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8/27/2007
08:24 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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Did Apple Hurt Its Loyal Customers? Or Bravely Resist Software Bloat?

Computer users complain continuously about software bloat, so you'd think we'd applaud a vendor's efforts to simplify and slim down a popular application. That's what Apple did with iMovie '08 -- but it's got some of Apple's most loyal users squawking that Apple turned a once-powerful application into crippleware.

Computer users complain continuously about software bloat, so you'd think we'd applaud a vendor's efforts to simplify and slim down a popular application. That's what Apple did with iMovie '08 -- but it's got some of Apple's most loyal users squawking that Apple turned a once-powerful application into crippleware.

When Apple came out with iMovie in the far-away 20th-century days of 1999, amateur desktop moviemaking was the realm of a few dedicated enthusiasts. Over time, iMovie evolved into a powerful editor for digital video, and iMovie '06 is a favorite tool for the new generation of video podcasters, many of them professionals.

But when it came time to come out with iMovie '08 this summer, Apple rewrote the software from the ground up to suit a new market for video software. This market didn't even exist until YouTube exploded on the scene. Back in '99, very few people posted video to the Internet; now, Internet video-making has become mainstream. All you need is a cheap video camera, four kittens, and an empty Coke 24-pack, and you, too, can be an Internet video impresario.

Apple optimized the software to enable users to review hours of video quickly, separate out the best footage, package it up to a create a video a few minutes long, and upload the video to sharing sites such as YouTube.

That left loyal iMovie '06 users, like David Pogue of the New York Times, furious. He said iMovie '08 is an "uttter bafflement."

I can't remember any software company pulling a stunt like this before: throwing away a fully developed, mature, popular program and substituting a bare-bones, differently focused program under the same name.

I've used the real iMovie to edit my Times videos for three years now. The results are perfectly convincing as professional video blog work. But the new version is totally unusable for that purpose. It's unusable, in fact, for anyone doing professional work that requires any degree of precision.

Pogue's review is a litany of the features iMovie '08 doesn't have: No timeline for editing video, poor audio editing, no support for plug-ins, no special effects like slow-motion, reverse motion, fast motion, black-and-white. And you can't even import iMovie '06 projects.

But the blog "no one sequel" defends Apple:

The new imovie is a refreshing change for these folks. it finally works like an apple / ilife application -- the way it should have all along. now when you open imovie, you see the clips you've already imported. plug in a camera and an import window automatically opens up, and lets you choose to import all new clips by default, or manually select specific clips to import. using selected parts of your clips is magically easy. adding transitions is instantaneous. text overlay are easily adjustable and editable on the fly. everything a beginner might have wanted to do works better, and faster with less effort.

yes, there are fewer choices of transitions and text titles now. there is far less control over audio and you can no longer separate the audio from the video on clips. and you no longer work in time codes, but in simple minutes and seconds. but you know what? if you need those features, you need a pro app. admit it. what entry-level user even understands time codes? and why should they be forced to learn that just to edit their video?

The blog goes on to say that the old iMovie '06 was too much like a professional movie-making application, and had too many features that were too confusing for users. iMovie '08 is superior in that it has just enough to get the job done -- and nothing more.

The disagreement over iMovie '08 is a microcosm of the entire Apple user experience. Apple is a company that thinks it knows what you want better than you know it yourself. When they're right, customers are delighted. But in this case, many of Apple's customers think Apple was wrong, and that the customer got screwed.

What do you think of iMovie '08? And can you think of any other instances where a vendor upgraded a product by replacing it with something that did less?

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