Pro vs. Consumer: How iLife ’11 Blurs the Lines

As a musician, I’ll never forget seeing Apple’s professional music studio software Logic (s aapl) for the first time and thinking, “Here we go baby!” Back then, GarageBand paled in comparison, so any semi-pro audio technician would only use it for quick work. But iLife ’11 is blurring the line between the two programs.

iLife Narrows the Gap

Apple’s professional apps (Logic, Aperture, Final Cut) have had several complete makeovers and a dramatic drop in price since I first started using Logic. Ten years ago, could you have found a fully-loaded “Nashville-quality” recording suite with effects and tools galore for $499? Not a chance.

Even more surprising is that iLife is quietly creeping up the feature parity path. With the release of each new version of the media suite, starting especially with iLife ’08, I’ve noticed a trend: Apple is blurring the line between professional and consumer features. Remember when Faces first allowed you to automatically identity people in iPhoto? What a great feature! Did Aperture have it? Not for over a year. What about how easy it was to use iMovie? We had to wait a bit for Final Cut to catch up.
With the Wednesday release of iLife ’11, boasting movie trailers, advanced photo maps, and even more guitar effects than before, you have to wonder, is Apple breaking down the line between what we typically call professional and consumer software?

Flex Time, not just for Logic users anymore.

Expanding the Creative Talent Pool

GarageBand ’11 boasts the Flex Time feature that lets you quickly make changes to timing and tempo. While you had to buy Logic only days ago to utilize this amazing tool, now Aunt Susie can fix her parakeet’s faulty rhythm on her iMac, too.

For now, I’m actually on board with Apple’s drive towards simplicity and ease of use. Logic 8? A pain to operate. GarageBand ’11? You’d be surprised how close it comes to Logic’s quality, minus the massive learning-curve headache. While Aperture has its place, iPhoto allows me seamless editing and organization. And Final Cut? Well, I can’t boast much knowledge there, but iMovie sure does the trick for my purposes.

Maybe the day will come when pro and consumer app divisions are no longer necessary. Will we lose some features we once considered vitally important? Probably. But how much more will we gain in terms of the quality of content produced? How many great creators will be given the chance to create without excessive time commitment and learning barriers?

The Garden Path

No matter what you think about Apple’s growing influence over the software that appears on its platforms, iLife ’11 is one step further in the blurring of the pro/consumer line. But as that line fades, what do we lose in the bargain? Do high-end tools get cut to avoid confusing less skilled users? Do we trade the ability to do more things for less granular control over each thing we can do? Mac-based pros especially need to watch carefully as Apple software continues to evolve, and let the Mac-maker know if it swings too far in the direction of simplicity.

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