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Hands-on with iPhoto ’09

by Philip Sellers

I had pretty high expections of iPhoto ’09 after its debut during MacWorld.  The features I saw weren’t revolutionary, but they were welcome additions to the software.  Facial recognition and geo-tagging were the two key features introduced, but it was the social networking ties that really shined.  I have been playing with the software for several days and overall the features added are nice.  But the software seems a little sluggish compared to the ’08 version and we can see some of the eye candy (core animation effects) added throughout, which don’t really add much.  

The facial recogniation piece of the software is good.  I have to say, I’m not sure that Phil Schiller’s comment that this is the best facial recognition software he’s seen quite holds water, but iPhoto ’09 does a good job recognizing faces.  It has done a very good job with most of my friends and my in-laws – IDing them and presenting their photos to me for confirmation, but I guess most of my family (** and I do have a large family, as my co-workers can attest to – all my cousins **) but I guess we look an awful lot alike too.  iPhoto is forever getting me and my cousin Jason confused and thinking we’re the same person.  Beyond that, it seems to have more trouble with children’s faces too.  It gets my daughters photos mixed up with many of the other children in our photos – not always just with relatives either in this case.  But given the mass number of photos we’ve taken of our daughter, it has done pretty well.  And, my daughter does look an awful lot like my cousins’ kids… 

I have used other solutions, including PicasaWeb to do facial recognition and tagging, and honestly it seems like PicasaWeb does a better job…  What iPhoto is missing is a faces to be tagged screen that groups together ‘recognized’ photos and presorts the the groups while making its best guess who it is.  And maybe its just the different workflow that makes you think PicasaWeb does a better job, because there are times when it makes a guess and its nowhere close to who is actually in the photo.  

As of now, there are two ways to tag recognized faces in iPhoto – tag them directly on each photo or use the Faces area once you have tagged a person at least one time.  It’d be nice to have the “other recognized faces” area with in the Faces workspace where you could quickly go and choose a group of photos and confirm the identity of the person.  But, that said, the workflows in iPhoto as they are presented work, work well, and get the job done.   

Because facial recognition is integrated, the tagging translates well to Facebook tagging through the new intergrated Facebook galleries.  When uploading photos using the Facebook button in iPhoto, anyone tagged in the photos you selected will be tagged in your FB gallery.  The Facebook integration also provides easy drag and drop administration for the existing galleries directly in iPhoto.  I had previously used the export to Facebook plug-in to allow me to load photos, but this two way street is far superior.  The tagging features and the ability to have those tags travel in both directions is nice.

I would like to see the faces profiles in iPhoto integrated with Address Book – call me gratuitious, but it’d be nice to have it update the key photo to Address Book and as I change that in iPhoto, change it for my chat contacts, iPhone contacts, etc.  Apple seems to have it together when it comes to leveraging the strenghts of their individual softwares together for a tight experience, so I hope this is maybe just an oversight.  

I was pleasently surprised to find out that some of my photos were already geo-tagged…  They were the few photos snapped with the iPhone.  Now, I don’t even have the fancy 3G iPhone – I’m still using my original iPhone, but the cell tower triangulation and wifi ID location functions work pretty well to pinpoint where a photo was taken.  I’m looking forward to a new iPhone sometime this year and the GPS feature will be a nice addition, though I’d prefer it be on my SLR and not the 2-megpixel iPhone camera…  

Now for the only real issue I find with the software – speed…  The new version integrates a lot of core animation into the package, and honestly it slows it down.  When editing a photo, it animates the photo into full view for editing.  When flipping a photo for editing the location or other data, it does a nice 3D flip.  But these are all sluggish to watch.  That bit of hesitation isn’t great, but its not a killer either.  I assume that as with most things, Apple will streamline and improve upon the initial release and we’ll probably find .0.1 version coming pretty soon from Cupertino.

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