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iMovie for iPhone

July 4th, 2010

Imovie Icn-2I just downloaded Apple’s $5 iMovie app. While I’m not going to do a full review right now, I thought I might make a few notes for the benefit of anyone thinking of downloading the app.

First off, don’t expect a full-featured movie editing program. You may have heard about this app’s themes, titles, transitions, background music, and all the rest, and thought, “Wow! That sounds like it’s almost like iMovie on the Mac.” Well, it’s not. Most reviews of the app focus on what you can do, but it’s perhaps more important to focus on what it can’t do. Not as a way of putting down the app, but instead as a way to not get your hopes up too high.

For what it is, it’s excellent: a way to take videos you shot on your iPhone and piece them together with a few nifty effects before you shoot it off to YouTube or email them to friends. Had I had this last year when we went to Europe, I no doubt would have done a mini-movie for the day and sent it off to family. One can imagine all kinds of cool ways to use this app.

However, one should not get too excited about its abilities to make full-featured movies; it is definitely not good for that.

Yes, there are themes–five of them. Probably none are exactly what you’d like. You don’t have the option to choose no theme–but if you avoid any titles or theme-specific transitions, the theme won’t even show up.

Yes, you can put titles–but only three different kinds, and probably not the kind you wanted. You can’t center titles, for example, nor can you change size, font, or color. You can only use one of three variants determined by the theme, mostly titles along the bottom with graphic splashes along the theme’s style. But nothing else, not even simple stuff–only pre-packaged glitz. For example, I wanted to put a nice, plain centered title over a close-up of a fabric texture. Nope.

Yes, you can add transitions–but only one of two: a cross-fade or the transition determined by the single theme used for a single movie. You can set the length, from 0.5 to 2.0 seconds. And you can’t add a transition, like a fade-out, to the end (a strange omission by Apple, it’s a no-brainer, really).

Yes, you can add music–but only one track; try to add another and it just replaces the previous one. There is no looping, so when the music is over, it’s over–this is not an app for long movies. And you can’t trim the song or make it start at a certain point. There is built-in music for each theme, but each only runs about a minute long.

Also, you can’t import video clips (unless there’s some special work-around I haven’t heard of yet); you’re limited to what you shoot and have available on the phone. Nor can you import movies made previously with iMovie as clips in a larger movie–which actually would be a simple way to get past many of the app’s limitations. [Edit: I seem to be mistaken on that–although it did not show up at first, eventually a video I made did appear in the import window. This will allow for mixing of themes and, I would suppose, multiple soundtracks.] Nor can you export projects from the iPhone into iMovie on the Mac, you can only export finished movies.

You get the idea: it’s great for a quick edit-and-send, but far too limited for any serious or considered project. But for what it is, it’s nice, easy to use, and pretty spiffy. Swipe back and forth along the timeline for easy review, tap-and-drag to extend or trim individual clips. Add still photos, and you can stretch them out to longer times and even add the Ken Burns Effect. Drag and drop items, flip through iPhone menus, etc.–it’s all pretty intuitive and easy to figure out. You will probably have to refer to the instructions to understand how to use it fully or at least not take five minutes to puzzle out how to do certain things.

One more note: iMovie seems primed for expansion. I can easily imagine Apple adding features, themes, transitions, and the like, especially as future iPhone models come out and have better processing power. But Apple also has a tendency to keep things simple. I don’t think iMovie for the iPhone will ever be too powerful.

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