What if Apple made a Photoshop Alternative?

A few minutes back, Neven Mrgan wrote two tweets that set some sparks off in my head:

I’d love to know if there’s a reasonably complex, custom-looking app developed without Photoshop. Apple delivers all components except that. […] (In case it’s not obvious: Apple makes heavy use of Photoshop when developing their own software.)

This made me wonder if there was a possibility that Apple was developing such an app in-house. We have had a few tweets back and forth, yet my imagination is running wild. And because I don’t really want to flood Neven with a tsunami of chirps, tweets and toots, let’s ramble on here.

Now there is no indication of any such thing happening. This is all pure speculative and probably overly optimistic, but bear with me here.

Let’s frame this post for a minute. I’m writing it in regards to Photoshop being (ab)used as a tool for User Interface designers, and an Apple alternative of such product.

It’s a big challenge

Let’s get this one out of the way. The number one reason Photoshop is their de-facto application for many designers is its power. And with its power comes its complexity. It’s a big piece of software, built on decades of experience and millions of users.

If Apple would take a shot at this, they would either build on the knowledge they have in-house, as well as hire designers and developers with experience in the creation of Photoshop, Fireworks, or an equivalent application. And whilst I love indie developers, and am a big fan of initiatives like Pixelmator, they are still David vs. Goliath.

Why would Apple build such an app at all?

Apart from their operating systems and their iLife and iWork suite, Apple creates a few apps aimed at creative professionals. So it wouldn’t be crazy for Apple to create a piece of raster- or vector-based software aimed at User Interface designers; specifically the people that now use Photoshop or Fireworks.

Next to that, there has been a lot of complaints and pressure in the space that photoshop has practically a monopoly in. Sure, apps like Pixelmator and Acorn are gaining traction, and I love them for it, but there is no “Photoshop killer” (hate that term, but let’s run with it).

Why would Apple build such an app in-house?

What makes most Apple products great – apart from their impeccable taste – is that there is a clear sense they are creating these products for themselves. You always notice when someone creates a product to scratch an itch, because there has gone so much care and attention into the details that matter.

Building such an app in-house would not be the craziest thing to happen. As Neven noted, Apple makes heavy use of Photoshop when developing their own software. This inherently means their visual design teams would be great sounding boards for such a product.

It will be different, workflows will break

The product that the User Interface design community has been asking for is actually a UI design tool, not a tool that was originally meant for photo manipulation. That is why I am writing about a User Interface design tool, and not all of the facets that Photoshop encompasses.

Would Apple be developing such a product, they would be inclined to do so with the UI designer in mind, not an audience as broad as Photoshop’s. This would mean the app would be fundamentally different. Even at the level of the application being simply raster- or vector-based. It would also mean that current workflows, hammered in by years of use, will have to change. For this to happen, the app will have to show a lot of potential and improvement over Photoshop – which is one of the main reasons the alternatives aren’t sticking.

The flip side of that coin is that I do believe designers will give the app a bigger chance, just because it was created by Apple. And to top that, I believe that if it were to be created by them, there would be a large chance of it having the chutzpah needed to fight Photoshop.

So what about Pixelmator?

Let’s take it even further out there.

We know that Apple can make amazing, professional grade software, and re-design them from the ground up – Final Cut Pro X is the perfect example for this. Yet, as Neven noted – Apple has a great amount of experience in the video space. So they could definitely use experience on matters of such a Photoshop alternative. The Pixelmator team could be a great source for this. Since last weeks WWDC we know that Pixelmator is on Apple’s radar, as they even included a full-screen screenshot in the keynote. So it’s not crazy to think that they are talking with each other.

Apart from that, Apple’s pockets are bulging with cash. So a Pixelmator acquisition wouldn’t be the craziest thing out there. Especially if you have taken a look at their 2.0 Preview.

Again, crazy ramblings, happy thoughts, who knows?

What about price point?

Apple have been fierce with their pricing on software as of late. I would not doubt for a second that Apple would punch, nay drop-kick, the $999 price tag in the face, not to mention the disgraceful UK or Euro equivalents of that price.

A price-point with one less nine, together with it having great features – if only 20% of the most important ones in Photoshop, would make for a compelling product. And it being created by Apple, the app would probably have great performance and an even better update cycle.

The hurdles

Whilst I loved writing that with an overly optimistic approach, there are definitely some hurdles to be taken.

Adoption is one. File formats and interoperability are a close second. Pages is a clear example of this. Whilst to me – and many people I know – it is superior to Word, it’s interoperability is lacking at times. Same goes for Numbers.

Part of the power of Adobe’s creative suite is also copy-pasting between Illustrator and Photoshop for example. Then again, this is probably more because Photoshop has a crappy version of Illustrator’s vector tools.

And I haven’t even started yet on sending files between companies, or – god forbid – a Windows user.

Again, just pure speculation and possible crazy talk. Time will tell.