What I haven’t heard about MWSF 06

[Update 2005-01-12: Apparently Photocasting only works with .Mac and it’s hard to use iWeb with non-Apple hosting. So, if you were like me and thinking about buying an iLife 06 family pack don’t forget to add on an extra $180/year for a .Mac family pack, even if you already have a web host. And, like Scott points out in the comments, that only gets you 2 gigs of storage. Kind of makes you wonder why Google can give you 1 gig for free on Linux, but Apple has to charge an arm and a leg for 2 gigs on OS X Server.]

There’s been plenty of talk about the two big announcements at MWSF 2006, so I won’t bother to go into them. While I want a sexy new MacBook Pro, (though not the first few off the assembly line, thank you very much) my technolust doesn’t add much to the conversation.

But what about the other announcements? Let’s see if we can’t find a common theme.

iPhoto will now be able to publish and subscribe to image RSS feeds of photo albums, deemed “Photocasting.” Photocast feeds will work with regular RSS readers, but iPhoto will be able to handle 1-click subscriptions and will treat Photocast feeds as special folders. It’s kind of like a distributed Flickr, using RSS.

iWeb, the new iLife tool for web sites, has built-in blogging and podcasting tools. While hosted blogging tools have gotten to the point where even executives can blog, there’s still a market for client-based blogging tools. So with iWeb, people will be able to produce RSS feeds, complete with media enclosures from other iLife applications.

iMovie has been updated to make web ready video easy, specifically for podcasting video to iPods. GarageBand has added a metric assload of podcasting features. Podcasting, by the way, is something that happens over RSS.

Looking at the new things in iLife, I can’t find that common theme that I was looking for. So let’s talk about RSS instead.


Apple has been doing well with consuming RSS for the past year or so. It started off with Safari 2, which treats feeds like bookmarks and relies on bookmark folders to see all new items.

It’s not the best feed reader for OS X, but it’s likely the most ubiquitous and I use it alongside NetNewsWire for feeds that update more frequently than I care to read them (like reddit and del.icio.us/popular). Apple also threw in a pretty cool RSS screensaver to boot (seriously, check out the video if you haven’t seen it).

Then, iTunes started being able to subscribe to podcasts. They even added an entire section of the iTunes Music Store devoted to podcasts! I’m reminded what a smart move that was everytime I hear an NPR show telling people to look for their podcast in the iTMS.

As an aside, OS X Server also has publishing tools. It comes with a blogging server and even provide instructions for using it as a podcast server in academic settings. However, most of the people in the market for iLife don’t have access to OS X Server.

Apple has a lot to gain from more people publishing feeds. For one thing, more podcasts mean fuller iPod hard drives, which means upgrades to bigger iPods. Also, video podcasts mean upgrades to video iPods. This definitely fits with the business needs of an iPod-centered Apple. It also gives them some leverage to set the agenda for RSS. Toolmakers now include Apple’s RSS extension for podcasting; I bet Flickr supports Photocasting within a week.

Now, we just have to wait and see how it all actually plays out. Photocasting sounds neat, but Apple’s RSS extension wasn’t met with the warmest reception. And iTunes’ 1-click podcast subscription? Lucas Gonze advises the engineers behind that technology: “You can’t put this stuff on your resumes, folks. It will lose you potential jobs to be known as the person who made these decisions.”

Those examples show it’s within the realm of possibility that Apple could screw up the very thing that RSS makes possible: interoperability. One thing I haven’t touched on is how every mention of publishing RSS seems to involve .Mac, which I hope is just a marketing push. I would hate to see all these advances fail to change the world because it only works with a bundled hosting service (as opposed to failing to change the world because they’re only available on a minority OS).

Apple has always carried certain perceptions. They’re known for being distinct from Windows systems by their good design, high prices, and catering to people who both produce and consume. While none of those are always true, it is common wisdom and the last one is borne out by iLife 06.

It’s funny though, a video has been circulating showing a Mac desktop demonstrating features Bill Gates announced for the upcoming Vista. I guess when Microsoft announced RSS would be a core technology for Vista they were announcing one more feature for Apple to deploy first.

Apple got the RSS religion a while ago.The difference here is that Apple is making the tools to create feeds, not just consume them. This is about being a producer, not a consumer. This is part of the democratization of media, giving tools to people to publish online. Not just text, but media. By lowering the barrier to entry, they’re making it easier for anyone (well, any Mac user) to start publishing. They’re taking some of the tools of the geek elite and distributing them to the masses.

3 thoughts on “What I haven’t heard about MWSF 06

  1. Great observations, George. I wouldn’t necessarily call “Photocasting” a distributed Flickr, since it sounds like you have to use a .Mac account, which is a central repository. If they do, however, provide hooks to use other services, then I’ll grant you the d-word. 🙂 Flickr is just as good for “photocasting” (ie creating rss feeds of photos) as .Mac + iPhoto.
    What Apple needs to figure out next is how to seriously ramp up their .Mac storage offerings. I want 20 gigs for $100/year, not 2, especially if I’m upping tons of photos and some video.

  2. I’m hoping it isn’t crippled to only work with .Mac, that would suck. I’d be pissed if I bought iLife for all these features only to be told “sorry, you need a subscription too!” Especially since they’ve switched to a year-version, which implies that on top of the .Mac subscription iLife 05 customers are spending another $80 this year, then another $80 next year, then…
    Also, what does it say about Xserves when Google can provide 1 GB for free on Linux but Apple has to charge $100/yr for twice that space?

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