Despite Apple's Aperture Fumble, the Photos for OS X End Goal Could Win It All
There's a lot riding on Apple's new Photos for Mac OS X app. At WWDC, Apple briefly showed off an early version of its upcoming Photos app, which will integrate with iCloud and the iOS 8-based Photos app with the iCloud Photo Library service.
Naturally, this plan raised some questions about Apple's iPhoto and Aperture products.
Late last week, Apple revealed that it has stopped developing new features for Aperture and iPhoto. Instead, the company is focusing on Photos for OS X. The move away from iPhoto makes sense -- why have multiple consumer storage and editing apps? -- but the death of Aperture was an outright blow to professional photographers who took the plunge and invested in it.
By investment, I don't mean the US$80 the app costs: Professionals and prosumers have put thousands of hours into learning the app, and they have amassed untold numbers of photos and gigabytes of data using it.
They're not happy.
Meanwhile, What About iPhoto?
Consumers, on the other hand, are less likely to be in love with iPhoto. I believe most Mac customers use it because it's Apple's built-in solution and it works as a storage locker and editing app reasonably well, with reasonable cohesion with iPhones. Again, reasonably well. My iPhoto library is 111 GB with more than 21,000 photos. It was clunky and slow until I upgraded my MacBook Pro's hard drive from the standard disk drive to a solid state drive. Now it's just clunky.
Why? Here's one example. Getting into and out of the edit mode requires you to constantly pay attention. First, you have to find the Edit button, which is in the bottom right corner. Next, you have a clunky editing sidebar with three tabs that goes back and forth between quick fixes like crop or straighten, a few sad little effects to choose from, and the ability to adjust exposure, contrast, saturation, etc.
None of them are awful, but they lack a cohesive feel. Plus, the right side column takes up way too much valuable screen real estate. What's worse is that every time you try to go back to your Events to get a new photo, you leave the Editing feature behind. It's not persistent unless you remain within a particular event. That's maddening.
How about iPhoto -- the iOS app -- for your iPhone or iPad? Does anyone actually use that thing? I briefly tried it out but could not come up with any reason I should bother with it when the Camera Roll contained my photos, and all sorts of nifty third-party apps let me edit and enhance them quickly and easily enough.
So Apple has a fractured photo-management problem. By coming up with a Photos app for iOS 8 -- with iCloud Photo Library storage and syncing capabilities -- alongside a new, similarly functioning Photos for OS X app, Apple has the potential to fix its problem with photo cohesion for its consumers.
Will Apple Turn a Cold Shoulder to the Pros?
It already has. When Apple announced the cessation of development of Aperture, it was through a bland statement to The Loop, which naturally caused a ruckus with Aperture fans, which led to a vague statement to Ars Technica assuring the community that Photos for OS X would include professional-grade features like image search, editing, effects, and support for third-party extensions.
Meanwhile, customers will have to wait until early 2015 to get the new Photos for OS X app. With so little real information, Apple has effectively turned its back on professional photographers. This is either intentional -- in order to foster a sense of anger and frustration that could lead to a wealth of information posted online about what professional photographers (or prosumers) really care about -- or Apple just dropped the ball in favor of supporting the masses.
Either way, Apple pulled a textbook move on how to come off as cold and uncaring. Apparently, fabulous customer experiences are now focused on the least common denominator of its customer base.
I'm sure it all makes perfect business sense -- and therein lies the opportunity.
Apple Can't Compete with Adobe Lightroom Anyway
Adobe Lightroom has been gaining a following of appreciative customers. They might not like buying it as part of a subscription service with Adobe's Creative Cloud or as a licensing deal that requires an annual commitment, but customer satisfaction seems very good. Maybe Aperture sales have been lackluster, and maybe Apple just can't truly break into the prosumer market with Aperture or with enough professionals to make Aperture successful.
If Apple can't create a separate professional-grade product that it can convince people to buy, why have it? Why not double-down on rethinking and rebuilding photo editing, management and sharing?
That's the good that can come out of all this. Hundreds of millions of Apple customers are taking photos like never before. They're editing them, saving them and sharing them. Making it easy to find, edit and share photos is a very big deal. Potentially, it's far more important than satisfying the Aperture-grade pros.
Photos speak to humans in personal and inspiring ways. If Apple gives the right photo-management solution to hundreds of millions of customers, they'll become even more embedded with Apple products. If Apple creates photo management that gets out of the way, the customer satisfaction gains will be enormous.
Better Yet, Apple Is Opening Up
The key to Apple's massive photo retooling, though, is in how Apple has opened up its own apps to third-party app developers. With iOS 8 -- and Photos for OS X next year -- app developers can create awesome extensions. These extensions will essentially give you custom controls, offering special filters and effects -- or even professional-grade tools.
Sharing and integration with other apps will feel more seamless. This is actually a big step forward for Apple. The company is relinquishing a good bit of user experience control in favor of customization and third-party extension of capabilities.
It has the potential to unleash a new wave of creativity from developers -- and consumers.
Will Photos for OS X be enough to placate the professionals? Will developers create extensions that will serve their needs? Maybe -- maybe not. However, the big win for Apple will be with most everyone else -- prosumers on down to foodies who just want to pin a pretty plate of lobster for their friends to drool over.
Two Sad Things Remain
What's really sad through all this "opportunity" is two-fold: First, for a company that's having a hard time figuring out what to do with $150 billion in cash, why couldn't Apple give its Aperture customers a bit more love by enhancing the application? Why not win them over to the new Photos for OS X app with awesome extensions when the app was released? I'm just surprised at the fumble -- it's like Apple picked its head up to look at the goal and forgot about the ball.
The second bit of sadness? We've got to wait until 2015 before the new Photos for OS X comes out.