Apple's software ju-jitsu

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?

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?