When Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced iLife '04 at this year's Macworld in San Francisco, he said it was like "Microsoft Office for the rest of your life." Turns out that's the catch phrase for the entire iLife '04 advertising campaign, an attempt to convince consumers that what Microsoft did for the office—provide an integrated suite of applications that let people accomplish all the basic tasks of professional life, from word processing to accounting to presentations—Apple would now do for the home.
That's assuming, of course, that you consider your music, movies, and photos as crucial to your personal life as your documents and calendar are to your work life. Best not to probe that "Office for the rest of your life" analogy too deeply, then; iLife won't make your dinner, mow your lawn, or fold your laundry. But it's a sign of just how far we've come—or gone, depending on your perspective—that many of us do, indeed, take our personal entertainment that seriously and feel the need, or at least the impulse, to share and manipulate our tunes and pictures via our PCs, which haven't replaced the television the way the idiot box replaced the hearth, but are well on their way. And since iLife is available only on the Mac, what is the "Office for the rest of your life" campaign really, but a strategy to move more Apple-branded computers?
The thing is, anyone who took more than a passing look at iLife '04 couldn't help but notice that the tools in this latest version held plenty of promise for the office as well as the home. With timeline-based editing and more precise audio syncing in iMovie, more professional-quality menu themes in iDVD, and iPhoto's new 25,000 image capacity—not to mention the addition of the deceptively simple and remarkably powerful music creation software GarageBand—the iLife suite was flexing some pretty impressive technological muscle, strong enough that it just might come in handy in the studio as well as the rec room.
While Apple didn't necessarily design iLife '04 with the professional studio in mind, they aren't fighting the idea. And our hunch proved to be on the money: plenty of Mac-based post-production studios use iLife, whether it's for quick-and-dirty demo reels, basic projects that don't require professional-strength tools, or as an intermediary step on the way toward a final product made with Final Cut Pro or DVD Studio Pro. Whatever the application, they're using it—even if they're reluctant to admit it.
"It's totally unhip to say you're using a consumer tool like iLife," says Andy Stinton, who runs Toronto's Event Studio, a three-person production and post-production house that works with corporate and entertainment clients from Imperial Oil to MTV Canada. "You know, ‘We're professionals! We should should be using Avid or Media 100!' But there are some parts of a job," he says. "that are done more efficiently in iMovie than Media 100."
iLife Less Ordinary
Apple first introduced iLife at the January 2003 Macworld, though its individual components had been around for several years before that. The iLife approach not only emphasized the integration between the apps, but also brought the iPod MP3 player under the conceptual umbrella. And the concept was a simple one: every new Mac shipped would include the basic iLife components—iMovie, iPhoto, iTunes, and iDVD (iDVD had previously cost an extra $49). [See Sidebar, "iLife by the Numbers."] Apple was giving consumers and professionals of all stripes basic video, photo, and music organization and editing tools whether they wanted them or not, and PC manufacturers soon followed suit. While there's no proof that iLife helped move computer boxes, it made everyone with a Mac a multimedia creator-in-waiting.
It also gave Mac-based studios another weapon in their post-production arsenal, and the professionals in those studios quickly discovered that iLife, especially in its latest iteration, was far more than just a consumer tool, according to iLife product manager Greg Scallon. Scallon says he sees iLife being used in the professional space in two ways.
First, there's what he calls "storyboard usage": When editors are working toward a more advanced project as their end result, they'll use iLife as a means to create a middle-stage version to show clients along the way. They can capture and edit with iMovie, then throw the rough edit on iDVD to get client approval or simply to give themselves a better idea of where they're headed. "Essentially, they create a mini-movie as a sketch tool," Scallon says, admitting that most editors and authors start again from scratch in Final Cut Pro or DVD Studio Pro for the final version. Still, the iLife apps make it easy to create and output that "rough cut" version, he says.
Most clients prefer screening copies on DVD rather than VHS these days, and iDVD is perfect for those projects, says Craig Seeman of 3rd Planet Video in Brooklyn, New York. "I'll usually just export a still or client logo to use as a basic menu background," Seeman says. "The fact that Apple now uses a higher-quality encoder and now allows for two hours of video makes iDVD a great post-session tool when you don't need a full presentation DVD in DVD Studio Pro 2."
The other way Scallon sees iLife working its way into the pro space is where he says the really interesting action is: the event videography market. "Videographers, whether it's wedding or sports or other events, are really embracing the new iLife apps as a way of creating end-user content," he says. "If a wedding videographer wants to make DVDs available at a low cost, he doesn't have to go all the way into our professional apps to do it. We've streamlined the process and added things like automatic scene detection and chapter markers, and more and more people are doing entire projects in iLife."
Scallon admits that there's still a long way to go in terms of educating videographers and photographers about what they can accomplish with iLife, and points to the fact that most still outsource their DVD authoring as proof. He presented an iLife session at this year's Photo Marketing International trade show in Las Vegas, which draws both still photographers and videographers. "I showed them how to build projects in iMovie and iPhoto, and then how to output them to DVD with iDVD," he says. "A small percentage was thrilled. The rest were just dumbfounded, as if the possibility of doing all this had never occurred to them before."