An honest question to Steve Jobs: "Now that you want us to pay for iPhoto, what's next ? Perhaps iChat / iSight ??"

As a longtime Mac user I really like Apple and Steve Jobs. I also like Panther quite a lot. But there is one thing that really bothers me. I don't mean things like self destructing powerbooks or issues with iPod batteries.

No, what really bugs me is something else: it looks like Apple more and more sells us products and services the same way, drug dealers sell crack and heroine !

They come out with some cool stuff and offer that for free - initially. Then after a while, when enough people got hooked, they suddenly start charging for it.

Most recent example: iPhoto !

Until yesterday, iPhoto was available as a free download. Then Steve Jobs started his keynote presentation at the Macworld SF 2004. To make it short, he hadn't much to say (Two great comments about the whole event, can be found here: Dan Gillmor and Russell Beattie).

But what got me excited was a new version of iPhoto - with minor but significant improvements. Only problem: when Steve switched off his little reality distortion field, Mac users had to realize that from now on, iPhoto is no longer free. It's now only available as part of the iLife software suite - for 49 Euros or $.

Don't get me wrong here: I don't expect everything to be free from Apple. I also think that 49 Euros is a steal for the whole iLife bundle - but only if you really use all programs ! I only would use iTunes and iPhoto. Because iTunes probably will remain free, 49 Euros just for a few iPhoto improvements is far to much money...

And why doesn't Apple ask people to pay for these programs right from the start ?

The answer is probably easy. Apple knows what every good drug dealer knows, too: hand out the first shot for free and you have a loyal customer that keeps coming back.

As intended by Apple, millions of Mac users today rely on iPhoto as their photo database. For many of them switching to another software would mean a lot of pain. So now they are left with no other choice than to cough up the money, if they want to have a version of iPhoto, which is able to handle thousands of pictures instead of a few hundreds.

Not really nice and it was not the first time, Apple did this !

They used the same approach, when they launched iTools a few years ago: Mac aficionados then could get a Mac.com - email address free of charge. But only for a year or so. After enough people signed up, the service suddenly got "bundled" with a some other stuff, was rebranded Dot Mac - and suddenly carried a price tag of 99 Euros / year !! Quite a rip off, if you just used it for email forwarding, but needed to keep the address...

So the obvious question is: What will be next ?

What other products or services come with such a handy lock-in effect that forces people to pay for something, they thought would be free, when they started using it ? The Adressbook ? iCal ? or iSync ?

What about iChat ? Especially in connection with iSight ?! Looks like a natural choice, doesn't it ?? So, perhaps in the not to distant future, after enough iSights have been sold, we will witness the glorious launch of "DotMac Pro" - now with great videoconferencing functionality - for just 199 $ / year. Well, just a thought. But a frightening one, if you ask me...

Hey, Steve: How about a little heads up ?