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Aperture, I Come Not To Praise Thee…

Robert Boyer's picture
July 1, 2014 - 12:00pm

Aperture, I Come Not To Praise Thee

I come to bury thee. Something along those lines, who’s line was that anyway? Marc somebody or other. Like most of you, my first reaction was one of those stages of grief — anger, shock maybe. I certainly expected an Aperture X. After a day or two my first thoughts disappeared replaced with a new emotion, a new thought process, expectations. I rewound the clock to late 2005. I was late to digital. Not being some sort of curmudgeon, or out of fear, or even laziness to learn something new. Truth is my color output was digital for years before most people. I just hated the cameras, I hated the process after the in-camera work. It was slow, tedious, cumbersome, boring, clumsy, disconnected, slow, just plain unenjoyable.

Does anyone remember vintage 2003 or 2004 RAW workflow? Give me film any day of the week. Shoot — Done. I still like film for that reason among a few other more technical and aesthetic characteristics that never really got sorted with digital. Long story short, along came Aperture v 1.0. I think I have the original email from Apple. It was expensive, five hundred bucks if I memory serves. As soon as I read the marketing copy I got it. I bought it same day. This was it, finally, a revolution. Apple in one swift, elegant maneuver (visualize as Brad Pitt’s Achilles when he takes out the big guy in the first minutes of the movie) completely obliterated what a pro RAW workflow looked like. Without Aperture do you think any of the other products out there would look anything like they do? Nope. Let’s hope that the new guard really really has been Jobs-ized and is thinking like Apple was back then.

How Apple Works

Ever since Steve Jobs’ encore performance at Apple, they’ve done something as a technology company that no other has done. They chuck stuff over the side when it’s run it’s course. Gone, out with the old in with the new. Instead of dragging along every old, bad, kludgy, ill-conceived hunk of crap ever cobbled together they dump it overboard completely replacing it. They provide a migration path — sometimes not perfect — sometimes painful and then they dump that after a short time as well. Instead of dragging along a bunch of old crap they emulate functionality and force everyone to move along with them. Trust me this is a far better way of managing technology than holding onto legacy crap forever. Hell, even if it still works it’s buggy, nobody remembers how it works, it’s costly, and constraining. I like this about Apple, so why would I deny them a chance when over and over again they’ve displayed the same pattern.

Remember OS 9? That was obliterated very quickly and we’re all better off for it. Firewire? CD/DVD drives? ADB? Resource Forks? PowerPC? All completely gone along with a myriad of other stuff under the hood. Apple pushes the tech, shoves it down your throat. You may not like that. More accurately they make it workable for normal people that really don’t want to be fiddling with tech-stuff as some sort of side job or hobby, then they shove it down everyone’s throat.

Apple pushed the entire industry to HD, LCD, long battery life, good looking computing devices, small, thin, light, wireless. Who had workable WiFi in all their stuff years before anyone else? How about GigE? How about Thunderbolt? Who else uses the tech that’s both stable and the best way do it and then moves on while it’s user base is blissfully unaware — at least for the most part. PowerPC to intel… I could go on and on. Yes PowerPC was better in many, many ways—while it was better. Then it wasn’t. What happened? We took a minor performance hit for about a year. Who cares? What we didn’t get were 2-inch thick 15 pound laptops that melted you, and had 14 minute battery life. Give me a 15 inch Al-book G4 any day of the week.

I promise this is going somewhere. Hold on. I need the context both for those of you that have been around the block with computing since the 80’s like me and for you newbies.

The Power of The Mass Consumer

Now a little bit of photography history to put you to sleep if the above didn’t do it. Since the dawn of time, photographically speaking, “how pros do things” has been a constantly moving target. Every single time the “pros” that stuck it out believing the newer, more friendly way of doing things would never cut it… they’ve been wrong. Daguerreotypes, tin-types, wet plate, dry plate, sheet film, automation, digital, every single time “the pros” that haven’t embraced change been wrong. 

The mass consumer drives photographic technology innovation and quality. It always has and it always will. Does this mean those that have the technical skill and knowledge aren’t better prepared and better informed how and when to embrace and use those innovations? Of course it doesn’t but you need to realize “how pros do it” is temporal in nature. Even with tech stuff it’s completely contextual and temporal. Let’s take just one example of silliness that’s a bit more up to date; ”Pros strip all EXIF, IPTC, and color profile information” from their images when they put them on the web. Well, maybe that was a good idea in 1991 when color management was a twinkle in the eye of the lunatic they never let out of the basement and we were surfing with 1200 baud but now? Oh yea — great idea getting rid of those couple of text bytes in the world of the searchable, categorizable, metadata driven automation world. Yes this “pro methodology” still happens to this day… why? I guess due to blind repetition of the rules. There’s a million notions like that out there. It’s probably a good idea to keep an open mind and embrace things that provide new opportunities by thinking through what you gain vs. what you lose. Using that blatant example, evaluation of the minutiae of something new may tell you that you have no choice in removing the color profile on export or striping IPTC info you’ve put in. Maybe you should ask yourself why you are doing this as a matter of course in the first place. Just a metaphor but fitting.

There that wasn’t too, too bad was it? Context for the real part of the story of Aperture’s demise.

Apple Cares About Photography

Let me revise that… Apple cares about media, all of it. Does this mean they will serve the needs of every single solitary requirement for every single person… nope. They do care a hell of a lot about photography though, just like they care a whole lot about video, audio, music, et al. So why not Aperture X? Great question and I wish Apple would actually just satisfy my personal curiosity but I’ll take a stab in the dark here. I could be completely off. I am prognosticating after all.

Let’s talk about video for a moment. We all realize video is a different beast than still photos right? There really does need to be a pro version and a normal version of Apple’s non-linear video editing software. A hell of a lot of it relies on the same core services it’s just that the UI features and capabilities etc, are way different. For the most part the thought process between the two apps is the same. Take a look if you haven’t. It’s one of the reasons there was such a strong reaction to Final Cut Pro X. It’s de-complicated but super powerful. This is the future regardless of whether the current sticks-in-the mud want it to be or not. When? I don’t know but it is. Just like the end-to-end workflow for RAW was in 2005.

This same thing goes for Audio. Garage Band is excellent for what it is but the complexities of pro-studio recording are far, far too complicated to shove on most people. Even so, Garage Band on iOS exceeds the capabilities of the most expensive digital audio and even analog pro studios two decades ago. I won’t go into details but both apps are fantastic.

Let’s take a closer look at still photography for a moment. Are pro needs really different from consumer needs in still photography? I’ll venture that they are not. Before you go berserk think this through. Both on the hardware end and requirements perspective they have converged. First off lets look at the hardware. A new iOS device is an order of magnitude more capable than most high-end hardware was in 2005. Don’t think so… you can edit HD video on iMovie for iOS. Remember when Apple shoved HD down to the consumer way back then. It worked but was painful even on a MacPro. Stills are a piece of cake, even RAW files.

As for requirements… any sliders at all were just not for ”pros”. That’s changed a bit. Even ACR - it’s all in the sliders. Aperture or any of the other mainstay work-flow tools aren’t for compositing, liquify-ing, applying makeup that wasn’t there, puppet-warping, content-semi-aware-aspect-ratio changing, etc, etc. What they all do is basic tonal and color correction, contrast, spotting, camera fault/lens fault amelioration, etc. All of that used to be complicated stuff now it’s all automatic or sliders.

Organization has a lot of the same similarities. Metadata based smart collections, static groupings, fast searches on the fly, etc. Still photographs are vastly different from audio and video. I propose we are at a point where consumer and pro still photography needs are about the same for the stuff that can be considered capture, process, and organize. It certainly fragments from there but for all of the RAW workflow tools it’s the same consumer or pro. Well, at least it is for the major functions. We’ll save the tethering stuff and all that for another day but even tethering is sort of obsolete. If not yet, it will be soon as a specialized differentiation from the norm of shoot it and it’s everywhere immediately point of view.

To close this part down I’ll offer this; iPhoto and Aperture have been converging in function for years. They share the same core imaging engine and even database now. I don’t think they fired the Aperture guys. It makes sense that both apps become one app. The hardware and functional requirements for both are at a nexus point.

What This Really Means

GPU, unified API, third party stuff, RAW engine enhancements, iCloud, all of it. It all means something that will be quite wonderful. iCloud is going to be dropbox on steroids, 3rd party stuff will hook right into the iOS photo app stuff in new and better ways. This is all about parity and ubiquity and having everything play nicely and transparently together on both platforms.

In reality I think this also means RAW on iOS, if not now then soon. It might even mean all the stuff I wanted in Aperture for iOS just happens in a much bigger way then I might have imagined. Will we see a bit of backwards before we start seeing forwards? Will we have less before we get more? Most likely yes but that might be okay. If I remain openminded as I have in the past and let go of notions about the way we used to do it back in the day then I just might be better off.

More prognostication and speculation based on a few data-points. How many 3rd party thing-a-ma-gigs are out there for photo related endeavors on iOS? Too many to count. What do you think makes more money for lets say umm… VSCO; Film for LR/ACR or VSCOcam with in-app purchases? Based on how much of the VSCO blog and twitter fodder is VSCOcam related I’ll bet you it’s the iOS stuff. They will be all over this like flies on s$#@t. Very cool. Good chance Nik, and the rest of them will be too… maybe. If not the old players, then someone else. What about RAW? Well, that’s just a matter of time in my opinion.

The future of compute intensive tasks is boatloads of GPU cores. Apple was the first to bring this to the consumer slowly starting with Aperture, Final Cut Pro, and some other apps, then rolling it into both iOS and OS X API’s directly. Do you think Apple’s higher level services don’t piggy back on that stuff? Of course it does. Why are boatloads of GPU cores the answer? Power management, battery life, heat, and scalability are the answer. Fine grained power management is much easier when you have a ton of little processors that aren’t in use. Combine that with better performance when you need it and you’ve got a win. Checkout the specs on the A7, 64-bit, the 4-core GPU, the optimization of all those GPU compute related API’s and how that dovetails with LLVM (a painful changeover from gnu-c a while back that I thought was all about license B.S. Maybe not so much… If you’re not so techie I’ll bottom line it for you—RAW from a computational standpoint is nothing on the A7 if done right. Games are way worse.

I think I’m spot-on here. The only real question is if this all comes together in the Yosemite era or the next one. Lots of it is directly marketed for this year just in more consumer-y words. The iOS developers absolutely know what a lot of this stuff means to them. The unification of the photo ecosystem within iOS is a really really big deal. The message was that it’s also being unified across OS X too. Yes, it was explained as an iCloud-y consumer-y thing but it’s way way bigger than that. The only real question is, when as end-users will we see feature capability parity and more in an ever-increasingly transparent package.

All About Me

When it comes to photographic correction and manipulation, I’m agnostic. I can make anything work. I’m an expert user of all of ‘em. I really don’t care that much. The more they get out of my way the better. I can’t wait until they all go away. I use Aperture 3 as my library of reference. I use it to import, sift, rate, juxtaposition, and cull my work. I use it because it’s elegant and invisible not because I can’t and don’t use any other RAW processors, I do. Aperture 3 isn’t going anywhere this week. I’m not that wed to anything so I’m not worried. All my photos are there, are my metadata is there, I can move it anywhere I want and process them any way I want. I do it all the time now. I may be the odd man out but I’ve been set up to do this since the beginning.

What am I going to do? I am going to get familiar with what actually does, I’m going to take a step back and see if it feels like it’s the future even if it lacks something here or there. Everything lacks something here or there. I don’t exclusively use Aperture 3 for RAW decode now, never did. If there’s a glimmer of looking like it’s the future for most people even if it can’t be out of the gate I’ll be on-board. Just like I was with Final Cut Pro X.

I’ll certainly be there with my thoughts on the matter and the realities of living with that new ecosystem. If you need some help I’m sure I’ll not be the only person with this take that’s serious about photography. We’ll see. I see this as unexpected but with a tiny bit of reflection, it’s natural and has left me wide-eyed with the possibilities and probabilities of where Apple’s vision of a photo-ecosystem is going.

Hell maybe I won’t need the long overdue re-write to my existing Aperture 3 eBooks or make new ones for Maybe will be so transparent there’s no explanation required. I can’t wait until we get past this crazy techno barrier where all the complexity has to be re-hashed over and over making Kelby millions of dollars for what should be invisible and intuitive. I cannot wait for the day we can all get back to photography, except for those few people that geek out on the stuff that’s really not part of the main endeavor. Instead maybe I’ll jump into the ecosystem 3rd party game. Maybe I’ll use it that to learn Swift. Maybe my latest freebie boondoggle will turn into something that’s available to use right within iOS and Yosemite Who knows?

Of course I could be way way off and we’ll all still need Capture One, or Lightroom, or whatever but sooner or later I’ll be right.

Tags: Opinion
Robert Boyer
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