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Software Review: iMovie for iPhone 4

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One of the nicest features of the newly released iPhone 4 is its upgraded camera module, which, in addition to delivering vastly improved still images over previous models, also gives the user the ability to record HD video at 720p. The convenience of having a pocketable high-definition video recorder that also doesn't have to be an extra, standalone device to tote around (such as a Flip HD video camera) is cause for tiny rejoicing, and is sure to usher in a huge second-wave of interest in casual HD recording. It will also usher still another wave of annoying youtube videos to weed through, but such is life.

All of that convenient HD recording is great, but it's only "a little" great if pressing 'record' and 'stop' is the extent of its feature set. Enter Apple's new iPhone app, which is a stripped-down, portable version of its ubiquitous iMovie application that aims to turn your drunken pub crawl into a grand and epic quest.

The mobile version of iMovie seeks to bring the simplicity of video editing from its desktop version down to the limited control setup and screen real estate afforded by the iPhone. To do that some, things had to be sacrificed in order to make it work. Actually, a lot was sacrificed. The controls remain largely intuitive and once you get used to the layout, editing together a small film is a breeze. But that ease of use comes at a cost.

Before You Use The Application

Capturing movie clips in your iPhone is as easy as taking photos. You open up the Camera application — which serves double-duty for both still shots and video — and make sure that the toggle switch is set on video mode. And then just hit the big red 'Record' button to start (which starts flashing as it records) and then hit it again to stop. Once you've stopped recording a video, that clip is saved in the Photo Roll along with all of your pictures.

Within the Camera Roll itself you actually have a few options on what you can do with a clip. If you're fine with that clip exactly the way it is, then you can simply email it, send it via MMS or load it up to YouTube for all the world to see (and for a refresher on what actually happened last night). Alternately, if you like the clip but just want to trim off a bit of it at the beginning and/or end, there is a quick trim function that lets you select just a portion of the original. And once trimmed you have the same export options as above.

It should be noted that emailing a video – either clip or edited video – caps out at less than a minute, so oftentimes your practical options will be limited to either youtube or waiting until you get home to download them from your phone.

Using The Application

When you open up iMovie for the first time you'll have to create a new project before you can do anything else. Creating a project is incredibly easy, as there is only one step: you must select a theme. This is where the limitations start to come in. You have to select a theme — one of five provided with the app — and that theme is what determines what your titles and transitions will look like.

Once you are in the main app window, you have a very focused options palette to work from. There is a button to import assets for use (either video clips, still images, or songs), a button to record a new clip for quick insertion in the project, and then a play button to review your work in progress. Everything else happens down in the timeline, where your clips are strung together as a series of image thumbnails that you can scroll through. There are transition buttons holding clips together, as well as markers for where titles begin. Functions are achieved by tapping or double-tapping in the time-line, to either highlight or select a new option for an item.

Good Bits

The best part of the app's experience is that you can very quickly edit clips together into something that looks presentable, with titles and a music bed. The provided themes are split between options that are "fun" and those with more of a minimalist practicality, and overall the provided ones are pretty good choices. The limited options of the app — once you become acclimated — are sparsely efficient. It could not be easier to add music to your app, type in an opening title, string some trimmed segments together and get a movie prepped for external use. In fact, it's actually much easier than the desktop version. Granted, it's with a limited feature set, but they have definitely made the experience as streamlined as possible.

Bad Bits

As easy as the experience is, it is usually at the expense of the most basic of features. For example, there is no way to fade in or fade out your movie; transitions are only allowed between clips and not just before or after them. Hopefully you have a nice clean start and finish (or can edit it to become that way) because you're stuck with it. Likewise, there isn't a way to edit the length of the titles. Think they're running too long over your opening clip? Tough, as they're apparently exactly the length Apple wanted them. Another minor annoyance is that you can't name a project. They are dated and have a time stamp, but other than that you'll either have to play the video or have a unique first frame which is used as the project's thumbnail.

Conclusion

This first version of iMovie for the iPhone feels oddly incomplete. What's there works very well and seems very stable. But it also feels like half an application, where some of the obviously missing features semi-exist in other areas of the interface, but not where you'd really like them. The upside is that any of these shortcomings can — and probably will — be fixed with a simple software update in the future. Additional themes and options could also come down the pike, so hopefully it's an app that will only improve over time. What's there now is enough to get you going, but it's also just enough to make you want the rest of the application delivered.

You won't be making a masterpiece with this inaugural version of the iMovie application for the iPhone. But… No actually, that's it. You won't be making a masterpiece. Sorry.

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About David R Perry

  • Chris

    Prep for iMovie, is an app teaching all the INS and outs for iMovie on iphone4. 20 minutes of video lessons, reveal all the features in iMovie.