White hot hate for iPhoto 9

A little bad programming can create the same frustrating, preventable experience for literally millions of people. Such is the nature of modern computing!

This is a collection of a few rants about some of the most baffling or serious issues with iPhoto 9/9.5, one of Apple’s flagship consumer apps, probably second in importance only to iTunes. Like iTunes, it is one of the best examples in the company’s history of apps we have a love/hate relationship with, because they do not actually “just work” very well — the frequently broken promise of the Apple brand. It is an exasperating mix of the indispensable and the incomprehensible, of savvy user-friendliness built on rotten foundations. In 2010, Apple released version 9 of the app, with many prominent new problems — nearly all of which remain as of the summer of 2014. Version 9 was considered a downgrade by many users, and it has yet to recover.

Bear in mind that this app is the built-in photo management app on Macs, and therefore it is also the default option for storing precious memories for a staggering number of relatively novice new Mac users. And yet iPhoto is truly glitchy and prone to database corruption and has a laundry list of obvious user-unfriendly features that are maddening to most sophisticated users.

Don’t get me wrong

There are some amazing features in iPhoto. Its keyword search interface is one of the slickest I’ve ever seen (and I have a particular interest in that technology). The photo editing tools, although rudimentary, are extremely carefully chosen, and I’ve learned not to disdain them — they manage to cover 90% of the editing that I need. Some of the organizational features are sheer genius. And so on.

It’s just that there are also so many problems …

Database corruption

iPhoto has always been prone to losing photos, with sometimes tragic consequences for users that are trusting it with precious memories. As the primary tech support for a large group of friends and family, I have had ample opportunity to see how often and how easily iPhoto can fuck up photo collections. It’s awful, and it’s unchanged in iPhoto 9 and 9.5. The most desperately needed repair was not done.

Technically speaking, iPhoto is never going to actually destroy or lose photos — they will remain buried but safe in subfolders of iPhoto’s guts, where they can be rescued easily enough by someone who knows where to look — but you can certainly lose a great deal of editing and organizational work, and a hopeless mess is the only likely outcome for a lot of people. I’ve seen people essentially throw away photo collections simply because they didn’t realize that there was a salvage option.

Facebook integration still dreadful

iPhoto 11 boasts some seemingly impressive new integration with Facebook. The last version was so crippled it was a joke, and it was necessary to get by with a 3rd party plugin, which wasn’t half bad. Unfortunately, despite many improvements, it took me just a few minutes of playing with iPhoto 9 to confirm that it still has two glaring, bizarre problems (and probably many more):

  1. Photo descriptions in iPhoto are still not converted to photo captions in iPhoto. At. All. Write a description for a photo and send it to Facebook … but watch in amazement as your description fails to go with it. The uploaded picture will have no caption. Want a caption? You have to copy and paste what you just wrote. I am gobsmacked.
  2. And iPhoto isn’t going to make it pleasant for you to write/edit captions, either. You can indeed write a caption for a just-uploaded Facebook photo, still working in iPhoto. However, you will have to do so in a barely-readable grey font on a grey background (!) in a tiny little box. When I pasted text in from another source, it went in dark blue on dark grey. And you are stuck with every unreadable detail: nothing can be changed.

Some software limitations are so at odds with usage that they should be considered bugs.

Most of the point of photo management software is to add meaning to your photos in the form of metadata: ratings, keywords, faces, places, and, in a big way, captions. iPhoto 9 treats descriptions/captions like they do not matter at all: so unimportant that they are completely excluded from exports to Facebook, and the option to edit them separately is relegated to a microscopic, barely functional patch of screen real estate.

Apple is highly regarded for its design sensibilities, but they routinely fuck up the simplest things in their software. Tiny, narrow minds made these sloppy design choices.

The WTF loss of keywords in thumbnail view

Adding to a long string of hostile design choices in iLife 9, it is no longer possible to see keywords in thumbnail view in iPhoto. This is a large step backwards with no upside that I can see.

The ability to view keywords with thumbnails was an essential and basic feature in every version of iPhoto until now. Its loss is baffling, and makes it difficult to organize photos in anything but the shallowest way. It is literally only possible to see keywords for a single photo at a time — and not especially clearly (more of the monochromatic, low-contrast bullshit that is infecting their user interfaces).

I never particularly liked iPhoto — I’ve only ever tolerated it. This is certainly the nail in its coffin for me. I will definitely never buy another version. I have been disappointed too many times, and this is just beyond the pale.

And another thing about keywords

Horrifyingly, when you change keywords on a selected photo, the change is not actually reflected in the keyword list for that photo, as seen in the sidebar … so you cannot actually see the keyword changes that you’ve applied. To see the modified list, you have to deselect and reselect the photo.

Just horrible!

And same with ratings. Apply a rating with the keyboard ... no visible effect. You have to deselect the thumbnail to see the rating change! There is zero visual confirmation that you have done anything.

These basics all worked fine in previous versions.

Emailing photos

I was looking forward to the new, integrated emailing option. In previous versions, iPhoto could send selected photos to Mail for mailing. Now it assembles photos into messages in iPhoto and send them from there. Fewer steps, more control over presentation … sounds good. But:

I will never, ever use this feature again. In fact, it’s not clear how I am going to be emailing photos now. The old method wasn’t great, but it was functional enough and time-saving. Presumably now I will have to drag photos out of iPhoto to a folder and “manually” attach them to message myself, and then dispose of the unnecessary duplicates. Good grief!