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iLife and iWork Apps Now Free for Everyone

Once upon a time, Apple used to charge for nearly all its software, and especially productivity apps like the iLife and iWork suites. However, back in 2013, Apple made those apps free with the purchase of any new Mac or iOS device (see “New Free iLife and iWork Apps Share across Devices and Platforms,” 22 October 2013).

Now, with no announcement or fanfare, Apple has made the current iLife and iWork apps entirely free for all users. Just to be clear, the change affects the following apps:

  • GarageBand for macOS (requires 10.10 Yosemite) and iOS (requires iOS 10.2)

  • iMovie for macOS (requires 10.11.2 El Capitan) and iOS (requires iOS 9.3)

  • Keynote for macOS (requires 10.12 Sierra) and iOS (requires iOS 10)

  • Numbers for macOS (requires 10.12 Sierra) and iOS (requires iOS 10)

  • Pages for macOS (requires 10.12 Sierra) and iOS (requires iOS 10)

This is good news for holdouts who haven’t purchased a new eligible Apple device since 2013 but are running a supported version of the operating system and would like copies of the iLife and iWork apps. And it makes explaining the pricing easier for Apple.

Why didn’t Apple just make these apps free for everyone in the first place? The answer likely lies deep within Apple’s accounting department. Back in 2013, Apple made iLife, iWork, and OS X 10.9 Mavericks free and bundled them with every new Mac and iOS device sold. That move enabled the company to delay recognition of a portion of its sales receipts. That’s because the product (a Mac or iOS device) wasn’t “fully delivered” without updates to the software — it’s a “subscription accounting” approach. In its Q4 2013 financial quarter, Apple delayed recognition of $900 million in revenue, in essence hiding that money from the quarterly report (see “Apple Q4 2013 Results See Lower Profits Again,” 28 October 2013).

That may answer the question of why Apple is now making these apps free for everyone. According to Daniel Eran Dilger of AppleInsider, the deferred revenue trickles back into Apple’s reported revenues over 2 years for iOS and 4 years for the Mac. It has been about 4 years since this deferral likely began, implying that Apple has finally cleaned the associated deferred revenue off its books.

In the end, this change doesn’t mean much. Any effects from iLife and iWork becoming free — on competing apps, on Apple’s revenues, and on the perceived value of Apple hardware, for instance — have already taken place. Most people who want to use the iLife and iWork apps have likely either bought copies already or purchased new hardware since October 2013. We suspect that sales to owners of older Macs and iOS devices have dropped to the point where it was no longer worthwhile for Apple to bother charging for the apps anymore.


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Comments about iLife and iWork Apps Now Free for Everyone
(Comments are closed.)

Alfonso Scenna  2017-04-20 15:51
For people with older iOS devices, unless you are able to run iOS 10 you cannot download the now free apps.
Jim Schmidt  2017-04-24 12:32
Yep, I found that out last night. I went to download Pages on my iPad, and found out I couldn't because I don't have iOS 10 on it. I went to upgrade the OS... and found out my iPad is too old for 10. Sad.
Ian Orchard  2017-04-24 20:08
I've got the same problem with my beloved MacBookPro that is now deemed to be obsolete by Apple. I can't upgrade my current copies of iWork because it can't run Sierra. Now if only I could find a way to stop Pages & Numbers from nagging me to upgrade.
Jeffrey Puritz  2017-04-20 17:33
You're an optimist but my lengthy experience with Apple tells me that like Aperture these apps are in for a long slow death by neglect. Sadly, I think that this is true for the mac as well.
Apple is only interested in the products with the most revenue and it shows.
William C Roberts  2017-04-25 09:27
I agree about "death from neglect". When apps become free, it means the developer, Apple, is no longer going to improve them. Eventually Apple will stop supporting them. Ultimately the apps will stop working.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-25 09:49
But you have to remember that the entire point of making these apps — and the operating systems! — free was to add value to the hardware. Apple has never made significant money on software; the lion's share of the revenue has always come from hardware. As long as the software encourages hardware sales in a real way, it will keep getting attention.

And, in fact, Aperture shows that charging money for an app makes no difference to Apple.

My guess is that Apple will keep these apps going for a long time, but that users shouldn't expect the pace of development or innovation to compete with hungrier independent developers.
B. Jefferson Le Blanc  2017-04-26 09:48
Actually your pessimism about the Mac no longer seems justified. For one thing, Apple's laptop line got an "upgrade" recently. And current reports indicate a Mac Pro upgrade can be expected next year, with a return to an "expandable" configuration. In a rare bit of candor Apple admitted that the "trash can" Mac Pro was a mistake. It's cute but turned out to be a technological dead end. There have been hints that the iMac is also in for a refresh, though how fresh that will be remains to be seen. Competition for the iMac from the Microsoft Surface Studio will be heating up in the not-to-distant future. Given that Apple claims not to be interested in a touch screen Mac, it's hard to see how their response to the Surface Studio will be anything but underwhelming. The touch-bar on the MacBook Pro is little more than a toy and would be ergonomically inappropriate on a desktop computer.

Sadly there's no news about the Mac mini. The mini may have the same problem the Mac Pro has: Thermal issues limit the amount of new hardware that can be included in the mini's diminutive box. But then the Mac mini was never intended to be a performance machine. Instead, it's a small office work horse. That is unlikely to change substantially.

That said, I agree with Adam that free iLife and iWork software is not bad news. And they will encourage adoption of Sierra on hardware that can support it. If your hardware is obsolete, well, to coin a phrase, that's not Apple's problem. Indeed, iLife and iWork upgrades have been platform specific for some time now. In any case, older versions of those apps may be better in some ways than the new kids on the block. New versions have tended to lose rather than gain features, a well established Apple hallmark.
Frans Moquette  2017-04-20 18:15
Free may seem like a good thing, but nothing is really free. In this case we will be paying for these apps through hardware purchases, if we use an app or not.
Then there is the question of app quality. Since Apple is not making any money off them anymore there is no stimulus to make these apps so good people will be willing to pay for them. The option to vote with our wallet has been taken from us.
One sad example is the latest version of Numbers for iOS. The complaints and 1 star reviews are pouring in but Apple seems to be deaf and blind to them. Now that Numbers is free there is even less reason te expect Apple to do anything about this bad update.
Paul F Henegan  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2017-04-21 03:55
No, they are not "free for everyone", only for those who have also upgraded to macOS X 12 or later.

As Alfonso Scenna observes above, unless one is willing and able to run the very latest OS, there is no invitation to the party.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-21 09:39
You're right that these apps have specific system requirements, and we've updated the article to make this completely clear.

However, that doesn't change the fact that the apps are indeed free for everyone. Your ability to run an app is separate from its price.
Karen Kirtland  2017-04-24 19:55
The upgraded 5.2 version of Pages I tried using was terrible when compared with the older 4.0 versions. It functions too much like the awful Word program for me to use it.

I wouldn't upgrade any of my perfectly functioning iWork programs, free or not, based on the extremely negative experience with Pages alone.
Phil Seymour  2017-04-24 21:15
They are free because the latest versions are crap compared to 09 versions. Thankfully I have kept the older versions of Pages, Keynote, Numbers, iMovie, GarageBand and iPhoto.

I have the new versions, too, but if I have creative work to do, I use the older versions that were designed with uninterrupted creative workflow in mind.
Andrew Daws  2017-04-25 03:09
Anyone know how to get the iLife 11 version of iPhoto? I need it to open an old library
Jolin Warren  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2017-04-25 07:14
There seem to be old copies available on eBay. You could possibly pick up a used one for a couple of dollars.

I also might have an old copy which I don't need anymore, but would have to check when I get home. Email me at if interested!
Jan van Es  2017-04-25 03:11
But what about people that are unable or unwilling to install the latest versions of MacOS? I cannot find any option to download (or buy) an older version of apps like Keynote, Pages, Numbers, etc. (Nor can I find any info about which version of those apps is compatible with which version of MacOS.)
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-25 09:44
There is a fair amount of information on Wikipedia about the versions. For instance: about Keynote:

As much as it would be nice if Apple gave all old stuff away for free, or even kept old versions available for sale, I presume they've done the math and determined that it would be a significant expense that would benefit very few people because those who don't upgrade to new hardware tend not to buy (or even download) new software either.

One of the basic corollaries of sticking with old hardware is that you shouldn't assume it will ever do things beyond what it could do when it stopped being supported. Macs stay functional for a long time, which is great, but they won't gain new capabilities (via new software) after a certain point, and they will start to lose functionality (through lack of compatibility with current software) after that.