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Review: Apple's iMovie app ready for its close-up? [Updated]

June 30, 2010 |  1:58 pm

Imovie

With so many iPhone users shooting stills and video with their phones -- and clearly proving themselves slightly impulsive and a little too impatient to wait to do a full edit on a laptop or desktop -- it makes sense Apple would aim to cater to this burgeoning creative community on the move.

The same day Apple began selling its popular iPhone 4, it also began to offer iMovie for iPhone 4 in the App Store. This $5 app aims to take the simple movie-making functionality of the very user-friendly iMovie software for the Mac and put it in the palm of your hand. It is compatible only with iPhone 4 and iOS4. Sorry, video-shooting 3GS users.

So, is this app ready for its close-up?

Not quite.

Photo 2 The editing part was easy enough. You start a project, select a theme, go through your video and photo libraries to combine the visuals. You can also shoot directly from the app, if you want. And then, if you choose to, you can add a audio track -- typically music -- from your music library or use one of the five pre-installed theme music tracks.They will sound quite familiar if you know Apple's ads.

In about 15 minutes, I was able to create a short video using all of these elements shot during a recent workout walk, with simple dissolve transitions.  (You can see the video at the bottom of the post.)

The actual editing was pretty slick. Adjusting video clips was as simple as a swipe. You can tweak fairly easily the "Ken Burns" panning effect that's added to photos as well. Removing elements is just a swipe too.

It's lightning fast to drop in an element or swap themes and music. And the app works in both landscape and portrait modes.

The only way to get the video out from iMovie app purgatory is to export it -- to the photo album on the phone. From there, you can email, MMS or upload to MobileMe or YouTube and the like. Even though the app's description reads "easily sync your movie back to your computer," there is no apparent way to do that. Photo 3

What should have been the easy part, exporting the mini masterpiece, took hours. Seriously,  hours.

The app crashed more than a dozen times. I tried what other frustrated users suggested on the Apple discussion boards: clearing out older projects, closing the other multi-tasking apps and then rebooting. I also tried exporting at medium quality instead of HD.

When it didn't immediately crash without warning, I received inexplicable error messages. I stopped short of removing and reinstalling the app since I didn't want to lose my project.

Ultimately, I cut the piece from a minute and 22 seconds to a minute and six seconds and was able to export it. 

Frankly, the fact that you cannot get the video you create in iMovie out of iMovie is a rather sizable drawback.

There are a few other imitations:

  • Sifting through your media if you have lots of photos and videos, as I do, is a bit tedious since you start at the very top of your library every time you go back to add something. (Choosing multiple photos at one time crashed the app.)
  • In terms of the audio track, you can use only unlocked music, and you can't edit the audio except to either add music or to turn sound of the video on or off. Since my inaugural efforts using this app, I've begun a playlist of music for videos to save myself the hassle of scrolling through music to find feasible options.
  • The transitions are limited to a choice of cross dissolves ranging from .5 to 2 seconds or whatever is associated with the theme you've selected. I can see additional theme and transition options being offered as in-app purchases. 

All of these issues are certainly reparable with an update. So far, there's been no word on when that's likely to come -- or even an acknowledgment of the issue. 

It is more useful than the editing tool included in native Photos app, which really only trims video from the beginning or the end. The app does have potential.

In an ideal world, this $5 app would allow you to access sound recorded in the Voice Memo app to lay as a narration track. It would also allow you to go theme-less or to create one of your own. And, of course, it would allow you to export clips, preferably including those that are longer than a minute, directly from the app to email, YouTube, Facebook and the like.

And, since we're dreaming a bit here, it'd be quite handy if the app also worked in concert with its big brother, the full version of iMovie.

For now, however, the iMovie app that debuted is less of a finished product and more of a rough cut. 

[Updated at 5:09 p.m.: Apple has released version 1.0.1, correcting the export issue.]

-- Michelle Maltais

Follow me on Twitter: @mmaltaislat

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