Apple is deadly serious about its free software commitment. Following its announcement earlier this week that OS X Mavericks, along with iLife and iWorks would be made available to downloaded completely free of charge, something curious happened. The updates were made available to all – even those using trial or illegally downloaded versions of its software were able to receive the updates, including for the entire iLife and iWork suites, and Apple’s Aperture program.
But this is where it gets more interesting. Contrary to reports elsewhere, this is no mistake – Apple has purposely allowed everyone to get the free updates. J. Glenn Künzler at MacTrast tested this for himself, getting his Aperture software upgraded for free, and then doing it again on a copied version of iLife 2009. Reaching out to Apple for a comment, the company’s response was somewhat surprising:
“It’s no coincidence that Apple’s support site doesn’t have downloads for the new Aperture, iWork, and iLife updates. They aren’t in our Software Update system either – and there’s a good reason for that. With Mavericks, we have changed the way we distribute updates for legacy versions of our apps,” said an Apple spokesperson.
“Rather than maintain separate updates for these in addition to the Mac App Store versions of each app, Apple has decided to eliminate their legacy software update system for apps entirely. Instead, when Mavericks discovers legacy apps installed on your Mac, it provisions them as a Mac App Store purchase using your Apple ID. It saves us a lot of time, effort, and bandwidth. After the provision is complete, it will appear in your Mac App Store history as though you have purchased the Mac App Store version of the app.”
“While we are aware that this enables piracy of our apps for unethical users, Apple has never taken a strong stance or action against piracy in the past. We like to believe that our users are honest, even if that belief is in vain.”
This raises the question of what is Apple really up to, something that Horace Dediu of Asymco tried to answer in a blog post yesterday. According to Dediu’s calculations, Apple is set to lose up to $450 million in revenues due to its revised software updating policy. That’s a huge chunk of cash, but the fact that Apple is prepared to forsake it underlines the point that Apple has never really seen itself as a software company anyway. Rather, Dediu explains that Apple is better described as a ‘systems’ company, with the software being just one of several key elements in its value proposition.
“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,” writes Dediu.
“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.”
Apple clearly believes that it has much more to gain from this move than just a few million in revenues – by keeping its users happy, they’ll pay it back ten-fold by continuing to use Apple’s products for the foreseeable future, no matter how they might have ‘acquired’ said products in the first place. So there you have it – if you’ve been undecided about whether to update or not because of underhand way in which you obtained your old version of iWork, you don’t need to sweat it. One way or another, Apple’s confident you’ll end up paying it back.