My Turn

iClip: The App I Want for Christmas

Guy McLimore - 2002.03.25

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

I wish that Uncle Steve in Cupertino accepted letters from good little Macheads in the manner of Santa Claus. There's a Digital Hub application I'd sure like to have for Christmas.

I've been extra good this year, buying a new Titanium PowerBook G4 for myself and a second PowerBook for my wife, being evangelical about the Mac everywhere I go, and making the required hajj to The Apple Store (in Tampa, while on winter vacation) to worship at the altar (or at least the Mac Genius bar) in person. Surely I'm written up in Uncle Steve's "nice" list somewhere...

The app I want is a natural extension of the iTunes/iPhoto variety - in fact it is sort of iPhoto from a different perspective (though it would certainly compliment the existing iPhoto application nicely). I know exactly what I want it to do. Here's the feature list:

The basic concept is for a program to organize all sorts of graphics on my Mac, as iPhoto does for digital photographs. Like most of us with a graphics bent (and doesn't that describe a big chunk of all Mac users, to one extent or another?) I have a cornucopia of clip art, logos, and pictures all over my hard drives and archived on dozens of CD-ROMs.

Can I ever find exactly what I want when I want it? Nooooooooo.

That's where the New Killer Digital Hub App (call it iClip for now) comes in.

The first time you run iClip, it offers you a list of common graphics formats including EPS, PDF, GIF, JPEG, PICT, Flash, and TIF, as well as less common ones used for special purposes or primarily on the Windows side like WMF, BMP, and PCX. It also looks at my hard drive and sees what sorts of common graphics applications I have installed (Photoshop, Illustrator, Freehand, ImageReady, and so forth) and makes note of these in the list as well. From that list, I can select which types of files I want iClip to organize for me.

Once I've made my selections, iClip (in an iTunes-like fashion) searches my mounted drives (in the background) for files with those formats. It creates a database of the attributes (size, format, creation/modification date, name, location, color depth, resolution) of all of those files and creates thumbnail images of them.

When iClip is finished, it has collected a searchable database (iPhoto style) of all the graphics files on my drive. After this, it will periodically sweep the drive (again, in the background) to update the database, deleting files no longer present and adding new ones it encounters. I can also insert any CD-ROM or other removable media while iClip is open and have the contents automatically added to the database.

Now that I have this resource, iClip lets me go further with the organization. I can code any and all of the files with keywords to indicate the contents in any manner I find useful. I can also create albums - subsets of the files - by drag-and-drop. These functions work much as iPhoto does, but with a wider variety of image types. In fact, iClip serves as a "superset" of iPhoto, in that any picture archived by iPhoto's database is automatically added to the iClip database as well.

Now I can find any graphic I need by keyword, format, album, or any other criteria using a powerful search engine. (Gee, I wonder where Apple can find one of those?) It doesn't matter where the graphic resides - on my drive, on a server, on a removable disk, or in my iDisk. iClip will find it and bring it to me. (For removables and servers, it will prompt me to connect to the server or insert the proper removable disk.)

Want more? If you are connected to the Internet, iClip will (at your command) search an ever-growing database of free clip art that Apple will make available online (as it does with some AppleWorks graphics now). That makes signing up for iTools even more attractive, doesn't it?

Apple will also make the specs for the database available open source, allowing anyone with a clip art library to make an iClip-compatible database of that art accessible online. Need a graphic of a submarine? Click the Open Search button and find dozens all over the Web for free or for sale. The ones for sale can be purchased right from the iClip program, with Apple taking a small commission for brokering the sale.

iClip itself can save any selected album or series of albums as a searchable iClip-compatible database file which, when placed on your Web server, acts as an interface to search and obtain the graphic files so shared. If you already have those files on a server somewhere, iClip can search and create an online database of them for you over the Internet.

But iClip goes even further to make my life easier. At the click of a mouse, I can open any selected graphic (or any set of graphics) in any graphics program I wish. iClip has made a list of the programs I have and knows what formats they will accept. I select a graphic, click on a dropdown list, choose "Photoshop," and any compatible graphic is opened in that application for editing.

Better yet, Apple could buy or license Lemke Software's GraphicConverter engine and have iClip default to opening a selected graphic document inside iClip itself if no other app is selected as the default for editing that graphic format. That way, another click and a simple set of controls could allow a selected graphic to be translated into another format automatically.

Finally, iClip would come bundled with plug-ins created for Quark XPress, PageMaker, InDesign, AppleWorks, Word, and other programs. The plug-ins allow iClip to be called up from within those programs to search for graphics which would then - at my command - be inserted into my documents. If simple conversion, cropping, or resizing is needed, I could do it right within iClip (or within any program iClip connects itself to, like Photoshop) before insertion.

This is the killer app for anyone who works with graphics, whether they use it to help create an occasional greeting card, a weekly church bulletin in AppleWorks, a personal or small-business Web site, or a professional-level publication. There is nothing in it that is technically impossible. Indeed, it is an extension of what iTunes and iPhoto already can do.

Please, Sant, uh, Uncle Steve! Put this one under our trees for Christmas!

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