Cupertino Syndrome

For the first time in as long as I can remember, I got angry at my computer. Not just perturbed, but teeth-clenching, fist pounding, expletive-blurting, co-worker-disturbing angry.

Surprisingly, my anger wasn’t directed at the network for being slow or at Parallels for taking entirely too long to boot up or shut down. It wasn’t because I lost work, because my computer inexplicably froze up on me or forced me to restart because it had some updates to install.It was at a piece of software I explicitly elected to use, though there were other options available. And, perhaps most surprising of all, this piece of software is from Apple, who’s products I generally find enjoyable to use.

I am fucking pissed at iMovie ‘09.

I needed to do some editing of a video I shot for a tutorial. A colleague of mine suggested using a product called Ultra Video Splitter from company called Aone; my e-mail esponse to him was this:

Thanks, Xxxx – I’m probably going to take a shot at it using iMovie – as it’s software I’ve been meaning to learn how to use for quite a while and this would be the perfect opportunity! I’ll let you know what I come up with ……


It’s true; I’d never used iMovie before, mostly because I never had a reason to have to use it. And here was the perfect opportunity. I’ve had good experience with Apple products in the past, and I didn’t mind investing time in learning a tool that could potentially come in handy in the future. Besides, Apple sh*t is cool, right? Way cooler than some Windows shareware app.

The good part, is that within about half an hour of clicking around, after hovering over buttons to bring up tooltips and countless Apple-Zs, I knew my way around the interface and had a good mental model of how all the parts fit together. Apple tends to be very good at designing simple, learnable interfaces with plenty of scaffolding to enable first-time users like myself to find their way around.

My goal was very simple. To comb through about 45 minutes of video, splice out ~20 interesting clips, and make a separate video file out of each. I went through the video, Favorite-ing about twenty sections and made ‘clips’ out of them to add to my movie. All without looking at a single sentence of an instruction manual. Bravo to me for being so smart, and kudos to Apple for building an application which requires zero instruction for a newbie to get up and running.

But from here, things went downhill. Fast.

First off, I realized that I couldn’t only export one clip at a time.  You’re only able to export the whole movie (i.e. the sum of all the clips plus whatever transitions are in between them). This was kind of confounding, and I spent a bit of time Googling around before resigning myself to a wonky workaround: duplicating my twenty-clip project twenty times, and then deleting all but one clip in each of the projects, so that when I export, I got just one clip in the movie. *Sigh*.

My test case then was to just create one duplicate project with one clip, and to see how the resultant video came out. To my dismay, I found that the video I was exporting was of significantly lower quality than the source. Back to the Google. Without knowing too much about video editing and codecs, from what I read, In concluded that this is is just apparently the way iMovie works, nothing I can do about it.  But I would be taking these video clips and using them in a Camtasia presentation, which would compress them even more, so starting with degraded-quality clips was not an option. Time to check out the other application recommended by my colleague. *Sigh*.

One issue though – I’d spent about three hours going through the video and hand-selecting the bits that I needed, and I didn’t want to have to go through the video again in another program and repeat this laborious process. Surely there must be some way to export the chapters I’ve created or information about the Favorites I’d earmarked? File -> Export? Hello? Share? Where are you, menu item?!? I tried ‘Export to Final Cut XML’ or something and the xml  file which was produced didn’t seem to have units or tags that I could make any sense of. Fair enough – that one was kind of a stretch. But still …. *sigh*.

Looks like I was going to have to do this the old-fashioned way. Here was my plan: I was going to take out a piece of paper (there must be some around here somewhere) and some kind of writing instrument, and record onto the paper with the writing instrument, the time, in seconds, that each one of these clips starts and ends. Then, with this presumably inferior recommended software open, I would then take aforementioned piece of paper, read back the numbers, and create a parallel set of clips within the new software, then export these to seperate videos. Simple, right? A pain in the ass, sure, and a waste of time, sure, but what could go wrong?

As it turns out, it’s not that easy to figure out where in the movie each of my twenty clips started and stopped. iMovie does not tell you the location in minutes and seconds of the playhead. Let me repeat that, this time in bold , red letters:

Nowhere in iMovie ‘09 is there any indicator of time. Everything is relative to everything else, but it’s not possible to determine where anything is in absolute terms.

What is the implication of this? The implication of this is that any work done in iMovie ‘09 is essentially locked in iMovie and, other than exporting a video, there is no way to get this information (even in an ‘analog’ fashion), to any other application.  How so … very … Apple!

(if anyone who reads this knows a way to either export marker information or to see an absolute timeline in iMovie ‘09, please tell me and I’ll gladly whimper away with my tail between my legs).

why? Why? WHY? Who thought this was a good idea? Who would object or be inconvenienced by having this information appear in the “Playhead Information” that follows the scrubber? I just don’t get it. It really frustrates me.

But the deeper question is, why do I still really really want to use iMovie as opposed to the other software (which, after a really contrived process, I was able to utilize)? Why do I want so badly to want to like this software, and to want to use it?

So my revelation out of this long, tedious retelling of this event is that Apple is kind of like a selfish, flaky friend. You know the kind I’m talking about – the kind of friend that’s great to be with when you’re actually hanging out with them, but the second you ask for a favor, or suggest an activity that they’re not too keen on, you get shot down, because … c’mon … who’s really in charge here? We all know that Apple is wearing the pants in this relationship.

And I’ll put up with it (I suspect other people will too), with all the abuse, with the selfishness, just for the chance to use the software — even on its own terms. Doesn’t matter if Apple shows up late, or forgets about my birthday, I’ll take what I can get, because, when things are good, they’re really good! And when things don’t go so well, I’m willing to cut him some slack, because man, he is cool … I’m surprised he even wants to hang out with me at all. And when other people try to tell me how he’s kind of a douche, and that I’ve got lots of other good, reliable (albeit less cool) people I could be spending my time with, I’ll defend him, but I won’t be able to explain why. You could call it “Cupertino Syndrome.”

On the one hand, this experience was incredibly infuriating, and on the other, it’s completely unsurprising. This is what Apple does, over and over again. Mac. iPod. iPhone. iMovie. You name it. When you buy into something Apple, you’re not only buying into that thing – you’re buying into a whole ecosystem of (sometimes really expensive) stuff to support it and to work well with it. And for most of the people, most of the time, it does work well, very well, in fact. And for many people — myself included — on the average, it’s worth it. By excluding so many features from their software, those features that are included are all the more easier to use. As an interaction designer (and a human), I appreciate this simplicity.

Now that I know the limitations of iMovie ‘09, I probably won’t use it again for doing any kind of substantial video editing. But I will always look back fondly on the good times we shared together, and appreciate him for all of the good qualities, such as learnability, a snazzy user interface and some cool visual effects.

And I thought I read somewhere  that they had a ‘Timeline’ feature back in iMovie ‘06 ….

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This entry was posted on Saturday, November 28th, 2009 at 1:41 am and is filed under Bad Design, Multimedia, User Interface, usability. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “Cupertino Syndrome”

  1. Sam Says:

    Of course iMovie sucks. They don’t want it to intrude on final cut. Windows Movie Maker is even worse.

  2. Dan Says:

    Good call. I didn’t think of it as a marketing / positioning thing so much as an design-driven decision, but yeah. I could see that. I’ve seen it happen before in other industries – mobile phones – where all the technology is there in a device, they just cripple it so they can upsell you on the ‘premium’ option.

  3. Callie B. Carroll Says:

    I found iMovie HD versions 5 and 6 very easy to use, and after purchasing a Canon miniDV camera a few years ago I thought I’d use iMovie again to do quick editing of clips. I’d gotten a new machine, and/or upgraded to a newer version of iLife, so was faced with iMovie ‘08. It made me want to scream… or was that just give up?

    ‘08 was much more difficult to use than the older application, and I normally have quite a lot of patience in exploring updates and changes. Additionally, it was unable to correctly pull in footage from that particular camera (was a known bug, might’ve been fixed in a later patch), so I managed to find my iLife ‘06 software and legally downgrade to HD 6. I made my quick edits and haven’t thought about it since then. In Leopard, I used iShowUHD Pro and QuickTime Pro, the last time I needed to pull together some screen movies… avoiding the issue altogether, but only out of the luck that I haven’t needed the advanced features that iMovie offers/offered. Now, I have Snow Leopard with iMovie ‘09, and the questionable, god-has-no-idea-what-QuickTime-Pro-abilities. I’ve only used ‘09 for a few minutes, as I didn’t feel like I had time for crying, right then. My sympathies to you…

    (Caveat: I’m no expert, but I’ve used iMovie 3, 4, HD 5, HD 6, ‘08, and ‘09, with varying amounts of success and stress.)

    Are there rainbows, butterflies, bunnies hopping, birds chirping?
    Do you still own a Mac that came with iLife ‘06? Yank out those installer discs! Or, you may have purchased iLife as a boxed upgrade, later. If so, you might consider installing HD 6 over/under/aside ‘09. Check here for the version chart, and more info:

  4. Dan Says:

    Thanks for the tips, Callie. I transferred over an previous version of iMovie (v. 5) from my old Mac laptop onto my new machine – I’ll give that a shot.

  5. Pete in Cincinnati Says:

    I have used earlier versions in the past and was able to crank fun and interesting videos. I haven’t done used imovie in awhile and I didn’t realize that they significantly changed it (no timeline). I updated ilife 09 and now I regret it and I can’t get the old version back. For the first time in my life I am unbelievably disappointed in MAC. It’s a little like finding out that there is no Santa.

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