iMovie for iPad’s Missing Audience

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.