The Digital Hub Is Incomplete

2002 – On the face of it, Apple’s digital hub strategy seems to be progressing well. At Macworld San Francisco 2002, I saw how iPhoto nicely complements iMovie’s intuitive design. I got to touch an iPod for the first time – boy, it sure is tiny – and as I reported yesterday, I got to fiddle around with one of the new flat-panel iMacs.

However, I’d like to point out some loose ends Apple has not addressed in the whole digital hub strategy. The digital hub is still a new idea; Apple does it better than everyone else, but even they have not completely addressed the idea that all these things ought to work well together, instead of working well independently of each other.

iMovie works great. iPhoto looks like a terrific application. AppleWorks (shouldn’t it be called iWorks now?) is my office suite of choice. But they don’t always talk to each other well.

AppleWorks Doesn’t Recognize Screen Captures

Apple’s office suite, AppleWorks, doesn’t automatically recognize the file type used for screen captures; you have to switch the dialog box to show all readable files in order to import the file. And even then it doesn’t show a preview, instead showing an unintuitive “Picture x” filename. This is precisely the kind of problem Apple is claiming iPhoto solves.

iMovie Doesn’t Recognize QuickTime Files

Here’s another annoying, but philosophically important, inconsistency: When you make a QuickTime movie with any number of third-party applications, such as Starry Night, creating an animated video for use in iMovie, there’s no way to import it into iMovie – iMovie doesn’t recognize QuickTime files!

Now that’s a major hole in the digital hub strategy.

You can get access to the converter built into QuickTime for saving as digital video by paying US$30 for QuickTime Pro (as Apple asks you to do every time you use QuickTime), but for Apple’s proprietary video format not to be recognizable by its own video editing system – without extra translation steps, free or not – is counter to the smooth transition between formats that the digital hub implies. I understand that the QuickTime format is not the same as the raw data in digital video format, but this is not something Joe Consumer ought to have to deal with.

Anyway, back to Macworld. Apple wisely chose to organize its space on the floor not by hardware but by function. Thus, there is no single place where all the new iMacs are displayed; instead, you get iMovie and iPhoto demonstration areas, which use third-party hardware to show how to use the latest features.

iMovie Doesn’t Recognize My Digital Camcorder

In the iMovie section, for example, Canon digital movie handheld camcorders were being used to demonstrate iMovie. However, when I connected my Canon ZR25 (which is still a new camera, still in the catalog, and not out of date) to an iMac, it didn’t work. Well, it did, in sort of a roundabout way.

Let me first state that I didn’t check to see if my camera was on the list. Neither would Joe Consumer. Like me, he would assume that since Apple obviously recommends the Canon ZR series (it is on display at Macworld, it works well with iMovie and is on iMovie’s list, and it has a flash card, FireWire, and the rest), shouldn’t it plug in and go?

Well, it should – and it doesn’t.

iPhoto Doesn’t Recognize Stills from My Camcorder

My Canon ZR25 camcorder was not recognized by iPhoto, even through it has a digital card for taking still pictures. Just like iMovie, there’s no real method to get into the guts of the program and tinker with settings to see if you can make it work. There’s an import button that works if your camera is recognized, but no preferences are related to the camera connection.

Now, mind you, the ZR25 isn’t listed as compatible on Apple’s website, so as an experienced user I am not surprised by this failure at all. Many of us tinker around with whatever we happen to have to see if it will work before spending more money. Apple’s iPhoto site says, “if your camera’s not supported, just buy a card reader.”

There’s only one card reader that will read the ZR25’s weird little card, according to the Canon rep I spoke to, and it ain’t on Apple’s list. Unfortunately the first person I asked was a Canon digital camera rep, and according to him, the digital video people don’t talk to the digital camera people, it’s a whole other division and really not even the same company.

So another 20 minute wait later, the digital video guy says, “If it doesn’t work now, it may never work.” I asked him when we might see an update on Apple’s website, and he shrugged and said, “We haven’t even seen iPhoto yet.” Fair enough. Seems to me though, they’d send a guy over to the booth across the aisle with a box of cameras to test, since they were there anyway.

So just in case I haven’t been clear, let me reiterate my point. Any reasonably tech-savvy person will castigate me for complaining that my camera isn’t on “the list,” since obviously not every camera ever made is going to work. That’s just whining, they’ll say, and they’re right. However, the issue is that for a product that is advertised as a digital and still-picture camera and is recommended by Apple for another digital hub product (iMovie) – and cousins of which are actually in use at the Expo – you’d think they’d try to make sure it worked. You’d think they’d do all the Canon cameras first.

Just so you know, it’s definitely a software issue, not a hardware issue. When I put the camera in “card mode,” call up a still picture on the screen, and connect the computer to iMovie, the image appears just long enough for me to grab a screen shot. Then it blanks out again. The hardware is obviously capable of transmitting a still picture to the computer via the FireWire cable.

Let’s get this fixed. And don’t give me any of that digital camera vs. digital video excuses; both cameras use CCDs and resolution is my problem, not Apple’s. They shouldn’t make me jump through hoops to use a product that connects to your hub part of the time but not all of the time.

For that matter, digital cameras ought to be able to send still pictures into iMovie, if that’s what you want to do. And the iPod ought to be able to capture digital video from a camcorder output via FireWire and then transfer those files to iMovie or iPhoto.

Some Connections Are Missing

In summary, Apple has created a whole new vision of the personal computer. iPhoto makes the “spokes” nearly complete. Each spoke leads to a different application. iMovie leads to digital video, iPhoto to digital photos, iTunes to digital music. But since these things don’t talk smoothly to each other yet, it’s as if the rim of our wheel has gaps in it.

You’re close, Apple. Closer than anyone. Just don’t pat yourself on the back just yet – there’s a little more work to do.

Keywords: #digitalhub #imovie #iphoto

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