One of the selling points and key features of Apple ecosystem is that they have a slew of common apps in every device they have sold. And if you register all your devices in iCloud, the apps can be synched up with every device you have and act in a certain way. This is pretty much true for Apple’s utility apps like Messages (with iMessage), photos, Shortcuts (coming to Monterey Bay), FaceTime, Stocks and others.

Another suite of apps that Apple gives away for free is productivity apps like Pages, Keynote and the focus of this article, iMovie. iMovie was part of iLife Suite which are productivity apps like Microsoft Office. It was sold to compete with Microsoft Office but later given away for free as a value added software bundle for the macOS and later iPadOS and iOS.

Just like Photos, Messages and Mail, iMovie is available on iOS, iPadOS and macOS. One would think that a tech juggernaut with obsession with little details like Apple manage to make the iMovie experience consistent on all platforms. Well, you be very wrong. So here’s the gist: iMovie on macOS is light-years ahead of iMovie on the iPadOS. iMovie on the iPadOS is functional but needs massive improvements if Apple actually want to use the iPad as a laptop replacement device as they have been touting for years. Read on to find out why.

Launching and Creating A Project

Creating a new project

Launching, seeing your project listing and creating a new project is basically the same. When launched, you will be presented a list of your past projects and an option to create a new one. Both version give you a theme to choose, a trailer or a movie. The trailer gives you a template to create a short video that is fashion after Hollywood trailers.

General View

General app layout when you are working on your project

After launching or creating a project, you will be presented with the typical layout of a video editor. The program is split into three parts: top left is where you get your assets (movies, pictures and sound), the top right is where you view you current assets that you selected in your time line and the bottom half is the timeline, where all the assets are lay over a single timeline. This layout is out there in every video editing software because it’s easy and it’s work. In iMovie on both versions, the layout is generally the same. One window listing all your assets, one window showing the time line and one final window to preview the assets or show the current movie.

Trailer allows you to use pre-build templates to make a short movie.

Adding assets

Adding assets can be done generally in two ways: using the app to select the assets and it will be added to your library or directly drag and drop the assets into your timeline or library. One of the selling points of iMovie is its integration with other Apple apps such as Photos, Music and GarageBand. iMovie can access those apps libraries like albums, playlists and GarageBand project directly in iMovie.

Due to the nature of iPadOS being more integrated than macOS, the Apple first party app integration is more seamless in the iPadOS than in macOS. Sometimes when you update your photos library, it does not show up properly in the iMovie assets panel that you have to export the photos or videos in Photos and add them manually. Personally, I would just add from Finder in macOS.

Editing Assets

Stacking assets in the timeline. Somehow the iPadOS version does not give you the ability to stack images or videos on the timeline, but it's fine for audio.

Here is where the difference start to really show. You simply have more capabilities in the macOS version of the iMovie than the iPadOS version of iMovie. One of the most basic stack in video editing is stacking 2-3 different video / image time line so you can show an image while you doing your talking head scene for example. For some reason, I could not stack two video / image time line on top of each other. So I could not display an image over a video timeline for some reason. However, you can stack 2-3 audio tracks on a time line.

Clip options. macOS version have more options including removing the camera shake.

Now basic editing and arranging the assets in the timeline is present in both version, but the implementation details is what stands out. iMovie on the macOS has more features that are simply not present on the iPadOS. You add color filter on both the iPadOS and macOS, but for some reason, you can even adjust the white balance on the iPadOS. Audio option on macOS is also more numerous. There’s a equalizer function on the macOS, but none of the iPadOS. You can fade in and out and adjust the volume the audio on both version, but the macOS is easier and more trivial. The only thing that the macOS somehow does not have is the ability to split the audio from the video clip in the time line. I can’t find similar functionality on the macOS.

On key missing feature that the iPadOS seams to miss out is the ability to adjust the video to eliminate camera shake. If you usually shoot using the iPhone without any gimbals and unless your phone has image stabilization like in the 12 Pro Max, you video will usually shake. On the macOS, there’s a feature to make it smoother (and more professional) by analyzing the dominant motion and eliminating such motion via clever algorithm. Such feature does not exist in the iPadOS version of iMovie.

Transitions, overlays, titles

Transitions. One is a multiple choice selection, the other is a library. Sad.

Transitions are one of the subtle art in the movie making process. One of major features of Star Wars is the unique transitions that George Lucas employs. In fact, transition is so important that this is what he has to say about those 1-to-2-seconds transitions:-

On the editorial level, which is the cinematic level, movies are a mass of objects moving across a large surface. You’re watching these little details, which are the ones that make the cut work, as they move through the back of the frame. You’re orchestrating how these things flow, by deciding how you cut from one shot to another. The subtlety of the medium demands that a star break the frame at the right moment, because what reaction you get has a lot to do with spatial relationships: where things are in the frame, what color things are, where the bright objects are–and where you eye is going to be. - George Lucas, creator of Star Wars.

In the macOS version of the movie, you have a library of preset transition to choose from. The transitions ranges from the dramatic cut to one with drama. In iPadOS version, you have five. Just five. Six if you count “None” as a dramatic transition. You can only choose how long the transition will be, but that’s it. Nothing more.

Titles. Here are your choices and you can't stack on top of two image streams

The other import aspect for movie or video making is titles. Titles can be an artistic feature by itself, which is beyond the scope of this article, but having more choices are generally better. In macOS, you have a lot of titles to choose. From the expositional to the dramatic. In the iPadOS version, you only have 12. You can’t even use the rolling credits title in case you have a lot of explaining to do. So basically, in iPadOS, your title is limited to a clever one liner snark remark or some general title. You can stack title on a video, but you can stack an opaque background on top of a picture to give a clearer title. Such thing is trivial in the macOS version of iMovie.


Background can aid in the video making process like having a pause between scenes. The background library in the macOS is decent, but not an extensive as the one in the macOS. In macOS, you have ready templates to make a holiday video with maps, globes and such. No such luck in the iPadOS version of iMovie. Nevertheless, the background templates in iPadOS iMovie is functional at best if not mediocre.

sound library

The sound library is where the iPadOS version shine. It has a slightly and more interesting sound library and some of the clips are sufficiently long and it has good integration with GarageBand and Music app. Furthermore, iPhone sound effects are also in the iMovie sound library, which can be useful.

Exporting / Sharing Videos

Sharing videos. iPadOS has more integrated approach to sharing videos, while macOS is a little scan on sharing option.

When you are done with your project, you need to convert your project into something more consumable. This is where you would normally export and share your video with your friends or just export to be save into a file for later use.

However, the macOS has more granularity on how would you export your project to a video. iPadOS version does not. iPadOS makes up for that with a sweet 4K export option.

In macOS, with the way macOS works, sharing options are a little scant. However, when exporting the video to a file, you have a little more granularity than the iPadOS version. The iPadOS version has more sharing option, and due to the integrated nature of iPadOS, you can directly share your videos to other apps like Twitter, FaceBook and so on. Unlike the macOS version, the iPadOS version allow you to export to 4K videos, but you can’t see the quality level or compression rate like in the macOS version.

Exporting project

One of the key things about making movies is that you might want the ability to export a project so you can edit in another more powerful computer, or giving the project file to a client or colleague so they continue to work on the project.

This is where it gets interesting. You can export a project in iPadOS to be use in macOS, but you cannot export a project in macOS to be use in other computers or to the iPadOS. My pet theory is that Apple does this because it want to cripple the iMovie because it does not want to hurt Final Cut Pro (their professional video editing software) sales. I mean iMovie is good, but they do not want to make it too good.

Usability / ease-of-use

I think this is where both of them shine: ease of use. The controls and layout are intuitive. The only grip is that Files app on the iPadOS despite it’s promises does not work as well as the Finder app. That being said, both versions of the app works the way you think it should.


Apple's idea as a laptop replacement, in which Apple almost succeed, only to be crippled by the software that runs it.

Apple for years has touted the iPad as the replacement for the laptop computer. The proposition is nice, you have a lighter computer which can also accept touch input. Despite being fanless and low power, the iPad can perform better or at least keep up with the laptop equivalent. And as a bonus, you have better speakers and screens on the Pro version.

The major problem we found out that iPadOS is crippled and the iMovie on the iPadOS is also crippled. I do not know what Apple strategy on the iPad as the laptop replacement when Apple basically clip iPadOS wings before it can fly. We know now that the iPad is powerful because they literally put the M1 chip (which is on the MacBook Air that can keep up or beat Intel’s best) but yet, the iPadOS is not pushing the M1 to its full potential and the iMovie just shows that: powerful hardware only to be limited by software.


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