Apple's software ju-jitsu

Apple's software ju-jitsu

Summary: Apple is reportedly ending Aperture, its high-end photo app, merging its functionality into a single new, free Photos app. This continues a longtime Apple strategy of cutting software prices to, in many cases, free. Why?

TOPICS: Storage, Apple, Software

Apple's decision to end-of-life its Aperture photo management app is causing some photo pros heartburn. But it is not surprising.

Apple is doing is nothing new: the original 128k Macintosh debuted with MacWrite, MacDraw and MacPaint, with some radical, for the day, functionality. Of course, those were some of the only apps then available for the Mac. 

But over the last 15 years Apple has adopted a consistent strategy of reducing software prices:

  • OS X $129 to free
  • iWork (Pages, Keynote, Numbers): $79 to free
  • iLife apps: free
  • Aperture: $199 to $79 to free
  • Logic Pro: $499 to $199
  • Final Cut Studio: $1,300 to $400
  • Shake: $4950 to $499


But the gross margins on software are 90+ percent. Why give them up?

The game plan:

  1. Like the Mac 128k, make the computer a high-value appliance with built-in apps to justify higher initial purchase prices. 
  2. Devalue the competition's most valuable products by making them commodities. Today, Microsoft is having to essentially give away Windows on the low end, while Office adds sustantial cost to the Surface Pro 3, making it even more expensive than equivalent MacBook Air configurations. Photos will likely do the same to Adobe's Lightroom.
  3. Drive hardware sales. It works, too: Mac market share keeps climbing in a declining PC sales environment. And its share is much higher among creative professionals who buy high-end gear.

The Storage Bits take

Replacing Aperture with a free app is nothing new for Apple and it is good for consumers. No, Apple's new Photos app won't beat Photoshop or Lightroom for pros, but it doesn't have to. It just needs to make photo management easy enough so most Mac buyers don't spend money on Adobe's products.

By also moving software costs dramatically lower, Apple has enabled millions of people, like me, to start doing music and video who could never have afforded to 10 years ago. In doing so they've created millions of loyal customers who've built businesses on the Mac and on Apple software.

While photo pros may complain, making high-end functionality cheap or free is a good thing for the rest of us.

Comments welcome, as always. Has Apple's strategy of lower software prices helped or hurt the industry? You?

Topics: Storage, Apple, Software

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  • Of course, Adobe has got more going on than Photoshop

    I think there are even prosumers who do Creative Suite, and the addition of an Aperture equivalent to the default install of a Mac won't be enough to dissuade people from getting CS for the purposes of using Illustrator or InDesign (or even Photoshop for that matter.)
  • Great points.

    And add in one more thing - lock in. What they are doing is exactly what IBM was doing before they were told you had to separate software and hardware due to anticompetitive issues. That led to the minicomputer and later PC market. Likewise it is the same thing Microsoft tried before antitrust cries led to dismembering the apps from Windows and the publishing of many of their file specs.

    What is funny is seeing how those concerns do not seem to be a big deal now, despite the fact that the devices and their software are more integrated than ever. Perhaps now everyone figured out let the hardware fight it out. The software is just the functional pieces supported by it. And the lock-in now is back-end services. Apple realizes eventually iCloud and value-added services are the way to go. Microsoft is figuring out that with Office 365, and Adobe showed everyone the way. And of course, for Google it is the PRIMARY thing. If they could guarantee everyone would buy in without efforts like Chrome, Android, etc. do you think they would be spending for the hardware and software businesses? Not on your life! But the two fit together.

    Oh, and add that there is a robust market for "apps" that fill in the blanks on what more advanced users and pros need to do their job. Software has become like Snap-on and Mac Tools, where their business is the stuff you may not need to start, but when you do need it, they are there to supply it.

    Now what is going to blow up this arrangement? (And you know something will...)
    • Lock-in

      It isn't a big deal for Apple, because unlike IBM's 90% ownership of the mainframe market, and Microsoft's 93% ownership of the PC OS market (and 95% of the Office market), Apple has none of those monopolies. If you don't have a monopoly, you can do what you want. If you do have a monopoly, you can't.

      So nothing has changed.
      • True.. Apple should be on it's knees thanking Google.

        Because Android became the 800 pound mobile OS gorilla, they are taking the anti-competitive heat from Apple. (at least in Europe presently) Apples practices are way more restrictive then Google's from an anti-competitive perspective, and it's something they would already have been stung for had they had 80+ percent market share.
        • Nonsense

          First, you don't appear to understand anti-trust law. For one this, there is nothing, NOTHING illegal about having a monopoly. Nor are restrictive sales practices necessarily illegal. What IS illegal is using that monopoly position to lock out competitors. If, like MS, you threaten computer manufacturers that they will no longer be able to offer Windows if that manufacturer sells other operating systems, you will run afoul of the law.
      • No, it isn;t a big deal because having a monopoly is NOT illegal.

  • My Quibble

    I quote: "It just needs to make photo management easy enough so most Mac buyers don't spend money on Adobe's products."

    I am very much on board with your analysis today, but the preceding misstates Apple's point of view. My opinion, of course.

    The Apple-Adobe relationship has had its checkered moments over the last 30 years, but generally, I think Apple feels positively about large software developers who put great products into its ecosystem.

    So, I don't think Apple is prioritizing the denial of sales to Adobe. Instead, Apple thinks their devices are an easier purchase to make if the out of the box experience is a better one for the larger part of the consumer market. Mobile devices are about communications and photography. There are a lot more iPhone users out there than Mac users: integration and 80% of photograph processing functionality adds value to a Mac. Apple hopes.

    Besides, from my sample set of 1 (family member), LightRoom was a better product than Aperture for professional/art photography. I don't see any loss of sales for Adobe that group, and I also suspect that through greater user control of the iPhone's camera via apis, a large number of folks will move up from snapshots to photography. Putting the basic tools provides a primer — and lab; Adobe will benefit from those folks who move upmarket from casual to creative.
    • Fair point.

      As a Lightroom user myself - it's a great product - you are correct. I probably should have said something like: "It just needs to make photo management easy enough so most Mac buyers don't need to spend money on other photo management products."

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

      R Harris
  • Adobe is moving on-line

    "No, Apple's new Photos app won't beat Photoshop or Lightroom for pros, but it doesn't have to. It just needs to make photo management easy enough so most Mac buyers don't spend money on Adobe's products."

    It's also important to realize that Adobe is moving to an on-line subscription model for a lot of those products and those are the ones pros will be using more and more.
  • Lock in usually means

    forcing people to stay on a platform - which is what IBM was doing in the 60s by only leasing, not selling, its machines with software and services bundled in the lease price. Apple and the Mac don't have that kind of market power, nor do they force you to use their apps.

    But by making the apps cheap Apple is making it easier - less expensive - to abandon the platform, because the cost of no longer usable apps is so low. But when I can own Final Cut for less than a year's Creative Cloud rental, why wouldn't I?

    Per your comment, I agree the real challenge for Apple is online services, an area where they've never been strong despite taking multiple stabs at it. I hope they crack the code - maybe Yosemite will - but I'll need to see proof.

    R Harris
    • BUT

      The platform is so freakin' over-priced.
  • Photo apps are standard stuff

    The public has always had a desire for photos and with smart phone cameras and inexpensive point and shoots they need a digital image app. You always got a Text / Notepad app free with the O/S (who uses those any more?) and now you get a photo app. They already are common place on phones. It's needed for the desktop now for about everybody. Camera vendors also are including a give away app as well.

    Apple needs Aperture - not. It takes a lot of infrastructure to keep up with what is going on in this area and I don't think Apple wants to invest that heavy in imaging software. A fair number of Professionals use Aperture and they won't be happy. But it is clear the app wasn't getting much love from Apple either. The same happened to Nikon's pro image app. They will have a slimmer free app soon.

    Adobe embraces both Windows and IOS with amazing parity across the entire product line and they command the professional markets. Aside from niche products and addons no one is active in going after Adobe.
  • Complex business decisions and strategy at Apple

    In general, I agree with much that is said in the article. However, it is important to know that all products Photoshop, Word, Premier, etc have a natural life cycle that ranges from early on very high ROI, but as the product matures, in general, it comes less impact flu for a smaller and smaller community of users. I suspect that the feature adds to these very mature products provide very little ROI for the 95% of users,other than compatibility. Therefore, justifying investment and a sustaining business model becomes harder and harder.

    This may plan a role in whether to continue the investment, sale price, etc, as well as the points raised above on lock-in, competition prices, and perhaps work flow changes (cloud).

    The exception to this rule is OSX and iOS, their free model is driven by anticipate large ROI use to community of devices working together, Continuity, and the high value to developers and hardware sales to drive much higher OS adoption. This pays off in costs, but also accelerates new capabilities in new areas, e.g., home, medicine, and enhanced mobile (cars).

    It would be wonderful to be a fly on the wall during the Apple business strategy meeting. I think at Apple strategy, like design, play a much bigger role than t most companies, where strategy is more reactive to "competition."
  • Hasn't it also been dropping

    high end functionality, like for Final Cut Pro? So they are going for the good enough but not great software. This places them above Google products but below Microsoft/Adobe and people will expect that Apple products are great because they include, for free, all these great tools for office/photo/video/etc. I suppose this is great for Apple.
    • No

      This is not what happened with Final Cut. When FCPX came out, it was a complete departure from traditional NLE editing paradigms, which had been based on (and locked into) near-skeupmorphic adherence to old-school film editing work flows. FCPX invented an entirely new approach leveraging digital flexibility and strengths.
      When it first debuted, it was, indeed, missing a number of key, important features, but Apple made clear that it was still in development, and people who needed those features should stick to FCP for the time being. Nevertheless, and despite this, the handwringing and gnashing of teeth was great, especially here on ZDNET, where ignorance of the new paradigm caused ABAer and people who had never edited a second of video in their lives to decry Apple's "abandonment" of their loyal customers.
      Fast forward a few years, and FCPX is once again a first rate editing platform, more than competitive against Avid, let alone Premiere, and pretty much at feature parity, both with its former version as well as competing platforms.
  • ???

    Hey! This article has nothing to do with jujitsu at all! Jujitsu translated means "The Gentle Way" meaning that you redirect the enemy's force against them.. Apple appears to be playing catchup moreso then anything else.. Apple needs to find another visionary and fast before they become another Bang and Olafson, just an overpriced me too in an always competitive consumer tech market..
    Nick Zamparello
  • informe

    Como que ya trabaje mucho gratiz no? Saque la verdad de donde eh travajado si extravió el hilo ..porque ya se le acabó el pinche corrido