iLife, iWork, I wait

With the iPhone launch behind us and the Leopard release still ahead of us and the Summer of Updated Laptops continuing apace, it’s time to consider the next product Apple has tucked up its ever mysterious sleeve. Barring the unveiling of some-as-of-yet covert offering—Buttonless iPods! iCar! A set-top box that not only plays your Mac-based media on a TV but deletes movies, TV shows and music that it finds banal and beneath you!—I think the next item on Apple’s agenda should be a pair of software suites that haven’t seen an update since the halcyon days of early 2006. iLife and iWork both could use a little freshening up.

Nothing against the suites, which still do what they do rather well. But it has been 19 months since Apple trotted out new versions of its lifestyle and productivity apps at the 2006 Macworld Expo. Apple slapped an “’06” on the label, which is so… well… 2006. Better to get a new version out there, now that we’re closer in the calendar to 2008 than we are to 2006.

Besides, both iLife and iWork figure prominently into Apple’s plans for selling its hardware. iLife is often touted as an advantage over a more garden-variety PC in those Get a Mac ads, so it’s not as if this is a suite Apple is going to let fall off the radar for too long. iWork doesn’t garner as much attention as its iPhoto-iMovie-iDVD-iWeb-GarageBand-packed counterpart, but now is as good a time as any for an update, especially with Microsoft taking its own sweet time to overhaul its nearly four-year-old productivity suite.

If we can veer off into the Realm of Speculation for just a second (just a little ways away from Dead Wrong in Public Boulevard), I’d be willing to wager that we haven’t seen new versions of iLife and iWork yet this year because we haven’t seen a new version of OS X. When Apple delayed OS X 10.5’s planned spring arrival, ostensibly to hustle the iPhone out the door, it probably also pushed back the release of iLife 2007 or iWork Leopard or iLife: This Should Tide You Over for Another 18 Months, or whatever the heck they were going to call it. And if that is truly the case, then it’s not exactly a leap in logic to conclude that iLife and iWork are missing-in-action because they depend somewhat on features slated to arrive in Leopard.

The question is, which ones? Scanning the array of pre-announced Leopard features, I’d have to guess that Quick Look is a leading contender. That feature lets you view the contents of a file without having to open it, and it seems like a natural for quickly browsing movies, images, Keynote presentations, and Pages documents from within an iLife or iWork app. I can also see the suites being reworked to take advantage of the Stacks feature in Leopard’s revised Desktop, maybe with a few default stack folders already waiting your assorted projects for each of the iLife and iWork apps.

So does that mean in the crazy fantasy world I've created for myself, that iLife ’Year-to-Be-Determined and iWork ’Whenever will only run on OS X 10.5, leaving Tiger users high and dry. That seems unlikely. I’m sure the updated suites will run on both Leopard and Tiger (though probably not Panther), though i could see Apple promoting a few OS X 10.5-only features as part of an effort to spur OS upgrades.

Since we’re throwing caution to the wind here, allow me to inch out a little further on the limb and predict that if iLife were to add a sixth app, it would be some sort of multimedia manager, along the lines of Front Row (which is going to be part of OS X 10.5 anyhow, so why not give it a home here?). Adding apps to iWork seems like it would be much more of a priority, though; after all, this suite has only contained Keynote and Pages since its 2005 debut. If Apple truly sees iWork as a big-time productivity suite—and if it wants to have the added bonus of making Redmond sweat a little—a spreadsheet application seems like a natural addition. All the other Office components have some sort of Apple-made equivalent (Word = Pages, PowerPoint = Keynote, Entourage = Mail); why shouldn’t Excel have to face some Cupertino-created competition.

That’s my iLife and iWork speculation on an idle summer’s day, at any rate. I’d love to hear about what apps you think might get added, what features you think need improving, and whether you agree that the ship date of these suites is tied into Leopard’s forthcoming debut.

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