Apple – iLife ’11 review

multimedia suite for Mac owners
Photo of Apple – iLife ’11
£45 (single user); £69 (five user family pack)

iLife is Apple’s suite of creative software that ships free with every new Mac and is supposed to cover all of the major bases: so it includes programs for making music, movies and web sites, organising and using photos, as well as creating DVDs. You can also buy it separately (though it requires Snow Leopard to run) but most people will upgrade their old version to this newer, fancier one. So, is it worth it?

That depends. There’s no doubt that iLife ’11 includes some significant improvements over earlier versions but these aren’t evenly spread and iWeb and iDVD for example, haven’t been updated at all. Of the others, GarageBand, the music making program, is a significant step forward, largely thanks to a simplified interface (you don’t have to ‘record enable’ tracks any more, you can just select them), more easy-to-follow lessons in different styles, a range of new virtual amplifers, speakers and stomp boxes for guitar players and best of all, groove matching and what Apple calls Flex Time.

These last two bear explaining. Groove matching allows you to select a track that’s in perfect time (for example a drum loop) and then subtly shift the rest of the tracks so they match it perfectly. It’s an excellent way of sorting out sloppy timing and will save home musicians oodles of time. Flex Time is for much finer work and lets you open the wave form of a real instrument recording (for example a voice or guitar) and then nudge it left or right; it’s not a way to correct bum notes, but it is a way of sorting out poor phrasing or just to fix that duff note that’s behind or ahead of the beat. It’s the kind of professional-level feature that until now has only been found in Apple’s more upmarket Logic Express.

Elsewhere, iPhoto gets an iPad-style makeover (that won’t necessarily please everyone) with full screen views all over the place, support for gestures (so you can swipe three fingers across a trackpad to navigate a filmstrip of photos for example) and a re-designed set of photo editing tools. There’s also a new way of organising projects on a virtual bookshelf that’s reminiscent of the iBooks electronic book reader, and a selection of classy Letterpress seasonal greetings cards with plenty of options for editing layouts, tailoring text, colour schemes and so on. We also liked the new options for photographic books and calendars, though the prices for converting these into the real, printed thing looked a bit expensive.

The iMovie program includes a couple of new themes – News and Sport – which are pretty classy and well thought out, highly suitable for sports days, park football matches or any kind of competition as well as class reports, homework projects and so on. Alongside these you now get 15 trailer templates which let you outline and storyboard your home movies in various styles – the Indiana Jones one is brilliant – with all the cuts, transitions and titles already made for you, so you can just drag and drop clips into position.

There are more fundamental improvements too, particularly in audio editing. It’s now possible to control the volume of individual clips and then balance them against a musical soundtrack, and Apple has added a range of effects like reverb and echo. There are easy to use special effects like replay and slow motion as well, and we particularly liked the ‘jump cut’ effect which slices the video so it jumps perfectly in time to a musical soundtrack.

Company: Apple

Contact: 0800 048 0408

With a low upgrade price and a slew of new features, iLife represents very good value for money, especially for users of GarageBand and iMovie which both benefit from some substantial new features. The full screen interface favoured by iPhoto won't be to everyone's taste but we suspect is a sign of things to come as the iPad interface migrates over to Apple's consumer software. And the five user pack is outstanding value for money.