Today Apple announced their new imaging application, Aperture.

Aperture This is clearly intended to be a high-end app, and Apple wants to make sure you get that. “Aperture: Designed for Professional Photographers.” A retail price of $499 ($249 educational). A website that reads: “Whether you’re a fashion, wedding, sports, portrait, fine art, commercial, or editorial photographer…” And the recommended minimum hardware: dual 2GHz G5 PowerMac with 2GB of RAM.

It’s more of an image processing application than an image editing application – pixel-level editing tools are scarce in Aperture. Browsing the gallery of screenshots I see no pencils, brushes, dodge and burn tools, clone tools, erasers, etc. Except for a handful of iPhoto-style fixit things like “dust, spot, blemish, red-eye, and patch tools,” Aperture seems to be almost exclusively focused on whole-image adjustments. It’s iPhoto on steroids/speed/Red Bull.

Aperture places heavy emphasis on workflow – the word “workflow” being another shibboleth for professional photographers in the digital realm. Lots of ways to select and organize images. Support for raw (not an acronym!) format files is a big bullet point as well.

So, what about Adobe? The Tech Specs page does mention “Seamless Photoshop integration,” which sounds nice – but, really, how many people are going to buy both? Is this going to spur an update to the languishing Mac version of Photoshop Elements? Given how critical Adobe – and its customer base of creative professionals – is to the platform, the Mac loyalist hopes that Apple has thought this move through carefully.

It will be interesting to follow user reactions once the application actually starts shipping. Despite the heavy “pro” angle, I imagine there are many avid amateurs who will gladly buy Aperture to replace their pirated copy of Photoshop. And, just as “Seventeen” magazine also targets 12-year-old girls, this “pro” app will be picked up pridefully by many ambitious amateurs who want to distinguish themselves from their iPhoto/Picasa-using peers.

If nothing else, this guarantees that there will be something in the professional imaging arena that runs natively on the Intel-powered Macs expected next summer – even if it doesn’t have a magnetic polygonal lasso tool.

Rahul Sinha commented on Fri Oct 21 12:59:59 2005:

With regards to your view that this is thinly disguised competition for Photoshop, I disagree in part.

This program fills a niche that Photoshop does not address. Extensis Portfolio, iView Media Pro, these Digital Asset Management tools are the direct competitors to Aperture.

Photoshop is a tool aimed at designers and graphic artists that is also used by photographers due to a lack of better alternatives. Even professional photographers generally find it bloated with many features they never use, and yet lacking in simple conveniences they could find very useful. (eg Aperture’s stamp tool that can replicate changes performed on one image to another.)

Immediately many users of Photoshop who buy Aperture may shift 50% or more of their workload tasks over. There will still be a need for photoshop for all the tasks Aperture is not trying to contend with.

Until the next app.

Final Cut Pro was released, and only regarded one aspect of Video Editing. DVD creation had to be done elsewhere, as did certain special effects and audio processing.

Then Apple bought Logic, and released DVD Studio Pro and Motion. Suddenly your entire video workflow could be handled inside of Apple’s applications.

Aperture is the beachhead. It is the base app, from which you launch Photoshop - until Image Editing Pro comes out. You’ll pull images from Aperture into Quark or Indesign until Pages spawns DTP Pro.

If Apple released a full-on competitior to Photoshop it could not win. If everything worked the same, to ease adoption, the product would be seen as derivative. If there was a radical rethink, people would find the changes annoying and disorienting. Every feature of Photoshop’s would have to be matched, or the product would be seen as inadequate.

Conversely Aperture gets to set its own “way of doing things”. Image Editing Pro can then be a rethink that is “an extension of your Aperture workflow” using the same UI metaphors as an already established application without parroting a competitor.

Well done, Apple. I am certainly buying Aperture when it comes out - but then, I’m a photographer ;-)


Paul commented on Fri Oct 21 13:34:39 2005:

Hey, a comment! And a detailed one at that.

I agree with a lot of what you say, and your speculation is interesting. One point of clarification, though – when I say “Photoshop” I properly should be saying “Photoshop and Bridge” since they come together, and since the file-management capabilities of Aperture are under so much discussion right now. While Bridge isn’t yet a full-fledged asset manager, it is powerful, and leaps and bounds beyond the old File Browser.

Todd commented on Wed Oct 26 03:34:05 2005:

I spent a couple hours with this application today, and all I can say is you will not believe how deep this product is - and for a 1.0 product, simply amazing. Wait until you get your hands on this application, or are able to sit through a long demo. This takes care of what photographers have been looking for - an app to help manage photos, sort them, print them, edit metadata in them… oh man, the list just goes on and on… I think I must have said “wow” about 100 times in the two hours I had with it. - Todd