Mac Musings

iApps Go from Free to Fee?

Daniel Knight - 2003.01.06

Macworld Expo rumors had been almost nonexistent until last Friday, when Cnet broke the news that Apple is expected to announce that new versions of iDVD, iPhoto, and iMovie will not be free. And you can expect the uproar this quickly generated on the Mac Web.

Before we overreact to yet another blatant attempt by Apple to milk its customers and maintain profits, let's analyze the situation by looking at the free and low-cost applications Apple produces.

Free and Once Free

The Mac OS

Up through System 7, the Mac OS was free. Bring a few floppies to your dealer, and they could make you a copy. But starting with System 7.1, the Mac OS was no longer free. Ever since then it was about US$99 to buy a copy of the classic Mac OS - boosted to US$129 with Mac OS X.

Update CDs, such as the 10.2.3 updater for Jaguar, are an affordable US$19.95. Those with broadband connections can download updates for free. Those with dialup connections may find the CDs a more reasonable way to acquire 60-90 GB of new files.


There's no question at all that AppleWorks is a commercial product, yet Apple gives it away for free with iMacs, iBooks, and eMacs. The rest of us get to pay $79 to own Apple's very competent low-end alternative to Microsoft Office.


The basic QuickTime software comes with the Mac OS, but if you need the "pro" version, it'll cost you US$39.95. Most of us never need to spend a penny, despite the constant requests from Apple that you upgrade.


No, .mac isn't software in the normal sense, but it includes backup software and provides quick, easy access to Apple's software updates. When it was iTools, it was free, but it provided less storage space and didn't have the backup option. Whether it's worth $99 per year remains to be seen.


Before Apple acquired the core of iTunes, it was a commercial product. Apple is giving away a wonderfully useful program. Unfortunately iTunes functioned in Microsoft fashion and effectively killed of commercial MP3 software for the Mac.


Apple was nuts to give this one away in the first place. iMovie is a commercial quality program. Of all the iApps currently being given away for free, this is probably the most marketable.


The second most marketable is probably iDVD, which lets Mac users take their iMovies and burn DVDs on SuperDrive equipped G4 systems of sufficient horsepower. Apple could easily charge $100 - instead they give it away with any SuperDrive equipped Mac.


As an image editor, iPhoto is a real lightweight, but as a picture organizer, it's a real winner. I don't think Apple could charge for this without improving the editing, retouching, and manipulation abilities of the program.


iCal is still pretty new. Although it has the potential to grow into a commercial product, it's nowhere near there now.

The Value Equation

Apple has a decent track record of evolving free stuff into profit centers. The Mac OS definitely leads the pack, but I'm sure a lot of Mac users have paid for QuickTime Pro, and although a lot of iTools users fell by the wayside, enough chose to pay for .mac to help boost Apple's bottom line.

If Cnet is right and Apple is going to start to charge for new versions of some iApps, they can take one of two approaches.

No Free iApps For You

The first would be to stop providing free copies of iMovie, iPhoto, and iDVD. Or only provide "free" copies of iMovie and iDVD to those who buy G4 Macs with SuperDrives. Don't expect this to happen.

Try It, You'll Like It

The more likely scenario is that Apple will continue to offer the current versions of the iApps for free and include them with new Macs and the Mac OS. Then charge an upgrade fee to move beyond the free version.

iApp Pro

My suggestion is that Apple not simply add a revision number to the iApps, but give the more powerful version a new name. For instance, iTunes Plus or iTunes Pro might support disc copying and a few other features that generally require Toast, while the regular version of iTunes would continue to function primarily as a ripping, playing, and CD burning program.

By calling these enhanced versions and not simply giving them the next revision number, Apple could improve the perceived value.

If iPhoto, iMovie, and iDVD become significantly more capable, users would probably be willing to upgrade from the current free versions. Then again, the Cnet piece talks about a $50 upgrade fee for all three programs - but what about those who only use iPhoto? I'm hoping Apple will also offer upgrades for individual programs instead of just the $50 bundle upgrade.

Apple has already blazed the trail with QuickTime Pro. I think this could turn into a real profit center for Apple as long as the keep offering free versions to create a user base willing to upgrade. This strategy is similar to that of shareware programs that lock out some features until you pay your license fee.

Beyond the iApps

While this makes sense for the currently free iApps, I think it has even more potential for the unsung hero of Apple's software line, AppleWorks. I've been using it since ClarisWorks 1.0 shipped and have had no need for Microsoft Excel and little need for Microsoft Word since ClarisWorks hit version 3.

AppleWorks is already a fine package with a good word processor, solid spreadsheet, adequate database, nice presentation capabilities, and decent graphics tools. A pro version of AppleWorks that maybe adds a powerful, easy to use WYSIWYG HTML editor (Claris Home Page would make an excellent model), a nice tool for creating animated GIFs, and a few other Web-oriented features could provide the incentive for AppleWorks users to upgrade - and also help position it as a stronger alternative to Microsoft Office.

If Cnet is correct in stating that Apple will continue to offer free versions of the iApps while also offering more powerful versions for a fee, then Apple is making a very smart move. The only potential pothole would be Apple requiring users to buy an upgrade bundle even if they only want to upgrade on single program.

Either way, I am looking forward to the continued evolution of Apple's software offerings.