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With iPhoto's demise, writing may be on the wall for iLife

Apple’s iLife consumer-level suite of apps has changed dramatically over the years. It has contained as few as three apps and as many as six. It’s cost as much as $79 and as little as zero. It’s been packaged both as an integrated software collection and as a loose confederacy of disparate apps. And now, in its latest evolutionary shift, it’s been placed on the endangered software list, with a reasonable probability that it will, in the not too distant future, go extinct altogether.

iPhoto finish

Last October, Apple introduced “the next generation of iLife apps for OS X and iOS,” comprising iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand. Now, less than a year later, Apple has revealed that it will early next year be replacing iPhoto (as well as Aperture) with a newly expanded Photos app for both OS X and iOS.

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During Apple's WWDC keynote in June, Craig Federighi showed off the company's new Photos for OS X app.

While Apple could include Photos under the iLife rubric as the replacement for iPhoto, I doubt that the company will do so. Rather, I suspect the new app will be marketed much like iTunes, as a standalone app that’s bundled with the operating system. If so, this would technically mean that only two apps remain as part of iLife: iMovie and GarageBand.

Given this development, it begins to make sense to drop the iLife designation altogether. Actually, without any fanfare or official announcement from Apple, this has pretty much already happened. For example, if you go to this Apple Creativity and Productivity Apps page, you’ll find six apps: iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand, Pages, Keynote, and Numbers. The name “iLife” (or “iWork” for that matter) is nowhere to be found. Instead, there is simply a list of six key apps that Apple now supplies free with every purchase of a Mac or iOS device.

The slow demise of iLife

This downward trajectory of the iLife name has been going on for quite some time.

iLife was introduced in 2002. At that time, it consisted of four applications: iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, and iDVD. The suite reached its peak of six applications in 2006, when GarageBand and iWeb were added; the whole package sold for $79. Emphasizing the integration of these apps, there was a single iLife installer which included accessory apps such as iLife Media Browser and iLife Slide Show.

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Neither iWork nor iLife are used by Apple as marketing terms anymore. 

From this peak, the steady decline of iLife began.

First, iTunes graduated from the suite in 2007. The the music player remained very much alive as a critical component of Apple’s continued push into music, video, and mobile apps (as it does to this day), it was marketed as a separate app, no longer tied to the iLife suite.

By 2011, both iDVD and iWeb were laid to rest, to no one’s real surprise. Apple was moving away from support for optical media and dropping the drives from its hardware, so there was clearly no point in maintaining iDVD. As for iWeb, most users in the iLife target audience were abandoning website creation apps—even one as easy to use as iWeb—in favor of social media sites such as Facebook or Instagram. Apple presumably decided it was no longer worth the effort to maintain what had become a largely unused app. Around this same time, Apple also dropped the unified installer and accessory iLife software.

Last apps standing

So, with iPhoto’s impending demise, iMovie and GarageBand remain as the sole iLife survivors. What about their future? iMovie and GarageBand share something in common: They are both consumer-level versions of pro apps (Final Cut Pro X and Logic Pro X, respectively). As such, I wouldn’t be shocked if, at some point, Apple decided to drop iMovie and GarageBand.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe both of these apps are excellent.

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GarageBand is positioned for amateur musicians, but it may not have hit its target audience.

GarageBand, in particular, is amazing—especially when you consider that it’s free. It’s so well-designed and feature-packed that numerous amateur (and even some professional) musicians use it instead of Logic. However, that’s part of the problem: I don’t know anyone who uses GarageBand who doesn’t already have considerable musical skill. Based on my anecdotal experience, if Apple had hoped that GarageBand would somehow become a music app for non-musicians, it failed.

The situation with iMovie is similar, although not as extreme. iMovie is marketed as an app for jazzing up home videos with jump cuts, transitions, soundtracks, and so on. As a product targeted for amateurs, it’s generally been more successful than GarageBand. Numerous “ordinary” people do use iMovie to edit their videos—heck, I’ve even done it myself.

iMovie, likewise, may be overkill for what most people end up doing with their videos these days.

While some have complained that the latest iterations of iMovie have moved from “easy to use” to “dumbed down,” it remains a viable app. Still, I would contend it’s not a very popular one, overall. I don’t know how many Mac users regularly use iMovie in the same way they use iPhoto, but I would be surprised if it were more than 5 percent or so. As things now stand, you can store, view and trim videos in iPhoto, on your iPhone, or even in QuickTime Player. I suspect those are about all most people wind up doing with their videos.

That’s why it could ultimately make sense to combine iMovie and GarageBand with their pro-level siblings, especially if consumer usage of these apps declines over the coming months. Granted, that’s just one possible scenario. It seems equally plausible that Apple will maintain these apps, with minor updates, over the coming years. If nothing else, these two apps have been around for a long time and retain a vocal, if small, following. There’s no urgency to abandon them, and there definitely remains a competitive marketing advantage to keeping these apps as “free” offerings when you buy Apple hardware. Plus, it harmonizes nicely with Apple’s Continuity strategy to have matching OS X and iOS versions of these apps—as of now, Logic and Final Cut do not exist in iOS.

Regardless of what happens to iMovie and GarageBand as individual apps, the iLife moniker under which they have lived, which is already hard to find in Apple’s marketing material, will soon vanish altogether. As a name, iLife’s life is just about over.

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