One of the few surprises at Apple’s October 22 event, was the announcement that the OS X Mavericks will be a free upgrade. Additionally, the company announced that their iLife and iWork apps will be free to consumers purchasing an iOS and Mac device.
However, the company was ridiculed by Microsoft’s Frank Shaw, Corporate Vice President of Communications:
So, when I see Apple drop the price of their struggling, lightweight productivity apps, I don’t see a shot across our bow, I see an attempt to play catch up.
I think they, like others, are waking up to the fact that we’ve built a better solution for people everywhere, who are getting things done from anywhere, and who don’t have hard lines between their personal and professional lives. People who want a single, simple, affordable device with the power and flexibility to enhance and support their whole day. 🙂
So the question that naturally arises is whether this is “worth it”. Whether by offering free software hardware or service revenues rise.
Perhaps. Certainly service revenue in the form of iCloud might rise with more usage of iWork and iLife. But I don’t think that this is the calculus underlying the decision. Remember that Apple does not have a Profit/Loss accountability. It’s not necessary (and perhaps not even preferred) that a division balances costs and revenues.
Fundamentally Apple remains a systems company where software is a key element in its definition of value. That is not changing. What is changing instead is the bundling of application software with the systems software and the system itself. The presence of iWork and hassle-free updating of that suite (and the same for the OS) means that utilization rates will increase.
I believe the logic for Apple is that usage of the products determines their value and therefore placing powerful software in the hands of more users means they will value the entire system more. This leads to the notion of greater “stickiness” or “lock-in” but also to higher satisfaction and loyalty, rate of upgrades and even more third party purchases and yet more usage.
This is the virtuous cycle platform custodians seek to engender. This is what Apple is trying to build and the transition of apps into the system bundle is part of this re-enforcement.