Will Mac fans get an iLife?

Apple Computer starts selling its new $50 iLife digital media suite, but some wonder whether Mac users will bite, given that two of the upgrades will soon be out for free download.

5 min read
After delaying delivery for a week, Apple Computer on Friday started selling its iLife digital media suite, a $50 bundle of programs for creating and playing movies, music, photos and DVDs.

However, analysts and Mac users are questioning the iLife's price tag, as two of the suite's new components--iMovie 3 and iPhoto 2--will soon be available for free download.

Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple unveiled iLife earlier this month during the Macworld Expo in San Francisco. In addition to the iMovie and iPhoto upgrades, the package contains iTunes 3--already downloadable for free--and iDVD 3, which will not be made available as a free download, according to the company.

"Given the fact that three of the four applications are to be available as a free download, the pricing would seem to imply that you are paying $50 for iDVD--something many users are going to find a bit difficult to accept," said Matthew Sparby, a technology consultant and Mac user from Casselberry, Fla.

"Others, especially those without a broadband Internet connection, will see the $50 as a sort of convenience fee to give them an alternative to downloading the applications over a slow dial-up service," he continued. "There are going to be users complaining, and others cheering."

The suite is bundled free with new computers such as the new Power Macs announced on Tuesday, but otherwise costs $50.

Several Apple retail stores on Friday said that they had iLife in stock and on sale. The company had originally planned to release iLife last week, but unexpectedly delayed iLife's release by one week.

Word that the Mac maker would begin charging for a bundle of "i" applications, or iApps, leaked out ahead of the announcement of the iLife suite on Jan. 7. During his keynote address at Macworld, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that three of the iLife applications would continue to be available for free, but that Mac users interested in iDVD 3 would have to pay for the entire suite.

"It's probably more of a factor that (iDVD 3 is) over a gigabyte in size than Apple seeking to use it as a profit center," Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg said. The new version of the DVD creation program is more than 1.5GB in size.

Todd Lockhart, an electronics publishing services director and Mac user from Pitman, N.J., also saw the price strategy as a result of the DVD software's features. "It would be impossible not to charge for any upgrade to iDVD, because the package is extremely large--mostly as a result of all the media files associated with DVD themes--and would be unreasonable to offer as a download," he said.

In general, Mac users offered mixed reaction to Apple's $50 fee for the bundle. Some argue that it adds up to Apple raising the cost of iDVD, since the other applications will eventually all be available for free. Previously, Apple charged $19.95 for the iDVD 2 upgrade CD, with that fee described as for shipping and handling.

"I'm sure lots of people will continue to bitch about not being able to continually upgrade these apps without paying a dime, but only a very small minority of people will get bitten by the 'I only wanted iDVD' thing," said Jason Muxlow, a graphic designer from Chicago.

Steven Nelson, a Phoenix-based Mac user and Web master, said he had no problem with the $50 charge. "iPhoto, iMovie and iDVD were all significant selling points for my home purchase of a Mac," he said. "Paying $50 for significant new features is completely reasonable to me."

Sparby agreed. "I think the $50 price tag on the iLife bundle is reasonable for an upgrade," he said. "It isn't an outstanding value, but it is reasonable."

Still, Apple is making the software available for less to some Mac users. This week, the company announced that teachers of kindergarten through grade 12 and higher-education faculty staff would be able to buy iLife and Keynote together for $15. Keynote is presentation software Apple unveiled during Macworld that normally sells for $99.

"That's the way I'm probably going to go," said Dean Mattson, an elementary school teacher from El Paso, Texas. "If that deal was not available, I would probably pass up iLife, since I don't have the DVD burner on any of my Macs and the rest will be available for a free download."

Going digital
Apple has focused on integration with the new iApps versions. Users can access their iTunes music library for creating soundtracks for home movies built in iMovie, for example.

"The iLife application's latest release continues to demonstrate Apple's commitment to provide task-oriented media capabilities to the native Mac OS environment," Jupiter's Gartenberg said. By offering them for download, Apple's doing the right thing for its customer base."

Apple, like Microsoft, is focusing on digital media as an important selling point for its operating system. At Macworld two years ago, Jobs positioned the Mac as a hub for digital applications and devices. Since then, Apple has released six separate iApps--iCal, iDVD, iMovie, iPhoto, iSync and iTunes--and added other digital media features directly to Mac OS X 10.2.

"The addition of media-editing features in the OS has once again shown that vendors will continue to drive features into their products to create consumer value," Gartenberg said.

But Apple could pay a stiff price as it treads on the turf of smaller Mac developers. Opera, for example, may stop its Mac browser development, in response to Apple's release of a beta of its own browser, Safari.

"It's going to be harder for smaller vendors with similar offerings to compete (with Apple)." Gartenberg said.

The Mac maker also faces other problems. Analysts question how successful Apple's digital hub strategy has been, considering the company's recent slide in PC market share. Its share of the worldwide PC market dropped to 2 percent during the fourth quarter from 2.3 percent the previous quarter, according to research firm IDC. In the United States, Apple's share declined to 3.1 percent during the fourth quarter from 3.8 percent a quarter earlier.