After the first developer beta of Photos was released last week along with OS X 10.10.3, I got a lot of questions about the app. Little questions, like "Can you still make books and cards?" (Yes.) But also big-picture questions. Is this the next generation of photo management? Will it be enough for prosumers? Do you think it can replace my aging professional workflow?
These are harder questions to answer, because, largely, your workflow is a very personal process. I can guess at what tools you might need, or file formats you want supported, but at the end of the day, only you can decide which features are must-haves and which omissions are deal-breakers.
But I can say one thing, definitively: Photos isn't designed to be a program for professional photography users. At least, not yet. Maybe not ever, but certainly not now.
What it is, however, is a wonderful entry point for new and experienced users alike who want to do more with their photographs. It may not have the power of the pro app — but that's rather the point.
The rise of the prosumer
I talked about this a bit on last week's iMore Show, but I feel like Apple's goal with its recent software redesigns — iMovie, iWork, and now Photos — is to open up the "prosumer" category, introducing intuitive and powerful tools to users who never thought they'd want to be anything more than an average tech consumer.
See, true professionals know what they like, and can seek it out from Apple's programs or elsewhere. But new users? They don't know what they like, or what they need. They don't know what the difference between an aperture and shutter speed is, or why that's important. They just want to be able to take good pictures and make them look good for Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, cards, you name it. They want it to be easy.
So here's the big question: How do you let a new user get what they want out of the software and help them learn in the process?
For a long time, Apple's answer was making simplified versions of pro-style software. iMovie. iPhoto. GarageBand. The newest of the new users could do what they want, and those interested in doing more could expand upwards into the professional software.
Problem was, there wasn't a very good bridge. Inexperienced technology users had no real need or drive to learn beyond tapping the Enhance tool, while prosumer users quickly found themselves limited in what they wanted to do with Apple's consumer products, but not "pro" enough for the big guns.
Apple could have tried to solve this by loading up more buttons and switches or additional preference panes to the basic apps, but it decided to take an entirely different approach: The company's new apps, at their core, look extraordinarily simple. Big, friendly buttons; sleek simple interfaces; with lots of blank space.
But within that simple architecture lurks a much more powerful app. The Photos app's new Adjust menu is a perfect example: The three Light, Color, and Black & White sliders look fairly pedestrian at first glance, offering easy adjustment controls with one swipe or click.
New users learn that they can brighten or darken their image by dragging the Light slider to the left or right. But click the drop-down arrow, and they have access to a host more light-related controls. Exposure, Highlights, Shadows, Brightness, Contrast, Black Point — these are things that the new tech user may not have ever seen before, but because they use the same controls as the simplified light slider, they can quickly fiddle with them and see how the picture changes.
Likewise, there are also lots of adjustments hidden away that can be revealed with a click of the Add button. The new version of the iWork suite does this very well, also: It intelligently displays the correct preference menu for what you're working on, saving new users the trouble of digging through seven info panes to find the right setting.
With enhancements like this, new users are being subconsciously trained on bigger, more complicated programs: They just may not realize it.
But what about the pros?
The beauty of Apple's current software theory is that newer, more professional features can easily be built upon the current foundation. It'd be pretty easy to add more custom adjustment widgets down the road, for instance, or work more brushes into the Repair tool, or integrate third-party app extensions into the program.
But that doesn't mean Photos will ever be the app for true professionals. Nor is iMovie likely to help make the next Sundance-winning film. But they're built in such a way that they can help users transition more easily to software that can.