Apple has advertised that it is looking for people to "re-imagine how users interfaces should be built and work". The news has lead to speculation that revamped versions of Apple's iLife and iWork suites are in development.
The company is hiring for a number of positions on the iLife development team, including Senior Software Engineers who will work on the user interface of iLife; an engineer in the iLife Frameworks QA department; a QA engineer for iPhoto (with a "passion" for photography); and a Senior User Interface Designer for iWork.
News that Apple is hiring now has dashed any hopes that the company might be planning a long overdue update soon. The Mac version of iLife, which includes iPhoto '11, iMovie '11 and GarageBand '11, was last updated two years ago in October 2010. The Mac version of iWork, which includes Pages, Keynote and Numbers, was last updated in 2009. iOS versions of these apps also exist.
Microsoft is expected to announce a new version of the Office suite for the Mac soon (the company has just launched Office 2013 for the PC market). There is some doubt as to whether Microsoft will announce companion iOS apps, although it has been rumoured that iOS Office apps could appear in February or March.
What Apple is looking for
Apple's job listings offer an insight into what Apple hopes to fine in the right candidate.
"Do you wish you could improve the way we think about the way interfaces are constructed," Apple asks of its iLife software engineer applicant.
The successful applicant will become a "Key player in determining the future design direction of Apple’s consumer apps," according to Apple.
Of the iWork interface designer, Apple states: "The ideal candidate is a brilliant problem solver, quick study, self starter, and excellent communicator with a passion for great design and the ability to achieve it."
"We are looking for a visionary designer who is ready to and capable of taking software design to the next level," Apple writes in the iWork job description.
"The iPhoto team is looking for an experienced Software QA Engineer with a passion for and a background in digital photography," states Apple.
The company is also looking for an Audio DSP Engineer who will have "a tremendous opportunity to work on cutting edge software and make Apple’s hugely popular devices sound even better".
What does this mean for iLife and iWork?
The news that Apple is hiring software developers suggests that it is placing increasing importance on user interface design, perhaps in the wake of the corporate reshuffle last summer that saw design guru Jonathan Ive take on responsibility for the complete Apple user experience – hardware and software.
With Ive now in charge of Apple’s overall look and feel, and with Craig Federighi, formerly the head of Mac software engineering, taking on responsibility for the iOS development teams, many are expecting a unified interface across the two platforms.
One change being predicted is that Ive will ditch the skeumorphism currently seen across the operating systems. Under Forstall Apple used skeumorphic designs based on traditional representations of an object – so the icon for a phone is an old fashioned handset, and the calendar was represented by a leather-bound book, for example. Ive is thought to hate this kind of design although Apple's late CEO Steve Jobs is said to have been a fan of it.
Gartner analyst Brian Blau told Wired: "I don’t think Apple will ever stop refining their OS’s and interfaces, and with Jony Ive at the helm we should expect to see improvements."
Blau added: "Updates to major portions of the user interfaces aren’t easy; they don’t want to break what is effective today nor can they break how their developers integrate with the platform. Yet maybe there are additional features and functions that would offer more flexibility, usability and performance within the context of supporting the large library of third-party apps."
Another clue about what might be in the pipeline is news that Apple recently bought eighteen patents from content management specialist Maya-Systems. Maya-Systems is known for a product called I Am Organised, which allows users to store, view and share documents, emails and photos in the cloud. This news could indicate that Apple is hoping to improve the features of its iCloud storage system, although MacNN suggests it could also be part of an effort to court business customers.
As for when we are likely to see these changes to the iLife and iWork programs, that is anyone's guess. The fact that Apple is only recruiting now suggests that significant updates could be some way off.