Confirming expectations Apple this morning announced iLife 2004 – the next generation of the software family Apple CEO Steve Jobs sees as: "The Microsoft office for the rest of your life".

iLife '04 features new versions of iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD and the current version of iTunes. It also introduces Apple's startling new consumer-music-making application, GarageBand.

Put simply, GarageBand transforms a Mac into a professional-quality musical instrument and recording studio for music-loving folk at any skill level.

Free downloads ended However, all this goodness has a price. Available from January 16, iLife '04 will cost £39, or ship for free with any new Mac. Apple's popular practice of releasing much of its iLife software as free download ends with this incarnation. Jobs did point out that to purchase the equivalent level of software capability for the Windows platform would cost "over $300".

At the same time, the software suite offers Mac users an unprecedented level of cross-application integration they can use to explore and share their creative impulses across different disciplines.

Jobs said: "With iLife '04, Apple is taking another leap far ahead of its PC competitors in offering the most innovative software for organizing and creating digital music, photos and movies."

GarageBand Explaining the music application for the rest of us, Jobs said: "GarageBand does for music creation what iMovie did for video and iPhoto did for photos – makes the creative process easy and affordable for everyone."

He informed the expectant Apple audience: "Over half of US households have at least one member who currently plays a musical instrument – not just a little guitar in a college band 20 years ago – so we think GarageBand is going to find a very receptive audience."

Apple's GarageBand software runs on a Mac and offers users a host of music-making features, covering the gamut of sound creation, and moving forward to recording, editing and sharing music they make – using Apple's customary simple user interface.

GarageBand users can combine self-created sounds (analogue and digital), loops and more than 50 software instruments to make song. Be warned – Apple's consumer music creation software is no low-end product: It requires a 600MHz G3 processor or faster, while a G4 or G5 processor is required for GarageBand's software instruments.

The application ships with 50 software instruments, including a premium-quality grand piano that can be played and recorded with any USB or MIDI music keyboard. It also offers 1,000 professionally recorded audio loops that can be added to make songs or backing tracks. Vocals and live instruments such as guitars can be recorded digitally via microphone or analogue input. Tracks can be edited and mixed with over 200 pro-quality effects presets, including reverb and echo.

GarageBand also offers six simulated vintage amplifier sounds, and users can share their songs using iTunes, to which the application can export tracks. Exported tracks can then be burnt to CD, encoded to MP3 or AAC, carried and played back on an iPod (or iPod mini), or employed by other iLife apps.

iPhoto 4 Along with extensive performance and speed improvements, iPhoto 4 allows its users to scroll through and resize up to 25,000 photos in seconds, Apple claims.

Apple's new time-based photo organization makes finding the right image a little easier, and the company's newly-introduced Smart Albums feature can automatically organizes photos based on date, keyword or the user's own rating. The latter feature means users can ascribe an iTunes-like star rating to images to help them later find their strongest pictures.

Apple has also introduced new slideshow options to iPhoto, and these include include cinematic transitions and controls for rotating, rating and deleting photos quickly. The product also introduces Rendezvous photo sharing between Macs on wired and unwired networks.

iMovie 4 The now updated iMovie 4 allows Mac users to edit directly in the timeline. Users can also select and edit multiple clips at once to modify and render them faster and more efficiently. iMovie 4 also offers graphical audio waveforms and live audio scrubbing – in layman's terms, this means users can find specific edit points in audio tracks and easily sync those to the movie. It's also possible to import video directly from Apple's iSight camera to the clips panel. The company has also built in a menu option that lets home movie-makers compress and export their creations to the Internet. "Users can take movies with them when they travel with a compatible Bluetooth mobile phone or PDA," Apple pointed out.

iDVD 4 The company's improved iDVD 4 offers 20 new Hollywood-style themes, some with intro movies and sub-menus that can be personalized with music, photos and movies for truly original DVDs. Content from other iLife applications can be added directly to a DVD via the media browser, and enhanced photo slideshows can include cinematic transitions and iTunes playlists. The new DVD Map provides an overview of entire DVD projects. Apple has also borrowed video-encoding features from its Final Cut Pro product so home users can fit over two hours of professionally-encoded video on a single DVD.

Pricing and requirements iLife '04 will be available January 16 and costs £39, including VAT. The iLife '04 applications will also be included with all new Macs. An iLife Up-To-Date upgrade package (£15) is available to all customers who purchase a new Mac on or after January 6 that does not include iLife '04.

The software suite needs Mac OS X 10.2.6 or later, QuickTime 6.4 or later, a G3, G4 or G5 Mac, 256MB+ RAM, and a 1,024-x-768 display.