The Aperture Debate

So here it is late October and Apple is shipping another new computer, the Retina iMac. Sure enough, just as with every other Macintosh you can buy today, you can get the Aperture program pre-loaded on it; it’s offered to you right in the online Apple buying experience (see below). 

bythom aperture offer

Remember, the Retina iMac is a product that’s shipping with the Yosemite version of OS-X, which everyone believed was the end of the road for Aperture. As Apple promised this summer, Aperture was updated for Yosemite and released the same day as the new OS.

Meanwhile, Adobe is pressing on with the “convert your Aperture files to Lightroom” campaign with a new version of their Aperture Importer program released this week (amusingly, it has a 1.5 star rating out of 5 from customers on Adobe’s own site). Adobe really wants you to move to Lightroom, though a lot of Lightroom folk are getting worried that this might also mean Adobe is trying to get more folk committed to the product before releasing, say, a Creative Cloud-only version of Lightroom 6. 

Both companies need to be more forthcoming with their plans, I think. 

In Apple’s case we know that Aperture support will last through Yosemite’s life time (likely ending with the appearance of the next new OS in October 2015), though no new features will be added. We also know that a new free program named Photos is coming that replaces both iPhoto and Aperture in Apple’s software lineup. 

I understand that we’re in that strange time between two knowns (the past Aperture era versus the future Photos era), but if Apple is going to continue to promote and sell Aperture (it’s #30 in the App Store Paid Best Seller list as I write this), they need to have a clearer message for everyone about what to expect. If Photos pretty much completely replaces Aperture, as I suspect, then there’s going to be a backlash from folk that bought it since the Developer Conference, where Apple’s plans were first tentatively communicated. 

On the other side of the table, a Lightroom version 6 is inevitable and due in 2015, too. But if Adobe is going to press on trying to pick up Aperture converts, I think they really need to clarify how long they’re going to sell boxed copies of Lightroom. It seems far too easy for them to pull the old switcheroo and make LR6 available only by subscription, which means all those Aperture converters they just hooked could just get locked into yet another forced switch or face abandonment. 

The serious photography world is pretty unsettled at the moment. If Apple/Adobe don’t think that their sales are being affected by uncertainty, they need to think again. Even if the impact isn’t direct—and I think it is—a measurable number of folk have stopped buying new DSLRs because they don’t want to find out that they can’t get ACR support moving forward without being a Cloud subscriber. (To be clear: that hasn’t happened yet. If you have CS6 Adobe is currently still updating the version of ACR for that product with each new camera.) 

Uncertainty is one of the biggest frictions on sales. When customers have doubt, they don’t buy. Right now serious photographers are doubtful about the future of DSLRs. If they don’t buy new DSLRs, they really don’t need new workflow (software). Eventually, new software doesn’t appear because people aren’t buying it, which means you don’t buy a new DSLR because there’s no real software to support it. It’s a vicious cycle, once started.

My advice: 

  • If you’re an Aperture user, just keep using Aperture. At least until it’s 100% clear what your options will be.
  • If you’re not yet committed to Aperture or Lightroom, don’t commit now unless you absolutely have to. As boxed software, both could be dead ends.
  • If you have no problems with Adobe’s US$10/month Photoshop/Lightroom bundle, go ahead and switch to Lightroom if that’s what you think you should do. US$120/year is less than the typical upgrade-every-cycle prices we were paying previously with the two products, after all. 

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