Don't weep for Aperture: Photos is a bright new beginning

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When I first saw the small demo of the Photos app at the Worldwide Developers Conference, that’s when I knew iPhoto was going to die—and I suspected Aperture would too. Last week, Apple made it official: Both iPhoto and Aperture will be retired in favor of the new Photos app. There are (unsurprisingly) a lot of people upset with this news, and a few years ago, I too would have led the charge on Cupertino. But to be honest, I’ve been feeling for a while that local-storage-based photo management needs to be overhauled; now, it appears that Apple is ready to take on that task.

Over the last few years, our photos have evolved. Digital cameras and iOS devices alike let us snap thousands upon thousands of high-quality images—images we’ve been cramming into external hard drives and SSDs. It’s led to this current mess, where our Macs, iPhones, and iPads are constantly redlining storage limits as they attempt to contain our massive photo libraries. Our current state of photo management is, quite frankly, unmanageable. Every person in my family has run into this, and I spend more time nursing iPhoto and Aperture libraries on our computers and iOS devices than I do all my other computer maintenance combined.

The promise of the cloud

I am not alone. Everyone is dealing with photo management woes: Katie Floyd and I did an entire Mac Power Users episode on it. And I’ve always felt that the only real answer to this problem for Apple users is an Apple-based cloud storage solution: It needs to be baked into the operating systems, it needs to be easy to use, and it needs to be rock solid.

Apple, it appears, is now stepping up to deliver. iOS 8 will bring with it support for Apple’s iCloud Photos library, a photo solution built around cloud storage for our massive mobile image libraries. And when Apple’s Photos app is released in early 2015, the app will carry that solution to our desktop libraries. While it appears you’ll still be able to store photos locally, the focus will be on cloud-based storage, letting you see all of your photos from any Apple device. In theory, even if you have a 128GB MacBook Air and a 16GB iPhone, you’ll get access to all of your images.

A friendlier Aperture

The desktop Photos app likely won’t offer all the power that currently exists in Aperture; I’m certain its photo-alteration tools will take a hit. But I hope the app’s library management tools will not. Managing a large volume of images is something Aperture excels at, and it will be much needed in the cloud storage age. Apple has announced that the upcoming app will support plug-ins, so I suspect many developers will get cracking on that. I hope that the Photos app will also support external photo editors like Pixelmator—or, even better, take advantage of Yosemite’s extensibility options to let you run external editors right from within Photos.

Problems to solve

The Photos app, even in its early demonstrations, offers a lot of promise. However, I can think of two problems that must be solved in order for this transition to work.

The move to Photos must be dead simple: For most people, their photos are the most important data on their computers. Also, most users don’t backup their files. Moving iPhoto and Aperture libraries into the new Photos app needs to be absolutely risk-free for our photo libraries and easy enough that anyone can do it.

The cloud storage needs to be great: While our libraries may be overstuffed and ready to move to the cloud for photo storage, none of us have seen the larger iCloud storage solution at work. iCloud has improved over the years, but in order for us to have faith in Apple’s services, the company needs to deliver usable, reliable cloud photos storage for millions of users on day one. This isn’t easy, but it needs to happen.

In the cloud at last

I believe Apple understands how important our photos are to us and appreciates what a monumental task they’ve taken on with this transition. In some ways, retiring iPhoto and Aperture serves the purpose of waking users up—alerting them to the fact that their photo management is about to change—and new paradigms require new software. If Apple can deliver on this, the company is going to make photo management a lot easier for its users.

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