Aperture team rumors

I found this article about Aperture’s future in ThinkSecret.

Because of all the misconceptions in the MacRumors discussion of it, I decided to post the link without any commentary in order to encourage people to actually read the article.

In any case, the rumor and its assorted fallout has generated a lot of discussion in the photographic world. I replied to two parts.

[my reply after the jump]

The “Aperture RAW is garbage” argument

In my Flickr entry, I replied to a comment calling Aperture’s RAW processing “garbage” as well as those calling into question the validity of the rumor:

I also feel something is wrong with this rumor, which is why I didn’t comment on it in the body.

I think Visual Reserve is talking about the many complaints comparing Aperture side-by-side with Adobe Camera RAW, most of those complaints have come from Canon users and the most damaging complaint comes from Dave Girard from Ars Technica because so many no-nothings geeks are quoting that as fact, when it is full of misconceptions.

The reality is that ACR applies by default a lot of image processing, unrelated to RAW. In almost every side-by-side I’ve seen, when you view at 100% you see the side by side comparisons where “ACR is bettter” you can see the post processing applied by ACR. If you look at it, Aperture 1.1 formalizes most of that exact same PP.

As for why Canon and not Nikon users, the reason I believe is because Nikon Capture is a better program than ACR out of the box. It has features like curves, reading the extended EXIF, etc, that is missing in ACR which causes it to have a decent following. Also, ACR seems to behave differently depending on what camera you use and I don’t believe the Nikon defaults are up to the snuff that the Canon one are. These factors combine into a lot of Nikon users as a whole don’t have the high opinion of ACR that Canon users do.

These sort of misconceptions happen all the time in digital photography. The best example I’ve seen are all the complaints of “noise” in professional cameras without understanding that there are two types of noise visually (luminance and chroma), at least two types of noise statistically (shot noise and dark current), and there is a noise-reduction->contrast/sharpness tradeoff. While I think talking about noise is fair for consumer cameras (but only if they explain luma/chroma shot/dark noise differences, and what consumer could follow that?). For professionals, at least, noise should be judged after a fine JPEG and a RAW is has been reduced by NeatImage and NoiseNinja.

I would guess that the noise differences between similar camera types/sensors would be much less pronounced.

Unfortunately, that’s not what drives sales. What drives sales is recommendation. Nobody wants to here “they’re probably just as good as each other;” they want to hear “I use X and it is better than Y. Don’t buy Y—Y is too noisy.”

I think Aperture is a good program and now with the reduction in price, it is a good value. Any lower in price then you will have the sort of people purchasing it and saying, This is just an expensive iPhoto that is hard-to-use. You’d think these sort of people would claim Final Cut Pro is a overpriced iMovie that is hard-to-use.

By the way, ThinkSecret has a high reliability rate as a rumors site, so I think the facts of the article are possibly true. However, I think the interpretations of the facts are wrong.

My guess is Aperture as an application tried to revolutionize too many parts of the photographic workflow (and the user-interface design in general) and there are some who believe they went too far and a more conservative approach is better. In many ways, they really need to concentrate on features and less on radical departures of UI: I’d gladly give up the use of the “piles” patent in the light table if they implement curves support; I’d gladly give up the just-in-time editing capability if the black and white interface was as good as Adobe Lightroom’s.

I don’t think Aperture, itself, is shit-canned.

The “$200 in your pocket is a palm frond” argument

David Emerick had a simple summary of the rumor on Mike Johnston’s site.

One of the comments was:

I just thought it interesting that when the new version was announced, they had essentially cut the price in half, and offered a palm frond to the original high-price purchasers, in the belief that it might calm any backlash.

In any event, when a company manages to misjudge their market so severely, certainly some heads will roll. It would be a shame to take it out on the grunts in the trench though. This one just plain stinks from the top.

which I feel deserved a response:

I hardly call a rebate for the price difference of Aperture a “palm frond.” By my math, anyone who purchased Aperture on release date (like me), only loses the difference in opportunity cost of $200 (a couple bucks). (If you got a couple dollars of use out of Aperture, you are doing quite well by your purchase.)

I don’t feel they misjudged their market at all, let alone severely. The main cause of the price drop appears to be the beta release of Lightroom which shows that Adobe is serious about this market, unlike in the past. (To understand a bit of history, before the iPod and iLife suite, Steve Jobs approached Adobe to make a consumer photo management software for the Macintosh and was turned down. Apple then developed and released iPhoto.)

Since Apple lives in the reality that most any serious photographer is going to be purchasing Photoshop, they have to lower the price of Aperture to mitigate the damage done by a Photoshop/Creative Suite/Lightroom parlay.

Lightroom, even if it sucks, will be a serious threat to Aperture. You’d be an idiot to think otherwise.

Outside of Adobe, nobody could have predicted that.

What is the more reasonable explanation: Apple switches out the Aperture team (mostly UI and user experience people who can be migrated to other products) with programmers who are going to focus on RAW processing (formerly not even part of Aperture) and “professional” image processing in order to compete with Adobe Lightroom? Or that Apple cuts the price $200 to increase sales on an already hot selling product (that they could have just as easily sold to Adobe et. al.) because they plan on discontinuing it?

Yeah, selling more copies of a product you plan on discontinuing. That makes a whole lot of business sense!

6 thoughts on “Aperture team rumors

  1. Looks like John Gruber did some investigation and came to the same conclusion as me.

    I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. On one hand, sometimes I take a great exception to some of the details in his posts (his Linus Torvalds quote in this article are wildly off-base—after all, it ignores the fact that FreeBSD actually outperforms Linux). On the other hand, I linked his famous “parlay” article in my post above to explain where I felt Apple’s Aperture strategy fit.

  2. With the release of Aperture 1.1.1 update, Apple has responded to the rumors.

    If you carefully parse their statement, my guesses appear to be right. ThinkSecret was right about facts (disbanding much of the Aperture team), but wrong about the conclusions (Apple canning Aperture). In fact, it sounds to me that my guess about concentrating on Aperture’s image processing functions instead of the original UI advances sounds like the most likely scenario to explain both.

  3. Grady Booch links this article. That’s pretty cool because Grady Booch is a hero of mine.

    And no, it isn’t because he’s a rabid Mac fan like me and not because his division just bought out Blake’s company. It’s because of this and this.

    As to his comment:

    I don’t know if Aperture is a “failure of architecture.” My belief that is that Aperture has some aggressive new UI and digital photo workflow models, but people demand (and Adobe’s surprise entrance into this market entails) more effort spent on RAW processing and application performance. This means a complete concentration on the model layer and performance enhancements or feature-pulling on the view layer.

    It may be the aggressive new UI and workflow is a software design problem on the architectural level (UI code is typically a huge fraction of a codebase so it is highly possible—certainly you can’t jury-rig a new UI architecture without a complete rewrite), but I feel the Aperture team should be very proud of their accomplishments. They should remember that some of us “get it” and are impressed with it, even if it performs slowly on our systems, even if the architectural design is a mess.

    I feverently hope the latter isn’t true.

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