Apple has (finally) made its productivity apps – Pages, Numbers, and Keynote – and Garage Band and iMovie free. They were free, though, weren’t they? Well, sort of. Since 2013, they were free if you bought a new Mac or iOS device (the Mac versions were free with a new Mac; the iOS versions with a new iOS device). But this has been confusing since then, because you may have one version of an app free and the other version would cost you $20 for the Mac version or $10 for the iOS version.
As MacRumors points out, this will make it easier for businesses and schools to get these apps, and this could be the main reason that Apple is making this change. By freeing up the productivity apps, they may be able to better compete against the Chromebook, which is becoming the device of choice for schools, at least in the United States.
But this may point toward another longer term strategy of Apple developing their productivity apps to compete more with Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365. Apple’s apps have always been a bit behind with weaker feature sets and poor online implementation, but recent improvements to the online versions of these apps mean that they are better poised to challenge those platforms. Whether Apple can catch up remains to be seen, since both Google and Microsoft offer much more than just the productivity apps. Of course, Apple also offers email and storage, but its storage (iCloud Drive) is more complicated to use, and is more limited in space.
I’ve been saying for a couple of years that the computer sector is shifting from hardware to services, and this is the type of change that takes us toward a new paradigm where your computing device is more of a thin client than an all-encompassing tool. Expect Apple to start branding these apps as part of iCloud, rather than as iWork (a brand the company still uses), in the future. Perhaps they’ll change the name to iCloud Apps.