In advance of another big Apple media event tomorrow, the company leaked details about iLife apps coming for free with the purchase of a new iOS 7 device, as reported by Mac Rumors. That means many, many people who may never have paid for it before will have access to Garageband, Apple’s virtual recording studio, alongside Keynote, iMovie, iPhoto, Numbers, and Pages. Normally, they cost $5-$10.
Some have compared Apple’s dominance of mobile operating systems to Microsoft’s erstwhile dominance of the personal computer operating system. Microsoft once got in a lot of antitrust trouble for bundling Internet Explorer with Windows, while Apple includes a pre-installed browser — and all of these iLife apps as free downloads, now including the Garageband recording studio.
Like an included browser, they largely obviate the need to install third-party apps to handle music recording and other tasks. I’m not an antitrust lawyer, but it appears that the standards of what a company can or cannot include in an operating system are shifting, at least where browsers and dominant operating systems are concerned (although Android now is doing much better than Mac did back in the day of the desktop wars). Still, Apple appears to be treading carefully here — note that these apps will not apparently come included with iOS 7 — they must be downloaded for free from the app store.
Apple has another advantage over any other company that makes mobile software for recording (or working on presentations, spreadsheets, text documents, or images): It can offer Garageband for free, including added sounds and instruments as in-app purchase. Any other company is welcome to do the same, of course, but then they have to pay Apple 30 percent of the revenue from in-app purchases. Apple not only gets to bundle the apps for free with purchases of its new hardware, but its margins on in-app purchases are automatically 30 percent bigger than for the makers of any other iOS 7 recording software.
This is a great scenario for Apple, but maybe not so much for some of the developers who have made its devices such a success.
This isn’t the first time Apple has expanded the functionality of iOS to absorb something that had previously been done by other apps — in fact, the app store ecosystem can be viewed as a kind of R&D lab for Apple — whatever third-party functionality seems to be catching on, on its platform, is ripe for inclusion in the next version of iOS. In some cases, Apple has even banned third-party apps before absorbing their functionality.
For now, Apple has removed the new icons and information from its page about built-in apps — we could know more about how this will play out once Apple puts that information back, and makes its announcement on Tuesday.
On the plus side, this leaked information about Garageband means millions more people will have relatively powerful recording studios in their pockets. On the minus side, this could be a scary week to be a developer of recording software for iOS. Smaller developers usually say they view a much larger competitor entering their market or making a big play like this as “validating the space” — but sometimes, what it’s really doing is eating it up.