Apple has long bundled iLife apps on the machine-specific reinstallation DVD that ships with new Macs. Last year, it began doing the same thing with a USB stick on new MacBook Airs.
However, the latest Thunderbolt MacBook Airs and Mac mini don't ship with either a DVD or a USB stick. Instead, they use Lion Internet Recovery, a new process that downloads Mac OS X Lion directly from Apple's servers via an internet connection (it requires a WPA/WPA2 encrypted WiFi connection).
As part of the reinstallation process, the system identifies itself to Apple's servers as eligible for a free download of Lion, allowing uses to perform a clean reinstall, even to a bare hard drive or external disk (including a Thunderbolt, USB, Firewire or SD Card volume that has at least 13 GB free).
Along with the download of Lion, the machine's associated Apple ID is given a license to download the latest versions of iPhoto, iMovie and GarageBand (the remaining components of iLife '11 minus iDVD and iWeb, both of which have been iced outside of the remaining retail boxes still available for sale) from the Mac App Store.
After this occurs, the user can then download the apps from the Mac App Store to any other Mac associated with the same Apple ID using the Purchases page (shown below; the apps are downloading to another Mac after obtaining a license tied to a new MacBook Air).
While many users are likely to already own this version of iLife, the simplified licensing enables users with older versions of iLife apps to bring them up to date, and allows users to install the iLife package on other machines following a clean installation, without dealing with their original DVD.
Additionally, the Mac App Store license also allows users to obtain subsequent updates to iLife apps through the App Store itself, rather than Software Update.
Apple has used the Mac App Store to greatly simplify the process of obtaining and installing the new $30 Mac OS X Lion software release, resulting in the fastest pace of upgrades for any Mac OS release in history. It has also moved its primary apps to the App Store, including iLife; iWorks; Aperture; Final Cut Pro X, Compressor and Motion; FaceTime, Apple Remote Desktop, Mac OS X Lion Server and Xcode, the company's development tools for the iOS and Mac platforms.
The shift has greatly simplified the process of distributing, installing and updating software for Mac users, and Apple has deeply discounted the price of many of its apps, shedding hundreds of dollars from the price of apps such as Aperture, Final Cut Pro, Lion Server and Remote Desktop. Apple also now offers Xcode development tools as a free download.