The questionable pairing of iPhoto and iPhone

So here’s something I’ve been meaning to get off my chest. Why on Earth do I have to load iPhoto to import pictures from my iPhone?

Bear with me a minute. To sync my iPhone, I need to launch a large application, iTunes. There’s no need for that. In my Palm days (which are happily behind me) syncing was a near-background activity. Missing Sync launched quickly, did its thing, and went away. That’s how it should be. iTunes does a lot more than syncing – one shouldn’t need to launch a media manager to sync a phone. It doesn’t make sense.

But I’ll accept that as what it is, and move on.

iTunes happily syncs everything from my phone – contacts (iTunes isn’t a contact manager), calendar (iTunes isn’t a calendar app), etc. It will sync out photos. But it won’t copy them from the iPhone. Why the heck not? I have to launch another app, iPhoto, to do that. My iPhoto is loaded with photos, so it’s anything but fast to launch when all I want to do is import a few low-res images. Too many clicks, too much time, and thus too high a risk of losing photos because I don’t bother with the process as often as I should.

Iphoto-Autoimport-1Now a few years back I was troubleshooting iPhoto, and figured out how it handled importing. I’ve long forgotten the details, but it copied everything first to a temporary folder within the iPhoto Library folder. Then it moved everything around. I learned this because something got stuck in that temporary folder, and iPhoto wouldn’t launch until I cleared it out. Probably a corrupted jpeg that wouldn’t import.

Since my first iPhone sync I’ve wondered why iTunes couldn’t just copy photos to some magical auto-import folder within the iPhoto library. Then, at iPhoto’s next launch, the photos would magically appear – even if the iPhone in question was long disconnected. iTunes could easily track which photos have previously been copied to prevent large-scale re-imports.

I thought about this today after scanning old photos for my wife. She wanted them in iPhoto on her Mac. I thought “Gee, wouldn’t it be swell if I just dropped them into some magical folder on her Mac, over the network, and they’d appear in her iPhoto at next launch.” So I took a peek at iPhoto ’08′s library structure. It’s now a package (overall a good move I think). Sure enough, there’s an “Auto Import” folder! There it is! There it is!

I even gave it a try. On my Mac, I copied a few jpeg’s into Auto Import. I launched iPhoto, and quite predictably the photos imported. Zowie!

So, I ask you dear reader, why can’t iTunes do this for me, with my iPhone? Apple, are you listening?

Oh, and a sad end to my tale… Alysa has an older version of iPhoto on her Mac, which lacks the “Auto Import” folder. I didn’t remember the name of the temp folder to create, so I couldn’t use this trick today.

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ScreenFlow – a screen recording and editing application

I’ve been on the hunt for a good screen recording utility, to produce occasional screencasts. Not so much for the blog (although one never knows) – more for client instructions on specific topics. I picked up Snapz Pro through the recent MacHeist bundle – it’s just awful for screen recording. I’ve played with iShowU, which is ok. Today I ran across two new products – Screenium and ScreenFlow. Screenium is a really nice screen recorder, but ScreenFlow goes beyond simple recording and is a very impressive application.

Most screen recorders do just that – record the screen, either the whole thing or some segment thereof. Screenium does the best job of those I’ve tried – it’s $20, which is a fair price.

ScreenFlow, though, takes recording as just the first step. They market it as a “Professional Screencasting Studio.” I don’t know about the word studio but it’s clearly aimed at getting excellent results. Think of it like iMovie for screencasting. Once you’ve recorded your screen, you then use ScreenFlow’s simple (but quite effective) timeline-esque editor to create the final movie.

But some of the tricks really do come from the recording. It obviously records in layers. In the editing process you can call out (highlight and/or zoom) the foreground window, the area around the mouse, and play many other tricks. This is what separates it from the concept of using a simple screen recorder and editing elsewhere. It’s reasonably simple to get it to do some very nifty tricks. It makes plentiful use of Core Animation, thus requires Leopard.

I won’t go through all the features, but I’ve put together a quick demo movie that’s worth a look (20MB Quicktime movie, 720x450px, 3m43s @ 30fps). I used nothing but ScreenFlow to make this movie, and I exported using the “Web – High Quality” preset.

ScreenFlowPhoto

This is akin to something I’ll likely produce for a client in the near future (instructions on converting a Video DVD to the Leightronix Nexus format using MPEG Streamclip). I haven’t bought ScreenFlow (at least not yet) so their demo watermark appears across the movie. That’s ok with me – there are otherwise no limitations on the downloaded demo.

At $99 it’s aimed at a higher-end crowd than the common $20 screen recorder. If you’re making videos for fun, this isn’t for you. If you’re making money in the process though – either by producing a commercial screencast or by charging for your time, it may be worthwhile. Instinctively I’d put its value at $79, but that’s just me.

I had one problem with ScreenFlow. There’s a feature where it will display the keys pressed while making the recording. It just didn’t work for me. A gray area appeared where I expected to see the keys, but no text at all. So I didn’t use that feature in my demo movie.

I can think of four features that would make this a better product:

  • Normalize audio on export. I used my MacBook Pro’s built-in microphone (which admittedly isn’t so great). I boosted the volume as high as ScreenFlow would let me, but it’s still too low. Unless you process your audio separately you’ll likely run into this problem now and then. A great way to handle this would be a “normalize audio” checkbox in the Export window.
  • The default exports have no (decent) iPhone-compatible preset. I suspect the Web/Low-Quality would work, but at 300K it wouldn’t look great. For some situations, it would be nice to have something compatible with the iPhone/iPod – 640×480 without frame reordering. Screencasts wouldn’t always be viewed on an iPod/iPhone, but it would be great to have one version usable in all circumstances.
  • A simple title generator would be very handy. ScreenFlow can import images with ease, so I could generate a title in almost any graphic app. But titles are key to any video production. Just a simple centered title option would be great.
  • The export dialog box isn’t Mac-standard – selecting a Save folder requires another window popup. A strange omission for an otherwise very intuitive Macintosh product.

I made my recording without much planning, intentional so I could really see what ScreenFlow could do. I ended up with a few Finder windows open in the background, which made things look less than ideal. If I make more of these, I’ll likely create a second account on my Mac just for this purpose, and keep it really clean. And (before anyone says so in comments) I recommend using a good microphone for anything. I’m not the first person to say bad audio is worse than bad video.

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