Although it makes plenty of money from the Windows platform, Adobe’s home has always been the Mac, where graphic artists still depend on Photoshop as a primary tool for image editing. While that situation may not change any time soon, the arrival of an apparent rival, Apple’s Aperture, may move things in a totally unexpected direction.
Over the years, long before Aperture arrived, there had been rumors that Apple might just be working on an application to compete with Photoshop, in the same fashion that Final Cut Pro competed with Adobe Premiere. The end result was that Adobe discontinued the Mac version of Premiere. Of course, some folks in the film editing business tell me that development of Premiere had languished and that the arrival of Apple’s application was a blessing.
But Photoshop isn’t languishing, so where does Aperture fit in? Should Adobe fear that Apple will cherry pick its most popular applications and build competitors? Well, for now at least, that doesn’t seem to be happening. Aperture lacks many of the features that graphic artists take for granted in Photoshop, such as its paint tools. Instead, Aperture is designed strictly as a “post-production tool for photographers.”
Some might even regard it as, for now at least, a companion for Photoshop. You take advantage of Aperture’s own capabilities, then bring the image into Photoshop to complete your work. But we’re also talking about a program that will stand at version 1.0, plus the expected bug fix updates. When it’s time to debut Aperture 2.0, will Apple crib features from Photoshop to expand its own application’s reach? This must be something that, despite any assurances to the contrary, is causing nightmares for a lot of people at Adobe.
Of course, competition is healthy. Photoshop really has no compelling rival, and if that rival comes from Apple, so be it. Perhaps Adobe will be forced to be even more innovative in future versions of its flagship application. Or perhaps it’ll pack up its things and let Mac users fend for themselves. Right now, it doesn’t seem in the cards. Mac users provide far too much income for Adobe to remove another application from the platform. Next to Microsoft Office, anyone seeking to do serious content creation puts Photoshop at the top of the list, and Aperture, based on what it offers, doesn’t seem ready to alter those shopping lists any time soon, except to add one additional product.
But where is Apple going with all this? If you look at its lineup of professional software, for example, you’ll find the likes of Final Cut Pro, Logic Pro and Shake, to name a few. They have all become serious, indispensable tools for creative people. Add to that iLife ’05, iWork (or AppleWorks) and FileMaker Pro and you can pretty well spend your entire workday immersed in Apple software and never have to look at any third party product. In that sense, it’s almost a throwback to the days of the very first Mac, where the only software available came with the computer, and it was supplied by Apple.
Yes, you say, there are thousands of third party applications for the Mac, ranging from simple system add-ons and maintenance tools to vertical market software that can run medical and legal offices. There are over a thousand accessories for the iPod, and it doesn’t seem likely Apple is going to replace the vast majority of these products any time soon, or ever. At the same time, third party developers know full well that Apple will encroach on their turf when it fits its strategic needs.
Right now, for example, the newest iMac G5 has the makings of a credible media center computer. But, unlike the competition running Microsoft Windows, it doesn’t record TV shows. Now you could make a logical argument that a Mac isn’t a terribly good TV set, and some of you no doubt recall the failed Mac TV experiment many years ago. But that was then and this is now. Apple is a totally different company. It picks and chooses new features carefully, and if it sees the demand for TiVo-like digital video recording capabilities, it will add them. Or pick up someone’s technology to adapt to its needs, in the same fashion as SoundJam was acquired and was used as the basis for iTunes.
So should Germany’s Elgato Systems expect an offer from Apple to acquire its EyeTV technology? Does the departure of Elgato’s chief executive, Freddie Geier, to run Apple Germany, have any significance? Well, before joining Elgato in 2003, Geier did work for Apple, so maybe it’s just a coming home party.
On the other hand, I wonder how far Apple is going to take its media center aspirations. Perhaps it won’t enter EyeTV’s territory. Or maybe it’ll just buy the product line and give it a unique twist after undergoing refinement in Apple’s development labs. Or maybe, just maybe, Elgato needs to consider Apple’s plans in the same fashion as Adobe has to consider what direction Aperture may take.