Aperture is Dead. Long Live Photos!
I received an official call from Apple PR this morning about the future of Aperture. My phone, twitter and Messages have been ringing off the hook since the announcement was publicly made. But I wanted to take some time to really think this through before shouting from the rooftops. So here we go.
On the surface, it doesn't seem like good news, but there's a lot more to this than a few lines of text. First, the official words.
“With the introduction of the new Photos app and iCloud Photo Library, enabling you to safely store all of your photos in iCloud and access them from anywhere, there will be no new development of Aperture. When Photos for OS X ships next year, users will be able to migrate their existing Aperture libraries to Photos for OS X.” — Apple, Inc.
In short, Aperture as we know it is dead. So let's take a step back and figure out what this really means, because obviously photography is far from unimportant to Apple. There are more questions than answers now than ever before, and I'll try to come up with all the right questions and all my best answers. Call this interpretation, speculation, or clairvoyance — but here's how I'm reading into this.
Why? Why Photos 1 and not Aperture 4?
Before we can look to the future, let's look at the past. Aperture itself has been around since 2005; nearly a decade. And of course it started being written well before that, so we are talking about 10+ year old code. The cloud, the iPhone, and pocket sized digital cameras that surpass the quality of film not only didn't exist, but were barely a twinkle in Steve Jobs' or any technologist's eye. Aperture is a photo editing and management tool written for users used to an old school workflow. Go on a shoot. Sit down to edit. Share when you're done. But that's not the world we live in anymore. Today we want to shoot, share immediately with a cool effect, edit on an iPad, sit down at your 4k display and get serious, pick up the iPad and show off what you've done, mix, repeat. We want our devices, our libraries, our experience integrated and seamless. This simply can not happen with Aperture as it is today.
This is a case of evolution vs revolution. Apple could continue to evolve Aperture, and to be honest I wish they had—in 2011, 2012, 2013. But now it's too late. Now it's time to focus on the future. The next generation of photos architecture. The revolution. We saw this in the WWDC 2014 keynote. We saw Photos in iCloud. We saw seamless integration between an iOS device and the desktop. We saw a glimpse of features that clearly couldn't exist in Aperture. We saw the future.
Everything could be based on PhotoKit. It is now for iOS, but that same thing could happen in OS X. That would mean seamless integration between iOS and OS X, and unheard of third party developer access. We saw the new raw processing engine with lens correction and phenomenal noise reduction, for example, in WWDC sessions. All the groundwork is in place for an amazing experience.
For those of you who edit video, you'll remember the transition from Final Cut Pro to Final Cut Pro X. It sucked. Big time. And frankly, Apple handled the PR of that poorly. Major features were missing, the software was buggy as hell, and yet Apple told the Pro market that it was time to move. After some serious backlash they relented, and re-relesed Final Cut Pro 7 for the existing users, so they could wait for FCP X to mature. And mature it has. Today, Final Cut Pro X is an amazing piece of software. Apple isn't making that mistake with Aperture. But it doesn't change the fact that it's time to move on.
For a happier look at the migration path, look at iWork — Pages, Keynote and Numbers. Great apps that were developed long before iOS, and once iOS came out, new versions of those apps showed up there. Lots of feature parity, lots of feature disparity. The more the iOS versions advanced, the more inferior the OS X versions felt. Until finally, Apple threw away the old apps, and released all new versions that were based on the same new code. At first, all the features of the old iWork weren't there. But Apple worked relentlessly and continued to update the software (free updates, by the way) and today those apps are fantastic. And more to the point, they are virtually identical across platforms (except for font support. Don't get me started on font support).
Now, it's the third time for this to happen. To your photos. And it has begun.
Will Photos.app version 1 have all the features of Aperture 3?
Very unlikely. Apple has stated that users will be able to migrate their existing libraries. They have also stated that there will be at least one maintenance release to ensure that Aperture is fully compatible with OS X Yosemite. Put those together, and it tell us that just because you can migrate, doesn't necessarily mean that you should. Since they say that you can however, that has to mean that any existing effects and metadata will be intact. I just wouldn't necessarily expect to be able to edit them in version 1. As Photos.app evolves however, at some point you should have all the same features — and of course a ton of new ones.
When should I migrate to Photos?
It's too soon to tell that now, but I'd wager that iPhoto and beginner Aperture users will be able to migrate immediately, while more advanced Aperture users may want to wait for another version or two. Since Aperture will continue to be supported at minimum for OS X Yosemite, personally I think version 1 will be fun to play with, and probably start a new library with. Maybe not for pro work, but I'll use it where I can. The integration between iOS and OS X will be too sweet to ignore. And as long as it has the “open in editor” feature, I can always use Photoshop and plug-ins for anything Photos can't do. Then as Photos.app progresses, once the legacy Aperture is no longer needed, I'd migrate my entire library. It'll take time, but it won't stop me from doing my job. And I think it'll be worth the wait.
I'm a pro—I don't need iOS iCloud iPad iShare
No? That's OK, I still enjoy shooting film, too. But for the rest of the world that has gone digital, this is happening. You may not be posting your client shoots to Instagram, but your clients are getting more demanding. Wanting on-site reviews. Remote reviews! Fast turnaround to their never-ending change requests. High resolution images delivered to prepress and small ones for their Facebook page. All these iFeatures will come in handy.
What if OS X was more like iOS from a developer standpoint?
OK, now let's have some fun. Think about your iPhone or iPad for a minute. You shoot or import or download a photo, and where does it go? To the Photos app. That' a super simple app today, but we already know that's changing. OK.
Now, think about all the other third party photo apps on your iPhone. Where do they get their photos from? Photos app. Where do they put them when you're done editing them? Photos app. Some have their own storage as well, but thats only for one reason — to maintain non-destructive edit-ability. Even iPhoto for iOS works that way.
Now, look at iOS 8. We already know that iOS 8 elevates third party apps to the same level as Apple apps. They can access the same library in the same way that native apps can. So that whole “store it in your own app” issue should go away.
What does that mean? Simply put, that Photos is a single storage location for all your pictures, regardless of what app you choose to edit them with. Pretty cool, right?
Now for the big reveal.
Consider the possibilities
Extrapolate that to OS X. What if OS X worked the same way? What if Photos for OS X was built on PhotoKit, and what if PhotoKit was integrated into the OS itself. What if third party apps on OS X could access your Photos.app photo library the same way that iOS apps can (and will be able to in iOS 8)?
Suddenly you have an ecosystem where the library is the hub. No more one-time, stuck-with-it-forever decision if you should use Aperture or Lightroom or Bridge or anything else. Photos.app stores your photos and allows some level of editing. Future Nik
plugins apps access that same library. Future Lightroom accesses the same Library (!!). Future Photo Mechanic. MacPhun, onOne, Alien Skin… name your app, name your plugin. In this utopian future, all apps have the same access to all photos. PhotoKit could make that possible.
Now that's cool. All this on a photo library based in the cloud.
1TB isn't enough for me
We saw in WWDC that Apple will have pricing plans for iCloud up to 1TB, which we've already observed isn't enough. But that's an easy problem to solve. So don't worry about that. I think by the time you're ready to move your entire 5TB Aperture library to Photos, there will be an iCloud option available to you.
Sounds great, but eff this, I'm outta here!
Undoubtedly Apple will lose some users to Lightroom. That's inevitable, and I'm not going to say “they'll be back!”. But they probably will :-) As before, for most of us diehard Aperture users, we've added plugins or other apps to enhance the Aperture experience to do everything Lightroom does, and more. There's no reason for that to change. At least now, finally, we can see the future, and we don't need a crystal ball to do it.
What does this mean for ApertureExpert.com?
Well, a name change at minimum :-) Any suggestions? I'm serious… I looked at PhotosExpert.com but it's owned and is being held anonymously. I'm open to suggestions, because the future of this site will be awesome. I will be able to write about not only a single app and it's plugins, but any OS X or iOS app that connects to the Photos architecture. I smell growth.
Now, go make some photos
We can chat and comment and speculate and pontificate endlessly about this, but at the end of the day, if you're not out shooting, none of this matters. So stop reading, and go make some pretty pictures. And dream big about the future. Because it's coming, and it'll be awesome.
I've responded to the many comments here in a new post, “Comment Follow-up on the Demise of Aperture”. Please read that before commenting here. Thanks!