Among the products Apple announced today is iMovie 09, an update to their entry-level video editor that I currently find completely unusable. They have demo videos up showing some of the new features, which range from very helpful (stabilization) to fairly gimmicky (the animated maps).
What’s most clear, however, is that they’re sticking with the bizarre and unfortunate editing interface.
Yes, I have the curse of knowledge: I know how an editing system is “supposed to” work, as it does in Final Cut, Avid and to some degree, the original iMovie. But I’m always game for a new and better idea, particularly if it makes heretofore complicated things easier for newcomers to understand. iMovie is supposed to let ordinary Mac users cut together simple videos. I get that.
But worse than being unlike real editing systems, iMovie is unlike any normal Mac application. Take a look at how Precision Editor works in the new iMovie.
You move the mouse along the gray bar, or inside one clip or inside another clip. You’re not clicking or dragging; you’re just floating. Unlike every other Mac application in which a click selects something (or moves the insertion point), a click in iMovie is a cut — or more precisely, it adjusts the out point of the top clip. A click in the lower clip adjusts its in point. There’s feedback, in the sense that the video suddenly jumps, but it’s not immediately clear what’s changed, or what would be undone if you hit Undo.
Throughout iMovie, there’s a lot of WTF? Important things are hidden in pop-up menus, often attached to clips. I understand and support the idea of attaching actions to objects, but how is Precision Editor an action? It’s a noun, not a verb, and opens as a separate viewer.
The timeline is the other major frustration. Anyone who has ever watched YouTube understands that in video, time moves from left to right. If you drag the playhead — the little circle — you’re moving forward and backward in the clip. But not in iMovie. In iMovie, time wraps like text, left to right then up and down. Apple has created a new and inferior grammar for no good reason.
Fortunately, Final Cut Express is only $169 on Amazon. It can import iMovie projects, and you’ll definitely want to. While it seems more complex at the start (more menu items), it consistently rewards your expectations about how video and Macs are supposed to work.