,’ but it will make you far more likely to tag and organize your photos.
Lots of digital cameras, and even the iPhone, now include location data with photos. And album services such as flickr and Beeloop can already display that data using Google Maps — which is exactly what Apple’s Places will use for its geotagging feature in iPhoto. The only real breakthrough here is in iPhoto’s simplified presentation, which “convert GPS location tags to common, user-friendly names.” That means 48 51′ 33.14″ N, 2 20′ 2.56″ E becomes Eiffel Tower, Paris, France in your iPhoto album. As with Faces, this automated tagging function makes it far more likely that you will organize all your photos, and therefore makes iPhoto simpler and more useful overall.
3. Facebook Integration
Who isn’t integrating with Facebook’s 140 million status updaters these days? What’s surprising about the fact that Apple is letting you upload photos from iPhoto to Facebook with one click is that they are doing it at all. Apple favors the walled garden approach, preferring to keep you inside their own software universe rather than make it very easy to go anywhere else (ever tried sharing your iCal appointments?).
4. Advanced Drag and Drop System for iMovie
The last version of iMovie was widely criticized as a step backward for Apple. Drag-and-drop video editing was my least favorite feature; it lacked any of the fine cutting capabilities that made the previous version of iMovie excel. And I’m betting–hoping!–that the “advance” here is that Apple made drag-and-drop usable. With the addition of audio track editing, an advanced tools menu and precision editing it sounds like iMovie 09 could once again rival professional software packages as it has in the past.
5. Animated Travel Maps for iMovie
Not since Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull have animated maps been so… useless? It’s a nifty gimmick to add to your next iMovie travelogue video, sure, but there is no technological breakthrough in these four different 3D maps.
6. Image Stabilization for iMovie
Video stabilization is usually handled by hardware rather than software. By analyzing how your camera is moving during your recording, iMovie 09 will attempt to take the shake out. You can choose to apply stabilization to particular clips, or an entire video. And you can adjust the degree of smoothing with a slider. Although this technology is not new, Apple’s implementation looks like it could finally take the motion sickness out of your home movie viewing experience. But it’s the sort of software that had better work perfectly in every situation if it’s going to work at all.
7. Keynote Remote for iPhone
There are plenty of gadgets available that let you remotely control a Keynote presentation (Apple’s version of PowerPoint). Creating a remote control application for the iPhone to control Keynote is a no-brainer — why didn’t they do it sooner?
In the end, there are only three genuine innovations here. But plenty of breakthrough technologies have been hobbled by imperfect user interfaces. And Apple, as usual, understands that sometimes execution can be just as valuable as ingenuity.