First impressions of Apple's iLife 09

I sat through Phil Schiller's Macworld 09 keynote wondering whether there would be a sting in its tail. Something to grab the headlines. A 'one more t

He just about delivered - and ensured there'll be more newspaper headlines about the death of DRM than the death of Steve Jobs. Plus, the ability to download songs to the iPhone over 3G could quietly reshape the mobile music market.

But I have to admit I'm most excited about the new iLife. I'm sad like that.

I use iMovie a lot - there's no quicker way to get a video edited and uploaded to YouTube - but I find myself frustrated by its limitations. Having had a quick look at the 2009 version, it's clear that most of the glaring flaws have been fixed - like the ability to pull audio off one video track and put it over another.

iMovie 09's precision editor looks like a much better way to get the edits you're after, and titling is improved, too, although still too limited for my liking.

Some unexpected additional features could prove useful too - like the ability to erase camera shake and create smooth videos, or add moving maps to your movies.

All in all, it looks like iMovie has come of age. I can't wait to get my hands on it.

The changes to iPhoto also make a big difference. It doesn't take long for a digital photo library to become a sprawling mess, meaning you can never find the shots you want. But trying to manually tag each image is a Herculean task - I've started and given up many times.

But not any more. The face recognition feature in iPhoto 09 asks you to tag a face, then goes away and finds similar looking people from your collection. Only real-life experience will find out if this really works, but it's much easy to review iPhoto's suggestions and click 'yes' or 'no' than manually add the tags yourself.

Adding Facebook compatibility rocks, too - particularly because iPhoto 09 won't just upload to Facebook, it'll also sync the names of the people in your photos when your Facebook friends tag them. Which gets over those terrible I-spent-a-week-with-them-and-I-can't-remember-there-names moments. (Or is that just me?)

There are Flickr uploads, too, and the Google Maps integration looks fantastic - particularly as you can add your own geo-tags if you don't have a GPS-enabled camera (the iPhone geo-tags its photos... but they're hardly hi-res masterpieces). Of course, manual tagging is a pain - but thankfully most sets of photographs take place in the same location. And if you use the iPhoto book printing feature you can add maps to your books.

Finally, the new slidehow animations are delicious eye-candy - although, as with all of Apple's themes, they're probably pretty limited in practice. Still, it's a nice touch that you can sync animated slidehows with an iPhone.

Garageband looks pretty similar to the old version, save for the new Learn To Play tutorials to help your guitar and keyboard skills. The Artist Lessons - where Sting and Norah Jones teach you to play their songs - are separate downloads and it's as yet unclear whether these will be available in the UK. The British press release says 'Artist Lessons are sold separately through the GarageBand application and only available in select countries.'

But before you start crying into your keyboard, just look at the picture of Sting in the screenshot below. Is that really what you want to be seeing on your computer screen when you're trying to learn guitar? I think not.

The new iWeb isn't radically different from the previous version of the website creation too, but in keeping with the other iLife apps it has social networking integration, allowing you to tell your Facebook buddies when your site has been updated. There are some new themes, too.

The only iLife app that seems to have been left untouched is iDVD. But then discs are so last year, darling.

All in all, iLife 09 seems like a pretty essential upgrade at £69. Look out for a full review when we get hold of a copy later this month.