Apple Gives Desktop Apps an Internet Life

It wasn’t quite the same lively Macworld keynote without Steve Jobs, but it looks like self-deprecating Phil Schiller, Apple’s VP of worldwide product marketing, did an admirable job of introducing a whole slew of products, including the new Macbook Pro (17-inch version) and the new DRM free iTunes music store, without so much as mentioning Steve Jobs. Of all the product launches, I was most impressed with Apple’s new software – iLife ’09 and iWork ’09. In this day and age, when it is widely assumed that all apps are moving to the Internet, Apple has done the opposite and given its desktop apps a big boost. What I was impressed by is how the company has brought the Internet into these applications.
ilife09The new version of the iPhoto application now allows you to seamlessly upload photos to Facebook and/or Flickr. Without much effort, it also allows you to geotag the photos, helping bring “location” into the desktop.

  • iPhoto ’09 automatically scans photos to detect people’s faces, and when you assign a name to any face iPhoto will automatically find more pictures of that person in your desktop library. It also lets you easily publish photos to Facebook or Flickr. The Places tool automatically imports photo location data from a GPS-enabled camera or iPhone, and you can manually assign a location to any photo, group of photos or event.
  • iWeb ’09 allows publishing to any hosting service, and it can also automatically send updates to your Facebook profile.
  • On GarageBand, you can download music lessons from famous artists like Norah Jones and Sarah McLachlan, using the new GarageBand Lesson Store, available inside the GarageBand ’09 application.
  • Apple also launched the in public beta of iWork.com, a new service Apple is developing to share iWork ’09 documents online.

Essentially, Apple has adapted its applications to accomodate new user behaviors that involve web services like Flickr and Facebook. In doing so, it is giving people a reason to keep using their desktop applications longer, for tasks that are more complex than, say, typing out a quick document. With these upgrades it has stayed true to its philosophy of focusing on user experience and usability.

This Internet-in-the-desktop approach is something we have talked about for a long time — probably too long. Microsoft’s Ray Ozzie, in an interview with me, extolled the virtues of a hybrid environment and said that in the future, Microsoft Office is going to live both on the desktop and in the cloud. Apple’s new iWork.com is an attempt to do just that for the iWork productivity suite.

In bringing Internet into its desktop apps, Apple is also trying to overcome its lack of web savviness. A case in point is iWork.com, which carries the beta tag but is more like an alpha. For now, you can’t edit other people’s docs; you can only leave sticky notes on them or chat about them. On the issue of collaboration, as hipsters would say, iWork.com is an epic fail, considering that even tiny startups are able to offer those features. It seems that, in order to actually edit the document, you have to download it and make change offline. If they want to be taken seriously, they’ll have to get it up to par with Google Docs; I hope they do.

That said, Apple’s newest upgrades show that, with enough creativity and the right functionality, desktop apps can still live on. As Tony Bennett sang to close the 2009 keynote, “the best is yet to come.”

With reports from Josh Pigford and Liz Gannes at Macworld in San Francisco

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