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Stephen Hackett's weblog about Apple, Apple history, technology, journalism and design.

The State of Apple's Mac Software Products

Steve Jobs said on numerous occasions that Apple is primarly a software company.

As Apple Remote Desktop crashed on my MacBook Air yesterday, that came to mind. Then I realized besides some maintenance updates, ARD hasn’t changed all that much in a while.

I decided to take a look at all of the software Apple currently has in the Mac App Store, and see if that was the case for other titles as well.

Apple Configurator

Apple Configurator is a free application designed for setting up, deploying and managing large numbers of iOS devices.

Using Apple Configurator, IT professionals in educational and business environments can configure multiple devices at once, update iOS from a central point across multiple devices, install apps, setup restrictors and more.

(To learn more about the app, be sure to check out these two episodes of the Out of School podcast.)

It is currently siting at version 1.2.1, with its last update on October 31, 2012, adding iOS 6 support and squashing bugs relating to data activation on iPhones and LTE-equipped iPads. The update also added more robust support for managing AppleTVs.

Apple Remote Desktop

Apple Remote Desktop has been the central tool for most Mac admins for years. First released in March 2002, the app supported both the classic MacOS and OS X.

The app has seen some major changes over the years. Version 2 moved the entire connection scheme to the VNC standard, and version 3 (released in 2006) added better security tools and support for Intel.

$499 used to get you support for an unlimited number of managed computers, but the app is now just $79.99 in the Mac App Store.

Sadly, the app is just at version 3.6.1. In the last seven years, Apple’s only really touched the app to add support for new versions of OS X. In August 2012, ARD was updated for “improved performance,” after Mountain Lion broke version 3.5.

I — like many people who rely on Apple Remote Desktop daily — feel like its been forgotten by Apple. It feels stagnant. At least it’s affordable now.

Aperture

Aperture is Apple’s pro-level photography editing and management application.

Aperture had a rocky birth, with the first versions being painfully slow, even on on decent hardware.

Overall, while Aperture 3 itself has been out for over three years, Apple updated the application fairly regularly, albeit mostly to add RAW support for new cameras.

Many believe that Aperture is due for another overhaul. Aperture X has been rumored for some time, and could be critical for the product, as Adobe keeps improving Lightroom at a much faster clip.

Like ARD, the price has fallen from $499 to just $79.99 after its introduction in the Mac App Store. Version 3.4.4 was updated in April of this year.

Compressor

Compressor 4 is one of the few apps on this list that I’ve never used.

In a nutshell, Compressor adds more powerful exporting options to Final Cut Pro X. It boasts numerous options for fine-tweaking video output (including re-timing, cropping, applying filters and more), and can be used to build workflows to cut down on repetitive tasks. Compressor is mainly used for preparing video for DVD or Blu-Ray discs, although DVD Studio Pro is basically dead.

Compressor was part of the old Final Cut Studio, but is now available as a stand-alone application for $49.99 from the Mac App Store.

FaceTime

FaceTime is a 99¢ app on the Mac App Store.

The app is used to make FaceTime calls from the Mac, and pops up when an incoming call is detected on your AppleID. FaceTime is a very simple app, and oddly, is built using OS X’s HID interface. Last updated in March of 2011, it’s remained basically unchanged for the course of its life. It does what it needs to do, but it should be free.

As simple as the app is, its history is confusing. OS X 10.7 Lion came with FaceTime installed out of the box, so the App Store version is only needed if you are running Snow Leopard or somehow don’t have it installed. While the App Store version is 1.0.2, while Mountain Lion ships with version 2.0.

Final Cut Pro

Out of all of the apps on this list, none have caused so much controversy as Final Cut Pro.

Apple announced Final Cut Pro X in 2011, and was met with wide-ranging criticism from the professional video editing community. The new version stripped out many features found in Final Cut Pro 7, the previous version.

The $299 app is updated more frequently than anything else on this list. Every update has brought substantial improvements, bringing the new version back to near-parity with the old.

The current version — 10.0.8 — was last updated in March of this year.

iBooks Author

iBooks Author is one of the newest apps on the list. Announced in January 2012, the free app allows users to build custom books — including textbooks — for the iPad version of iBooks. (The books created with the app won’t run on the iPhone, and there’s no Mac version of iBooks at this time.)

iBooks Author looks and operates like an iWork application, bringing the same UI to a more powerful application. Users can add videos, interactives and more to their book easily.

Version 2.0 was released in October 2012, with new templates, better support for mathematical expressions, and the addition of custom fonts.

iLife

The iLife suite — made up GarageBand, iMovie and iPhoto — isn’t really a suite anymore. At one time, all of the apps (with iDVD and iWeb) came together on an installer DVD.

Now available from the Mac App Store for $14.99 each, iLife received its last major update in October 2010, earning an ’11 at the end of its name.

iMovie and iPhoto were both updated this spring, but GarageBand — at version 6.0.5 — has been untouched since March 2012, when bug fixes related to the iOS version were pushed.

iLife’s rather stagnant state is in contrast with its history, which saw new versions far more frequently. In 2001, Steve Jobs unveiled his “Digital Hub” vision, and iLife became the realization of that, in many ways. Today, the iOS versions seem enjoy more of Apple’s attention, however.

iWork

There’s nothing sadder on this list, however, than iWork. Keynote, Numbers and Pages have been largely untouched since 2009.

In July 2012, iWork gained iCloud and Retina display support.

Keynote 5.3, Pages 4.3 and Numbers 2.3 were released in December 2012, adding support for version their updated iOS counterparts.

iWork feels largely forgotten. While all three apps feel relatively feature-complete, there are things from iBooks Author Apple could add, in addition to new transitions and themes for Keynote. Currently, all three enjoy spots in the top five paid productivity applications on the Mac App Store.

As someone who uses Keynote and Pages often, I would love for Apple to remember these things are still around. It’s pretty pitiful.

Logic Pro

Like Aperture, Logic Pro 9 enjoyed a big price break when moving to the Mac App Store, and a “X” version has long been rumored. Unlike Aperture (and Final Cut Pro X), however, Logic Pro is relatively popular.

Last updated in October 2012, Logic Pro has remained untouched for some time, but Apple still enjoys a sizable marketshare in the space it shares with Pro Tools.

MainStage

Once part of the Logic Studio bundle, now MainStage is just $29.99 on the App Store.

Used by musicians who need live (or in-studio) effects, plug-ins and digital instruments, MainStage is a weird app to me. While I’m not in the market for something like this, I never hear anything about it. Obviously, it continues to sell, though. (Unlike Soundtrack Pro 3, which was dropped when the Logic Studio bundle was discontinued.)

Version 2.2.2 was released in January 2012 for better compatibility with OS X 10.7.4.

Motion

Like Final Cut Pro and Compressor, Motion is a remnant of the Final Cut Pro Studio package. (Ironically, from 2005–2006, Motion was sold as a stand-alone product.)

Now $49.99, the app was last updated in March 2013, bringing it to version 5.0.7. Version 5 was first released in June 2011.

Motion — like Compressor — is mainly used in conjunction with Final Cut, offering additional tools and options for menus, graphics and transitions. Both 2D and 3D animations can be created, putting it at odds with Adobe’s After Effects for many uses.

Xcode

When not sending text messages, to its users, Xcode is Apple’s tool for developing Mac and iOS applications.

Version 4.6 was released in January of this year, supporting OS X Lion and Mountain Lion, in addition to iOS versions 4.3–6.1.

Xcode is free to download and use, but a membership to the iOS or Mac Developer Program is required for some functions, including access to the Mac and iOS App Stores.

Xcode is updated frequently, as Apple has to support both its desktop and mobile operating systems and devices with the tool. Xcode 4 — introduced at WWDC in June 2010 — was the last major change, dropping PowerPC support. While each subsequent point release has included updated tools — including storyboards with 4.2 — the application remains basically the same.

Conclusions

After spending way too much time in the Mac App Store compiling all of this, I’ve come to several conclusions:

  1. Naming matters. Apple has — for the most part — dropped version numbers and release dates from their programs’ titles. “iWork ’09” and “iLife ’11” sound out-dated, whereas “Pages” or “iPhoto” don’t. It’s clever, and helps cover the fact that some of the core OS X apps Apple sells have been aging for some time.
  2. iOS is Apple’s focus. Anyone who has looked at the company’s earnings statements knows that the Mac isn’t the company’s big money maker anymore. While OS X continues to charge forward at a reasonable rate, Apple is clearly more focus on mobile than the desktop when it comes to client software.
  3. The Mac App Store is interesting. Almost all of these apps have seen major price drops since going digital-only. While the savings of ditching boxes and optical media is a factor, I think Apple really wants to make these products more accessible. Clearly, they’re saving money on development costs on more than a few of these apps. Ka-ching!

Sigh.