Apple's iLife '09 'a must-have update'

iPhoto now scans photos for faces and uses geotagging to organize albums

Apple's iLife suite has long been a cornerstone of the company's "digital hub" strategy for organizing, managing and creatively using the array of digital media available today. In the latest version, iLife '09, the suite received major updates to almost all of its five applications. The only application that didn't gain any revolutionary new features was iDVD, Apple's tool for creating DVDs of movies and photos edited with the other iLife apps.

In some cases, the updates add revolutionary new features; in others, they're subtler additions that fill long-standing gaps. But after a few weeks of hands-on iLife '09 use since the latest version was unveiled, I can say that the mix of new features and tweaks make this a must-have update for almost all Mac users.

iPhoto adds Faces, Places and more

I've been a fan of iPhoto since the first version was released in 2002. As iPhoto has evolved, Apple has focused on finding ways to help users organize the huge digital libraries many are amassing with the help of digital cameras, cell phone cameras and online photo-sharing and social networking sites. IPhoto '08, released a year and a half ago as part of iLife '08, delivered an early attempt to help people organize photos automatically with Events -- date-driven groupings that automatically organized photos taken or imported on a given day. The result: browsable groups of pictures and videos that can be identified with a title and description.

New features in iPhoto '09 continue the trend toward automating the organization of photos. First up is Faces, which uses facial recognition technology to identify people's faces and allows you to tag them. Once you've tagged people in a handful of photos, iPhoto will attempt to find and identify them in existing photos and in any newly imported photos, allowing you to confirm or reject its guesses. If you expect Faces to be completely effortless, however, you're in for a bit of a shock.

When first used, Faces will analyze all of the photos in your iPhoto library to locate faces in each picture. On my 2.4-GHz iMac, analyzing some 4,800 images took about 40 minutes. Once all of your photos have been analyzed, you can browse them and -- after clicking on the "Name" button in the iPhoto toolbar -- you should see a rectangle around each person's face in the photo. In some cases, faces may not be recognized as such; in other cases, other objects may be identified as faces (such as a club soda bottle Faces identified as my mother). IPhoto provides options for adding missing faces or removing other mis-identified objects. Overall, tagging people is easy and is very similar to tagging people in photos on Facebook. Simply click in the text box under each rectangle and type someone's name -- full name, first name, nickname, whatever you like. IPhoto will remember all the names you've tagged and auto-complete names as you begin typing them.

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