iPhoto ‘11 Gets Serious About Your Life

| In-Depth Review

Apple’s first version of iPhoto was released in January, 2002. Since then, it has grown from a modest photo manager to a major, substantive app that’s essential for every Mac user. iPhoto ‘11 (technically, version 9.0) adds important refinements, but more importantly, gets really serious about your treasured photos.

I started shooting and managing digital photos long before iPhoto was released, about 1999. Because there was no good way to manage those photos, I collected them in directories on my Mac by event, and I still do that. I didn’t trust an app and its potentially buggy database, but I trusted Mac OS and then Mac OS X and my backups.

Two things have happened to change all that: the ability of iPhoto to generate photo albums, nicely bound, that I could share with family and the advent of the iPhone — which probably doubled my annual photo count. Ever since my first iPhone, I have been using iPhoto to manage all those photos.

iLife '11 package

The Package

According to Apple, iPhoto version 9.0 which comes with iLife ‘11 adds the following new features:

  • Enjoy stunning new full screen views for Faces, Places, and Events.
  • Email a photo using beautiful Apple-designed themes.
  • Share photos on Facebook and see friends’ comments in iPhoto.
  • Create gorgeous books and cards. See all your projects with ease.
  • Showcase your photos with six exciting new slideshow themes.

iPhoto 9 glamor (Apple)

Apple’s glamor shot

I was most interested in the features to design books and cards plus the e-mail facility. Steve Jobs made the comment on October 20, I believe, that many customers are puzzled about how to e-mail photos. I don’t find that credibile because iPhoto is a capable, moderately complex program. If you can handle iPhoto, you can drag a digital image into an e-mail.

However, before I get into those items, I want to talk about the visual refinements. It seems to me that two key technologies have helped Apple: inexpensive, large displays and core graphics technologies. These two enabling technologies have allowed Apple much more latitude in the design of iPhoto 9. It looks better, the workflow is better, and instead of having a bunch of popup windows for, say, effects editing, everything can be all on one screen, full size if desired. It’s as if the designers were allowd to open up, breathe, and have fun with the full screen. It’s a subtle thing, but it gives the app a whole new feel.


The install of the iLife ‘11 suite itself from the DVD takes some time. As is customary, there is no formal licensing, even on the family pack, but Apple does ask you to register the app. And as has been the case in the past, Apple keeps updating the file format of iPhoto, so the first thing iPhoto 9 asks when it launches is to update for iPhoto library. Here’s where you’ll have to be careful because that process can take awhile for large libraries. The alert below warns that the conversion may take an hour or more. In my case, for 2 GB of photos, it took 20 seconds on a Mac Pro (early 2009).

Alert and Prog. bar

Upgrade Alert and Progress Bar

It’s been reported that some users, frustrated by a progress bar that seems stuck, have Force Quit the app and temporarily lost their entire photo library. Heed Apple’s warning and give the app all the time it needs to do the conversion. Also, your iPhoto Library is in your pictures directory.  It wouldn’t hurt to manually back up this file somewhere before starting. Also, before the conversion starts, I recommend turning Time Machine off temporarily.

When that’s complete, you see your event list, but the supporting icons around the edges, now black and white, are better organized and less cartoonish. Apple seems to have learned a lot from photo management from Aperture and the company also has developed a philosophy of dry, low key, black and white icons to suggest a certain graphic maturity. We first saw this when Apple de-colored the icons in the source list of iTunes 10.

As an aside, some newbie users get frustrated when trying to rearrange photos in an event. That’s not possible via drag and drop, but one can build metadata for the photos, like rating, then use Menu -> Sort. If you want to be able to sort by simply dragging, create an album.

Clicking the Edit button at the bottom edge of iPhoto brings up the editing features, with no risk of visual overlap, under three tabs as follows:

Quick Fixes

I liked this technique a lot, and the general feel here is that your photos are very important to you and this application takes them seriously. You feel as if you’re in a serious photo editing and management system, not a colorful toy app designed for 13-inch MacBooks.




Quick Fixes, Effects, and Visual Adjustments

Books and Cards

As I mentioned above, the app’s strength is in the creation of books (bound photo albums) and letterpress cards. A Cover Flow technique is used to present options for the design of the book, and layout options are used to design the individual pages. For creative types, this is a joy.

It should be noted that the default layout for a page doesn’t include a caption for the page, but that’s easily solved by selecting an alternative layout design.

This facility to create letterpress cards and books is the one feature that got me hooked on iPhoto, and it’s the one thing that creative types will have the most fun with. It’s visually stunning now.

Create a book

Create a Book

Sending E-mail

It’s not unusual for a person to take photos, upload them to a Mac, and manage them. Then move on. At some point, one may elect to send an e-mail to a friend and include a photo or two that’s on one’s mind. But I, and I think Apple, senses that the best opportunity to send postcard-type e-mails is when you’re in actually in iPhoto and editing, sorting, filing, etc. Right then and there, you think: “I need to send this photo to my sister.”

In iPhoto 8, you’d select a photo, set some parameters, and then iPhoto would pass it all along to the Apple Mail app. Being cast out of iPhoto was probably a shock to many users, and it really isn’t a friendly approach. Why not send the photo from within iPhoto? That’s what Apple has done, and along the way, they’ve added the facility to wrap that photo into a very cool rich text e-mail with themes. I love this new feature too, and it skillfully and properly replaces the old DotMac greeting cards.


Sending e-mail inside iPhoto

Apple has made the process of sharing more coherent and convenient with, you guessed it, the share icon taken from the iPhone and iPad. Here, you can upload your photos to Facebook, the MobileMe Gallery, Flickr, the photo printing service, or to e-mail. Use the Share menu at the top or the button at the bottom, which ever suits you.

Finally, Apple has added new themes for slideshows that give your presentation some snap and professional appearance. You can select music from the built-in selections, Garage Band, or your own iTunes Library. Like the ability to create custom movie trailers in iMovie 9, iPhoto is all about making the slide show of your vacation to Hawaii compelling, interesting, and professional. Your neighbors and family are accustomed to some fairly slick and professional presentations on TV and in the movies. iPhoto 9 moves you up into that realm.

Daily Use

I’ve been using iPhoto 9 for a few days now, fairly intensively yesterday, and I never ran across a major bug. Everything worked as expected, and the app felt refined, mature and serious. One of the other TMO staff members has encountered a few bugs, and if significant, I’ll update this review with notes.

iPhoto 9 looked gorgeous on my 24-inch (glossy) Cinema Display, and I think that’s the best place to see iPhoto — or on a big screen iMac. I know that many Apple customers love their notebook computers, but as I was looking through some old skiing photos, I realized how valuable and memorable they are. An iMac or a notebook with a big display attached, backed up with Time Machine, is really the quintessential iPhoto album management system.

Another TMO staff member found a visual bug in letterpress card text editing that wasn’t too dramatic, and he also had some app crashes. I didn’t experience any crashes myself, but I didn’t dig deeply into card and book publishing for this review.


The iLife ‘11 package comes with a brief, three panel, six page guide. It tells you all you need to know about resources.  Documentation for each app is contained in the Help function within the app, and I found the iPhoto documentation there complete and helpful as I learned to merge and split events, delete photos, rearrange photos in albums and so on.  There will no doubt be a Missing Manual for iLife ‘11 for those who want to study every nuance. That’s life in iLife.

System Requirements

  • Mac computer with an Intel processor
  • 1 GB of RAM
  • 5 GB of disk space
  • DVD drive for installation
  • Display with 1280 by 768 resolution or higher
  • Mac OS X 10.6.3 or later 

iLife ‘11 is available now.


Steve Jobs is fond of saying, “This is why we do what we do.” It’s a recognition that photos can have a powerful impact on our emotions. For the first few versions of iPhoto, I think the task was to simply provide a container for Apple customers to manage photos, but the CPU, GPU, storage and graphics technologies just weren’t first class.

Now, with affordable 27-inch displays, Core Graphics, i7 processors, and terabyte drives, it’s possible for Apple to both open up iPhoto, let it breathe, and present the user with an app that’s not only beautiful but gravely serious in its intentions to help users create and share joyful photographic experiences. That’s what it’s all about, and if you haven’t been using this app or haven’t upgraded, I submit that now is the time.

Product: iPhoto 9, part of iLife '11

Company: Apple

List Price: US$49.00 ($79.00 for Family Pack, up to 5 Macs in a household)



Refined photo management approach designed for better work flow and creativity. Ridiculously inexpensive as part of a great suite. Powerful photo editing and great design features for the creation of printed cards and albums.  E-mail photos from within the app.


The iPhoto 8 library must be converted and patience is required. No printed documentation.

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florida mike

i think some growing pains are inevitable. I used to be able to simply select pics and email, which I do quite frequently as part of my job.
now if i do that, i get templates for all these frilly album views in email. Well, if i was working for hallmark and creating birthday cards and the like, i guess i would be jumping for joy. However, no, i just need to send easy peasy lemon squeezy photos to clients. can’t do it. In addition, it takes FOREVER to get the email to send or for anything to happen. More often than not, I just close the email and go back to drag and drop. A step back I think and very reminiscent of redmond’s wonderful OS.
Very microsofty I would describe this as. Microsoftish….
Same thing with iDisk. Doesn’t sync!!! Why??? got an apple expert he directed me to the support page to follow the instructions!! I could of done that without talking to him….again…..
Did Steve Ballmer get hired at Apple as a consultant or something, because this is definitely the wrong direction.
I like apple because it just works…...thats the magic.
so ...guys…Steve….
whatever you’re doing….

stop it.


Jeff Gamet

I was surprised to see that Apple pulled the option for creating calendars with your pics from iPhoto 11. Sure, you can still make cards and photo books, but the calendar builder was really nice for making custom calendars for friends and family. Once again, Apple givith and Apple taketh away.



... says Calendars is coming soon to iPhoto 11.


I’ll be getting iPhoto11. However I’m waiting to see if it’s available on the MacAppStore. There is some evidance this might be a possibility. I need an iPhoto upgrade but not the rest of iLife.

Ross Edwards

Does iPhoto ‘11 finally let you manage photo files the way iTunes manages music files?

I have… infinity billion photos.  OK, maybe not, but over 50 gigs worth, anyway.  I have photos from throughout my entire family history, because nobody else in the family is computer-savvy enough to be the keeper of them, and I ended up scanning a lot of stuff that was on its way to crumbling into dust when various grandparents passed on.  So it would be safe to say my photo collection is absolutely irreplacable, and it is backed up accordingly.  Management of it, though… that’s the rub.

If I import all my photos into iPhoto ‘11 and start naming them, will they have nice coherent filenames like “2008-10-31_Halloween_01_Kids_getting_in_costumes.jpg” and fall into the appropriate folders, stored with metadata, etc, or will I still be left with a labyrinth of files called CIMG2476.jpg and SAM_9215.jpg stored every which where or (even worse, as in iPhoto ‘08) stored in a database where I have to export to get a file out?

iTunes has done this brilliantly for several versions now.  It manages music files and directories, sets appropriate folder and file names, and stores metadata beautifully.  The few complaints I have about it are very, very minor (for example, you should be able to set any number of appliable genres for a song, and have it show up in a search for any of those—how else do you categorize an acoustic performance of a hard rock song?  Acoustic?  Rock?  Metal?  Folk?  You see the problem.  It’s a limit of idv3 tags, I know.)

I didn’t upgrade from iLife ‘08 to iLife ‘09, so if this feature came in the meanwhile, I apologize for having missed it.  I’m considering grabbing the new ‘11 version because the economy says I’m going to wait until next year to upgrade my Mac, so I won’t get the new version for free as a result.


I’m extremely bummed that this is for Intel machines only.  My tried and true workhorse for picture management here at home is my old PowerMac Dualie.  I don’t see myself getting a new house machine/server anytime soon, so I guess I’m stuck with the last version of iphoto.  This is too bad because I would certainly spring for the new version if it would work.


As someone who used to manage iPhoto on a PowerMac Dualie (dual 1.25GHz), moving to an Intel iMac was night and day in performance. Granted I upgrade because I needed much better Adobe CS performance but the iPhoto improvement was a surprising bonus.
It is hard to drop one of those old workhorses that you have upgraded and added on to all of those years, though. smile

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