Picture-perfect strategy: Why killing Aperture means Apple will rule the cloud


An aperture. Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac
Apple and Adobe make major moves to change the way we manage our photographs. Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Ubiquitous cloud storage and editing solutions for your photos are like buses: You wait ages for one, and then two come along at once.

Both Apple and Adobe are going all-in on allowing you to view and edit your photos on any device. Adobe has done this by bringing its Lightroom desktop app to mobile. Apple is doing it by ditching iPhoto and Aperture and starting again with the upcoming Photos app for iOS.

While the approaches are different, they both look rad. And they’ll drive a fundamental shift in the way we manage our photos.

Our libraries in the cloud not just our pictures in the cloud

Previously, our photos lived on a device we owned. That could be a Mac or an iOS device. Sharing these photos was done by uploading them to a third-party service. That could be single images on Instagram, or our whole library, like on the now-dead Everpix. I have all the digital photos I’ve ever taken up on Flickr.

And that’s fine as a way to be able to browse your pictures from anywhere. But what about editing and organizing?

With Lightroom Mobile and – soon – Apple’s Photos apps, your library is in the cloud. That is, you don’t just have an out-of-date copy of your pictures sitting on a server somewhere. Instead, you can access, edit and organize those pictures from pretty much any device. This is a fundamental shift. You no longer need to worry about which version of your photo you have on which device, because there is only one version, and it’s everywhere.

That’s not to say that the Apple and Adobe services are interchangeable. In fact, they have different philosophies.

Adobe’s Lightroom

Lightroom started on the desktop, and your canonical collection remains in your control, on your own Mac (or PC). You choose which collections of photos you sync to mobile. However, once you have done that, your collections are instantly updated between devices whenever you edit photos or move them between collections.

lr sync
Lightroom on the Mac remains the hub for your photos

Adobe wants you to use the right device for the right job. Right now, Lightroom for iOS offers just a subset of the features found on the desktop – basic editing and organizing tools. Any photos taken on your iOS devices are synced back to the mothership, but photos added to your Mac Lightroom library are only synced to iOS if you say so. This fits in with Lightroom as a pro tool. You probably don’t want hundreds of almost-identical images from a photo shoot clogging up your iPad. Or if you do – to use the iPad’s superior browsing and flagging interface – you can sync them at the click of a single check box on the Mac.

Lightroom on the iPad is also different from the Photos app. First, you get great access to all your metadata, whereas in the Photos app you get none (although you can search on location and album name). But second, you can’t just browse through all your pictures and zero in on the one you want like you can in the Photos app.

But the real point here is the editing. You don’t yet get access to all the editing controls you have on the desktop version, but the RAW rendering engine inside Lightroom Mobile is the exact same one you’ll find on your Mac. And that means both platforms are equivalent.

Apple’s Photos app for iOS

Clearly we have no idea what the Photos Mac app will bring, other than what we were told at the Worldwide Developers Conference keynote a few weeks back. But what we do know is exciting enough. It will share a library with your iOS devices. It will support RAW photos, so you can import images from a camera or anywhere else. And it will sync lossless edits across your devices, instantly – just like Lightroom.

Now that Apple has officially killed off Aperture and iPhoto, we can guess that Photos on Mac will either have some of Aperture’s RAW editing capabilities, or it will integrate heavily with Adobe’s Lightroom.

iPhoto for iOS is powerful, but kind of a mess.
iPhoto for iOS is powerful, but kind of a mess.

What we do know is that, unlike Adobe’s solution, Apple is making iCloud canonical. That is, the central storage place for your library is on Apple’s servers, not your Mac. This means that you don’t even need a Mac to use the service. You could fill up your whole 200GB iCloud storage plan with pictures taken on your iPhone if you like. For a company that supposedly “doesn’t get the cloud,” this is a pretty surprising move. But if you follow the plan, first introduced by Steve Jobs, for iCloud to be the new “digital hub,” it makes a lot of sense

Like Lightroom, the editing is what sets Photos apart from past online photo libraries. You snap a picture on your iPhone, you edit it on your iPad, then view a slideshow on your iMac. It’s seamless, with all edits synced to all devices as they happen.

Remember how all instances of Lightroom have the same rendering engine at their core? This means that if you, say, add a little contrast and make the photo black-and-white on your iPhone, then Adobe only needs to send the instruction to do the same thing to your iPad or your Mac. Instead of syncing a new photo with every edit, it syncs a tiny text file that lists the edits you make, and then the other devices apply those edits. Apple’s edits are also lossless. That is, the original photo file is left untouched, like a negative, letting you roll back the edits at any time

Other players and Apple’s endgame

Surely there will be other options like this soon enough, although with Apple and Adobe there’s one feature I haven’t mentioned: stability.

I’ve lost count of the number of photo-storage/sharing sites that have shut down in the past year, each one taking my photos with it, or at the very least requiring me to upload my library – yet again – to another service. Adobe and Apple will both be around for a while, and – crucially – both are charging for their services right from the beginning. (Not that Apple couldn’t afford to give it away.)

Who else could squeeze into this space? Flickr is like a gallery, not a library, but that could be fixed. And Flickr has the advantage of already being integrated with not just iOS but zillions of other apps and services. It’s also backed by Yahoo, and offers 1TB of storage.

From the sheer number of dead photo services littering the internet, it seems that deep resources are needed to enter this game. Amazon and Dropbox are the two other candidates that leap to mind, but I have a feeling that the most successful player will also be the most obvious.

Apple’s Photos app is already the central location for your photos on iOS. I think it will soon become the central location for all your photos, period.

  • pratikindia

    Cloud is not the solution. Not everyone has high bandwidth. Apple will lose the fight.

    • Adrayven

      Unlikely since the only other major player is doing the same thing.. Adobe. as for loose.. hardly. this isn’t a game.. many will goto one or the other.. Photo’s is free, Lightroom is NOT.. you get 5GB of storage free from Apple, Adobe it’s all paid..

      The non-pro will go with Photo’s most likely. Depending on how many of the advanced features Photo’s gets from Aperture, will likely determine how many semi-pro and pro users also goto Photo’s.. and how tied into Apple’s Echo system they get..

  • This sounds more strange than interesting. Will users now be forced to buy cloud storage if they want to use this program?…and if having no direct and clear access to metadata is not going to happen, that is a deal killer no matter what else it might bring to the table. Metadata is the only clear and logical way to manage a huge library of images, in particular because that metadata is a working part of the actual file. It is right there. Apple’s photo apps, to me, have always been a joke and yet tech media writers never push back on their foolishness. Dropbox, for example, already gives access across all devices to free libraries of all your photos. No editing there, true. But what person who has a large library of images does not already have one or more of the many great photo editors out there?…is this just a stunt to drive yet more millions of dollars to Apple via forced cloud subscriptions?….I see problems here.

    • Adrayven

      5GB free and I don’t think it forces you to use the cloud.. you can use local storage.. but iCloud will certainly be the default.

      • Pavol Sojak

        5GB is nothing. If you want to edit photos. It means you already want to improve the photo quality, and this will go hand in hand with bigger image files. Indeed could be solution for generic users, but certainly not for amateur or pro photographers.
        Not talking about security of your files, and copyright topics.

  • Moises

    I for one am against this. I distrust the cloud like I distrust the NSA. Anyone using the cloud should have their brain examined.

  • michael p

    In the beginning I used iphoto to handle all of my family photos, that was10+ years ago. When Lightroom first came out, I loved it. being able to store all of my photos with metadata, non destructive editing, etc… Since then I’ve bought a few hard drives to store all of my images, burned copies on blu-ray discs. A couple of years ago when starting my own part time studio i signed up to Zenfolio.com so i can push a copy of my images there as another backup but for clients to view the photography. I am not on board with storing my life in the cloud. From an IT perspective, sure it’s great to store your files in the cloud, it becomes the companies problem to maintain from a hardware level. My dream within the next year is to buy a NAS box and put enough storage in it for the next few years, then back off again to disc. 5gb of storage will get eaten up pretty quickly, as well as a terabyte. I prefer my files living within the confines of my house and not all over the web. I started deleting some older albums on my facebook account (thats another story). I prefer my workflow right now thanks to adobe and creating LR mobile. as soon as my photos are added to my catalog, i grab a set of images i want to look at on the go and have them sync to both my iphone and ipad mini. While riding the train to NY i can go over the selection and flag/rate/basic edit the images then sync back to my macbook pro at home. At night i’ll go through my selection and ween it down further so that i may edit either in PS or the few plugins I’ve been adding in recent years. The typical user who isn’t very handy with backups, burning dvds, etc… will depend solely on services like apple for instance. I can say from experience with my family, i get this all the time. They assume everything will just get backed up or put in the cloud. i keep telling them you have to manage your content (images, music, movies, etc…) The HD on their computers will eventually need upgrading, or perhaps the files will need to be moved elsewhere. People often go to the genius bar to ask “what do i do now?” No one tells them in the fine print what needs to be done. It’s all glitz and glam with the commercials. sorry for rambling on…

    • Pavol Sojak

      NAS is good solution, and affordable these days. If you want to correctly protect your data think about having some ‘offsite’ copy (e.g. removable/usb drive) stored at the other location then your active data. The point is to protect against ‘local’ disaster (e.g. fire, flooding, robbery, …’gods hand’). Everything depending on how much you value your shots.

  • J A Smith

    I don’t want my photos in the cloud. I want my photos on a device that I own and that remains under my control. Why would I pay first for the new software, pay a second time for the cloud storage subscription costs, and then pay a third time for additional bandwidth? This is an improvement?

    • AppToday1

      Just like iPod, you have access to your entire library of files all the time. Most people don’t own a farm for their food supply. 1 TB Google drive cost $10 a month, but if you buy 2 1T hard drives, one for everyday use, another for backup, that is about $140 up-front.

  • Luis Tamayo

    One of the things that has never worked well (and doesn’t look like it will get fixed) is the use of multiple cameras. This will work great if you just use an iphone. Use a digital camera or a scanner and you still have to import. If half of my pictures aren’t in my “cloud stream” I don’t want it at all.
    More importantly – tell me again why I’m not storing photos locally (where I own and control them) and releasing just what I want to release?

  • William Donelson

    Wow, so you mean I can pay through the nose for bandwidth for EVERY PICTURE I want to work with now?

    • azdahak

      Not really. It will work like the rest of icloud where it stores local copies and sends small updates across the network. It’s not as if you’ll be saving multi-megabyte versions of your photos to the cloud. Of course the files still have to be uploaded, but that’s what happens now every time you take a photo with your iphone and it goes to your photo stream.

      Give apple some credit.

      • William Donelson

        Thanks. I don’t put any of my pics in iCloud now. I have like 15 GB of them. No way I want to pay for that.

  • Ian Docherty

    Not continuing with Aperture?……..SHAME ON YOU APPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Sergey

    Well this article has so many mistakes.
    Lightroom and it’s “raw” engine has nothing to do with editing. You can’t modify RAW files.
    When you “modify” RAW files on any editor it creates a separate file that keeps all edit properties. This file is only few kilobytes in size and can be easily synced between devices. Lightroom in particular does this to any file you edit there.
    But author has to check these things. So called RAW “engine” does not exist. There are encoders for every single camera model on the market. These encoders are built in the software. Once new model gets released the app has to be updated. Please once again understand RAW files are read only.

  • El Caballero que dice Ni

    Photos in the cloud is only feasible for occasional photographers. I have nearly 1TB of photos, and I’m just an amateur. Professional photographers have a lot more.

  • Zachary Reiss-Davis

    This article seems to fundamentally fail to get the way people work with RAW files, and the amount of space they require. I haven’t seen Apple offer anything like the amount of cloud storage that I would require for my photos, nor do I see how the time it’d take to upload them wouldn’t be prohibitive. A single image on my camera is >20 MB (in RAW). I can shoot a thousand images in a week vacation — sure many need culling, are duplicates in burst mode, and so on, but I am not going to upload that much.

  • resnyc


  • as above, i’m a long time Aperture user who really doesn’t want to send bits and pieces of my huge library to iCloud. my main library is about 2Tb of RAW files, and i have smaller libraries here and there probably amounting to about another 1-2Tb. I keep these on various hard drives, backed up. In short I have a finely tuned system for managing my photographs which i’ve refined over about six or eight years. how on earth could this work with the cloud? The news that Apple is abandoning Aperture and iPhoto for the new photos app. was disastrous news for me. I’ve invested heavily in Aperture in time, energy, and money over the years. I’m guessing that the new Photos app. will be a bit more powerful than iPhoto, but won’t have nearly the fullness of tools and features that Aperture has. I expect that I’ll finally have to make the jump to Lightroom, but its DAM (digital asset management) is crude compared to Aperture’s flexible and powerful file management.

    this is definitely the worst thing Apple has done to me, and it’s pulled some stunts over the years.

    • mahadragon

      Apple made a small announcement couple days ago because of the uproar. The new “Photos App” will have very much the same functionality and power of Aperture with adjustable sliders for “Exposure”, “Contrast”, “Saturation”, etc. The only thing I don’t know for sure, is exactly how many features will be ported over from Aperture into the new “Photos App”.

      I am also an Aperture user and I’m excited about the new developments. What hasn’t been discussed at length are the improvements Apple will implement such as the ability for apps to work inside other apps which will allow us to edit a picture in one program and then edit that picture with a totally different program seamlessly without having to Save, then Export, then Open (or Import) that photo in the new app.

      Apple also will roll out Custom CI Filters which will allow the user to implement a filter before the raw image is drawn which will give us a quality of photo editing that we’ve never seen before, allowing more of the original image details to be saved.

      The new noise reduction filter and lens corrections have brand new algorithms that are considerably better than previous. Long time Aperture users have been pining for lens correction, a feature Lightroom has boasted for a while. With OSX Yosemite, lens correction, as well as raw image handling, will be baked into the operating system.

      Anyone who thinks Apple has abandoned the Professional photographer has got to be off their rocker. Nothing could be further from the truth. Apple is working very hard to simplify and streamline the photo editing process across devices without a loss of power editing features.

      Adobe is scrambling to address Apple’s latest announcement. By making their photo editing seamless across devices, not withstanding the ability to edit pictures with apps built-in to other apps, Apple is basically creating a powerful photo-editing ecosystem for which no company can currently compete with.

  • mahadragon

    “Apple’s edits are also lossless. That is, the original photo file is left untouched, like a negative, letting you roll back the edits at any time”

    When the original file is left untouched during editing that’s called “non-destructive” editing. “Lossless” refers to the final rendered output, that is, not having any loss of original image information, details, and whatnot.

    • o. I love your optimism. sounds like the holy grail is about to jump into our laps. I really hope I’m wrong and you’re right, but I bet a pound to a penny that aperture to photos is an exercise in dumbing down just like recent pages 10 numbers and keynote, to say nothing of iMovie and Final Cut Pro.

  • I can go on a shoot to China and come back with nearly 400 gigs of photos. Nobody is going to have the online storage I need at a reasonable price. Amazon Glacier (AWS) might be a good backup solution, where my 6 or 7 TB of photos will cost about $100 per month. Local redundant storage would be better. Though performance has it’s price. My Thunderbolt 2 18 TB Promise Pegasus 2 was almost $3,000.

  • liveimpact

    Sharing everything – like on FB – should be a lesson to everyone – you are giving every detail away – what you do – where you go – who you are with – and all public. Yea – Cloud – we will see a reverse of that …
    It is like CRACK Dealers – Give it away – get them hooked – then charge for that in the future. I have 15 TB of Photos / Video all personal stuff – There would be no way to get that on the Cloud.
    I was just at the beach, There was even WiFi – Yea , not really good enough to even upload one photo – and for the 2000 photos over 2 days – well – not so much.
    Keep Dream of world Domination Thru Cloud Service – Apple, Google, Adobe, MS….Dream on.
    Business are also starting to realize that Cloud Based Server cost a lot more than owning the Hardware and doing it all in house. More Secure, Much Much Less Costly, Better Response Time.

  • I love looking through an article that will make men and women think. Also, thank you for permitting me to comment!