updated 10:54 pm EST, Fri February 1, 2013
Signals the beginnings of an overhaul in progress
Recent job postings and the acquisition of enterprise-grade organizational software patents by Apple may suggest that work is underway on revamped versions of the programs comprising what Apple still calls the iLife and iWork suites. While it is possible that the company has planned a nearer-term update to the aging programs, the moves also suggest that any overhauled versions -- which would be supervised now by lead hardware and software designer Sir Jonathan Ive -- are a long way off.
Apple has recently added several job postings that explicitly reference the iLife team or the suite itself, including requests for an engineer in the iLife Frameworks QA department; a QA engineer to help test new features in iPhoto (that requires a "passion" for digital photography); a Senior User Interface Designer for iWork, and two Senior Software Engineer positions that explicitly reference working on the user interface of iLife. The new hires are almost certainly due to the changing of the guard on software design from former iOS chief Scott Forstall to Ive, who has publicly expressed some distaste for the "skeuomorphic" direction iOS and Mac apps have taken (though his actual comments on the matter are often exaggerated in reports).
The bad news for users who have been waiting for a major new release of any of the six programs that make up the core of the iWork and iLife suites is that this type of hiring is usually done near the beginning of an overhaul, not near the end -- meaning it could be quite some time before users get to see Ive's likely re-imagining of what the UI for such programs will look like. It has been speculated that a minor "maintenance" update of any or all of the programs could be seen in the nearer-term, leaving the major overhaul for later in the year or even next year.
However, Apple has recently released a 128GB iPad that is specifically aimed at corporate users, and a revamped iWork Suite -- particularly with expansion of Apple's iCloud-based document storage -- would appeal to those buyers. Further, Microsoft is now playing coy about the possibility of an iPad version of Microsoft Office, preferring to promote instead its Office365 cloud-based option as a possible path for iOS devices. Even if MS does produce a native Office for iPad, it would likely promote the Office365 annual subscription service.
Apple's purchase of some targeted patents from Maya Systems geared around organizational software that is not file/folder-centric also hints at Apple making a more devoted effort to court business customers, perhaps sensing an oncoming threat from rivals creating enterprise-class tablets to cater to their traditional base. Apple's iPad and iPhone have allowed the company to make significant inroads into formerly-hostile IT, corporate and small-business arenas and Apple will likely be anxious to maintain its present dominance in that market. Even Mac use is significantly up in the enterprise sector thanks to the ubiquity of iOS devices.
The iLife set of programs (now consisting of iPhoto, Garageband and iMovie) have received periodic minor updates, but the last major version was in late 2010. The story for the iWork suite (made up of Pages, Keynote and Numbers) is even worse: its last major update was in 2009 and the trio of programs, though well-regarded, have had few updates since. While all six are still in wide use and popular with users, they are clearly overdue for a signifiant revision.
The biggest change in the suites since their last release has been the introduction of iOS versions of all the apps. While the iOS iWork versions hew closely to the desktop versions, the iLife programs have seen significant changes when making the transition over to Apple's mobile platform. Some hints of what Apple may have planned for the next version of iLife may be found in the iOS version, continuing Apple's recent trend of "borrowing the best ideas" from each platform and applying them to the other.
The iLife and iWork apps are now sold separately as opposed to a package deal; the iOS versions are entirely separate from the desktop versions. The iOS versions of the iLife apps are priced at $5 each (formerly sold as a group for $49), while the iOS iWork apps are $10 each. Desktop versions of the apps are sold for those who need to upgrade from previous versions, but are included on all new Macs. The desktop versions of iPhoto, Garageband and iMovie are $15 each, while the iWork desktop versions are sold for $20 each.