Apple's scrapping Aperture and Andy Ihnatko almost lost it there for a second

SHARE Apple's scrapping Aperture and Andy Ihnatko almost lost it there for a second

Bye-bye, Aperture and iPhoto.

Well, damn it: Today, Apple confirmed to The Loop’s Jim Dalrymple that it had ended development of two photo apps, iPhoto and Aperture. I have far too much respect for Jim and the beard for which he stands to cherry-pick the whole quote (please click through to read it), but it’s clear that Apple’s completely cleaning house on its approach to photos. Out go iPhoto and Aperture and its common photo library. In come Photos, which will run on both Mac OS Yosemite and iOS 8, and iCloud Photo Library.

The writing was on the wall for iPhoto. “Photos” delivers superior and easier image editing and library management. But I wouldn’t have predicted that Apple would throw Aperture into the sarlacc pit alongside it. Despite obvious signs that Aperture wasn’t getting much love at home, it performs an important role. The difference between Aperture and iPhoto is the difference between getting a photo exactly right and getting it “good enough, I guess.” Amateurs can learn it quickly.

“Photos” hides lots of power behind deceptively simple controls. Every time you make an adjustment, it’s with the unspoken assumption that you don’t want your photos to look terrible. You still just push a slider to brighten things up, but behind the scenes, Photos will adjust the color, saturation, and contrast curves to maintain a pleasing image. iPhoto would have just blindly bleached out the highlights and blasted out all of its dramatic shadows.

Photos is a great step forward for casual snapshotters. It works great if your mindset is “please, Magic Window, make this photo look better.” But I’ve seen nothing in the current developer preview of Yosemite to make me think it can replace Aperture. It flops (and frustrates) when you have a specific idea about what you’d like to improve. Photos pats you on the head and chuckles and seems to say “Oh, look at you! My little man! Wants to drive the car just like a real grown-up! Let me finish fixing this photo for you, slugger, and then we’ll get ice cream.”

I get more pleasure out of Aperture on an hourly basis than I get from any game. Losing Aperture means, truly, losing a lot of the joy of having a Mac. So, yeah: “Damn it” sums up my reaction. In fact, I’m tempted to signal for the black briefcase that contains the launch codes for the ugliest profanities in the Ihnatko arsenal.

But anger and panic are premature. We’re miles away from any rational conclusion that Apple doesn’t care about pro apps and users.

First, we must take into account Apple’s refusal to talk about anything they aren’t ready to talk about yet. It’s impressive that Apple gave Jim an unequivocal answer about iPhoto and Aperture (though this is a good time for them to clear up confusion about the future role of Photos). Maybe, instead of updating Aperture to work with Yosemite’s new picture infrastructure, Apple is planning to release a brand-new “pro” app that fills Aperture’s role in a way that makes sense for both iOS and the Mac. If they are, they sure won’t talk about it until the day the app ships.

Apple can also care about its pro users without delivering every last app that every pro needs. They never did get around to creating their own alternative to Photoshop, did they?

Finally, Photos is far more than just a redesigned iPhoto. It’s part of a new, systemwide approach to photo management. Apple took the first step toward integrating Mac photos when it released the most recent — sorry, “final” — major updates to iPhoto and Aperture: For the first time, both the consumer and pro apps used the exact same library files. You could keep iPhoto on your little MacBook Air, go off on a two-week trip, and then when you got home, you could drag the photo library you’d built into Aperture on your desktop iMac.

I can only guess as to Apple’s strategy. It makes sense to me that Apple would choose to narrow their responsibility to just photo and library management, with some consumer-level editing on the side. Apple’s primary job would be to make sure that every image, no matter what the source, no matter where it’s stored, is available to every Mac and iOS app that’s interested in photos. And then it’s up to third-party developers to deliver editing tools that are tailored to every individual set of expectations.

Further, the great extensibility of both iOS 8 and Yosemite allow Photos to be extended to include Aperture-style fine-grained editing.

All in all, I don’t take today’s news as a dire sign for pro photography on the Mac. It’s only a sign that we’ll need to change many of our fundamental assumptions about the Mac in the coming year. IOS 7 generated a lot of attention and handwringing, owing the stress that the radical new UI put on developers and users. But iOS 8 and Yosemite are way more significant to the long-term future of Apple products.

I wonder if Adobe had some inside knowledge of what Apple was planning. They couldn’t have picked a better month to turn a limited-time offer into a permanent product.

For $9.99 a month, you can get a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud that includes the full editions of Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. Lightroom is so similar to the deceased in both style and function that many Aperture users had already jumped ship. Its “push sliders around” editor offers the same kind of fine-grained control over the final image. It also offers superb library and project management.

(“But if Lightroom is so great, why didn’t you use it?” you might ask. Because Aperture is a consummate Mac app. Lightroom is available for Windows as well. Adobe built a cross-platform interface instead of exploiting the Mac UI to its fullest. Also, I’ve always used Aperture and I’ve been very happy with it.)

Getting both Lightroom and Photoshop for 10 bucks a month feels like a bargain and it puts a terrific app into more photographers’ hands. It’s a shame that Photoshop scares people off. When you launch it on a large monitor, birds quiet themselves in the trees and groundhogs dive for the safety of their burrows, out of respect for its palpable, seething power. A hobbyist photographer might not think that Photoshop has anything to offer, beyond a crushing sense of their tiny place in a vast and uncaring universe.

But they would be dead wrong! Photoshop’s newest iteration is packed with damn-near magical editing features that work with damn-near one click — and they’re the sort of solutions that can turn a throwaway photo into a keeper.

I use Photoshop’s content-aware fills frequently. I want to rotate and crop a photo a certain way, but doing so leaves huge gaps in the corners where there should be skies and trees and grass. No problem: I lasso each area, choose “fill” and choose the “content-aware” option. Photoshop duplicates the patterns in the clouds and the ground to produce a patch that often doesn’t even require any touching up. I can remove a pile of trash from the background of a cookout, move Auntie Vertebra closer to the middle of the shot … having Photoshop means never having to settle for an iffy photo.

Regardless of your skill level, YouTube is full of tutorials that’ll teach you how to use all of Photoshop’s techniques and features. The only thing that’s been truly intimidating about Photoshop is its sticker price. Now, at $9.99 a month, it’s well within reach of almost anyone. And remember that the price includes access to terrific iOS apps that bring Lightroom editing and libraries to your mobile devices.

I haven’t stopped hoping that Apple will release a new pro photo app, though. When Apple releases an app, you get to experience Shakespeare the way it was meant to be performed (in the original Klingon). If Apple leaves it to third-party developers, though, pro photography on the Mac is still in good hands.


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