iMovie for iPad’s Missing Audience

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

This is not a review of iMovie on the iPad. How could it be? The product isn’t even available until March 11.

Neither is this a critique of the perceived value of the software. Based on the demo from last week’s Apple Event, I’d say the quality is superb. It’s exactly what I would expect from Apple. My positive experience with the current iPhone- and iPod touch-only version of iMovie further suggests that iMovie on an iPad will be a pleasant and effective interface for making movies on-the-go. And with a price of only $4.99, I am virtually certain that the app will sell better than the proverbial hotcakes.


So what’s the problem?

The problem is that — after the smoke clears and every iPad 2 owner has a copy of iMovie installed and its novelty has worn off — I expect very few people will actually use it.

Home games

If you have a Mac, you almost certainly own some version of iMovie for Mac OS X. If you use iMovie with any frequency, it’s nearly as certain that you’re using iMovie ‘11. The Mac version offers features unavailable on the iPad — more visual effects, more themes, movie trailers and a People Finder. More significantly, it offers the larger landscape, increased storage and faster speed of a Mac. You also have ready access to all the video stored on your Mac.

In case you were thinking of working on the same iMovie project both on an iPad and a Mac, think again. As confirmed by Macworld, iMovie projects created on an iPad are not transferrable to the Mac version. And vice versa. Plus, unless you have an iPad 2, forget about iMovie on your iPad at all. The app doesn’t work with the original iPad.

Add it all up and, given a choice between working with iMovie on your Mac vs. the iPad, the Mac is the clear favorite.

Away games

One advantage of an iPad over a Mac (especially a desktop Mac) is that it’s “mobile.” You can easily take an iPad with you when you leave home. Perhaps this is where the iPad will allow iMovie to shine. Sorry, but no.

Despite the fact that the iPad 2 comes with two cameras, I doubt they will be used for recording video destined for an iMovie project. The aforementioned demo at last week’s Apple Event showcased a movie of an Hawaiian vacation. Is there even a remote possibility that the raw footage for that iMovie project was taken on the iPad itself? No.

It was almost certainly taken with a dedicated camcorder and transferred to the iPad. True, you can do this, with relative ease, via Apple’s Camera Connection Kit. You can use the same Kit to transfer video from an iPhone or iPod touch to your iPad. If you’re on a vacation with friends or family, you may have several video recording devices along.

Hmmm. The iPad could become a central repository for the video from all these devices. You could create iMovie projects from this combined video collection — while you are still on vacation. Here, at last, we have a practical use for iMovie on the iPad. Right? Not so fast.

For one thing, this assumes there is enough free space on your iPad to hold all the video. Even if you have the space, creating a polished iMovie project takes significant time and effort. How many people will want to take this time while on their vacation? You’re in Hawaii. Would you rather be on the beach or in your hotel room hunched over iMovie’s editing screen? For me, I’d rather wait until I’m home to sit down with iMovie. Of course, once I’m home, I can use my Mac instead of my iPad. And we’re back to square one.

Game over?

Does all of this mean that iMovie on the iPad will wind up as great eye candy with little or no practical value? Not necessarily. There are a few potential paths out of this box — although they are all a bit “iffy” for now.

First up, not all iPad owners have Macs. Many use a Windows PC. There is no iMovie for Windows. PC users may prefer iMovie on their iPad to any of their PC movie-making software.

There are other, more likely, “special case” situations where an iPad 2 may be the preferred choice for iMovie. One such case is in a classroom, where each student could have their own iPad rather than a MacBook.

There is one last possibility. And it’s a big one. Despite the feature advantages of iMovie on the Mac, users may come to prefer the interface for iMovie on the iPad. The greater ease and natural feel of editing clips via swipes and pinches, rather than via a keyboard and mouse/trackpad clicks, may tip the scales in favor of the iPad. I can imagine many people discovering that they enjoy the iPad version more.

By the way, I believe this is almost certain to happen to iMovie’s compatriot app: GarageBand for iPad. With touch instruments and smart instruments and super-portability, the iPad version of GarageBand is, in many ways, superior to its Mac sibling. 

If this shift doesn’t happen with the current version of iMovie, it will by the next version. By then, however, the next version of iMovie for the Mac should also be out. It will inherit much of the iPad’s special features. At this point, all of this may become moot. It’s all part of Apple’s grand “iOS-ification,” their (unstated but implied) long-term strategy to functionally unify the two OS versions within a few years. Get ready.

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Engine Joe

Can’t (entirely) agree with you on this.  I often shoot—then edit and upload—video while on vacation.  Once you’re familiar with the tools, editing a short video takes between 10 minutes and an hour (depending on what you’re trying to achieve, etc).  I used to lug around a camcorder in a big case and my iBook (later, a smaller camcorder and my MacBook Pro) to shoot and edit video on vacation, upload it, and share it with family and friends.

Now I can do it with an iPhone (yeah, most likely not going to shoot video on the iPad) and the iPad.

Somehow, I doubt I’m totally unique in this respect.

Ted Landau

edit video on vacation, upload it, and share it with family and friends.

I can sort of see this. I do occasionally email video I take on my iPhone.

But I usually make do with trimming right in the Camera Roll. If I do use iMovie, I’m only using like 5% of its features. Nothing like what was shown at the Apple Event.

Engine Joe

And I may be the anomaly here—because I usually like to make an actual “little film” with even my little periodic videos… score them out with synched music (it’s actually THIS feature that has me wondering about the usefulness of the iOS version of iMovie) and creating some kind of narrative thread throughout, or at least giving it a mood.

Obviously for that sort of thing, the camera roll doesn’t cut it; though I do use it for quickly uploading videos of the two-year-old niece doing something cute so the grandparents can see on YouTube, etc.  And it is well suited for the phone sized screen; iMovie on the phone is sort of a waste.


I believe you’re making a mistake in thinking entirely short-term, as in “this is what’s going to happen the first month and that’s all there is to the matter.”  If you look at the situation based on my observations with Garageband and iMovie-classic, you’ll see there’s a lot of potential in the future.

Sure, iPad iMovie is going to sell a lot and certainly only a few percentage points of those will continue to use it after the first few months, but 3% of a million is still 30,000.  Most of those 30,000 will be people who never used iMovie before or believed video editing was too complicated to be considered as a hobby.  They’re going to use the iPad to make interesting videos which will prompt others to give it a try, and the numbers of people using their iPad for making movies will grow into a respectable number.

I’ve seen this happen with Garageband and other iLife apps.  There’s an initial surge followed by a low period then a gradual increase to prominence again.  During that time Apple will continue to improve both iMovie and the iPad making it even better for shooting videos with.

So put this article aside for a few years then revisit it and see how well iMovie for iPad has held up.

Ted Landau

So put this article aside for a few years then revisit it and see how well iMovie for iPad has held up.

I believe we’re in agreement here. I already stated, in the final three paragraphs of my column, that I expect things to change as iMovie evolves towards future versions.


I think the killer feature would be the ability to 1-way export to iMovie on the mac. That way you can do rough cuts of your footage on the go, when everything is fresh in your memory, so things go a lot quicker. Then, at a later time, you can actually make it not suck by sending it to iMovie on your desktop/laptop.


I agree that the percentage who continue to use it after buying will be small.  But that’s the case with a lot of apps I’ve bought unfortunately.

But my anticipated use is for longer specific types of vacations such as family weddings and reunions.  Each time, there are a lot of people gathered together but just as many not able to make it.  Making a movie right away (sure you’re hunched over an iPad at the end of the day when everyone else has crashed) helps get it out for those anxiously waiting and even the attendees who can talk about it there.

Getting back home means getting back to a busy life and most of the movies will never get done!  I speak from experience and I’m sure lots will agree.  Fast paced world means fast production and fast consumption… So the iPad 2 (and Apple) is just enabling the acceleration of life to the next level…!!!

Brad Balfour

It was almost certainly taken with a dedicated camcorder and transferred to the iPad. True, you can do this, with relative ease, via Apple?s Camera Connection Kit. You can use the same Kit to transfer video from an iPhone or iPod touch to your iPad. If you?re on a vacation with friends or family, you may have several video recording devices along.

Ted: Are you certain about this. I’ve got the camera connection kit and a Cannon T2i. I can (and do) xfer the raw photo files I take with the T2i. The T2i shoots video in H.264 format which is certainly compatible with the iPad.

However, whenever I import the .mov files, the iPad ignores them. I can’t preview them, play them. Nothing. I can later sync them back to my Mac and iTunes, but I can’t play them on the iPad.

Can you? Am I doing something wrong?



I’ve been tempted to buy iMovie for my iPod touch.  I decided to wait until the moment arrived when I really needed it; when I had a movie that I just had to edit on the Touch and share…...  I’m still waiting.

Ted Landau

Can you? Am I doing something wrong?

I would think this would work. The iPad supports .mov and several other formats. I have been able to import video from my Canon camera (which I believe uses an .avi format). Still, there may be some problem unique to the T2i format.

In the article, I should have clarified a related point: You will not be able to import video directly to an iPad from a camcorder that uses AVCHD format. To get it on an iPad, you’ll first have to send it to your Mac and use a utility to convert the video to an iPad-compatible format.


Like many others are saying here I think iMovie for the iPad could be a hit.  While I haven’t used the generation 2 iMovie nearly as much as the prior version, I immediately see many of the features gen 2 iMovie making a lot more sense on a touch device than a desktop.

For me the holdups of iMovie on the iPad are its lack of integratation with the desktop version and with iPhoto.  Unless I’ve missed it, I would like to be able to choose movie clips from my iPhoto library while in iPhoto, launch iMovie and have a new project created for them, and export the results back to iPhoto.

I applaud Apple for giving us the (long overdue) ability to make simple trim edits to our movies in iPhoto 10 without openening another app.  If iPhoto is to be the respository for our home movies, this seems like the logical next step in the digital hub experience.

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