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Image editors are the new FTP application

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Image Editors

For years, FTP applications have been a genre of software that has overrun itself with options. Generally I believe competition to be a good thing but there really just comes a point where another FTP application in the mix really doesn’t help anybody. As of right now I’ve counted over 100 different FTP applications available to the Mac. Seriously…why?

Today Gruber posted a quick link to a new image editor supposedly making it’s way to the Mac in the coming months. Just yesterday Acorn was announced and just a few weeks ago the highly anticipated Pixelmator was released in to private beta. For the mathematically challenged, that is three new image editors that have come on to the scene in the past month or so and that doesn’t even include all the other image editors that have been around for ages.

I think what really turns me off about all of this is that all of these image editors do, more or less, the same thing. Sure, they each have a different UI and will each perform tasks a tad different than the other but for the most part they all just edit images.

Do all of these developers really believe they are bringing something new and beneficial to the table? Or is it simply a case of jumping on the bandwagon?

Again, like I said, I believe competition and choice are a good thing. But at what point does it actually start hurting the community by flooding the market with sub-par applications?

UPDATE: Let me make something clear. I’m not saying people should never develop for the Mac after there is already an industry standard for an app. This post is merely for conversational purposes as all these new apps started my wheels turning on the subject. Of course I don’t think apps like TextMate or SubThaEdit should have never been written. I’m just curious if there is a point where enough is enough. If not…fantastic. But I do think it’s an interesting point of conversation.

42 Responses to “Image editors are the new FTP application”

  1. As a web and desktop application developper I often have the need to create simple icons, or background gradient…

    Photoshop is the new MS Word (overkill and painful to use ) and I found NO solutions under 50$.

    I cheerfully welcome both apps.

  2. By the way, I’d say there are four A-List FTP apps on the Mac (Interarchy, Fetch, Transmit, Cyberduck). And the competition between them has been great for everyone. Personally, I use Interarchy on systems I do a lot of FTP and Cyberduck on systems I do little FTP, but I know a lot of people who swear by other apps. Would the Mac software market be better if thre were fewer FTP apps? Why?

  3. I think what really turns me off about all of this is that all of these image editors do, more or less, the same thing

    WHA??? Have you even used these apps? I am currently using both Pixelmator and Acorn heavily, and they have rather different feature sets. Not to mention the simple fact that both are version 1s (or below v1). It’s little wonder that they can’t compete with Photoshop yet, although the final version of Pixelmator may replace Photoshop on my Mac for 99% of all cases.

    Frankly, I’ve never been so happy about the image editing market on the Mac since the 90s when Photoshop last had some competition. Your criticism seems petty and unfounded.

    Do all of these developers really believe they are bringing something new and beneficial to the table?

    I hope they do, because they are, and they have every reason to be damn proud of what they have achieved.

  4. I think Josh has been misquoted and misunderstood too many times and, like a bad case of infectious gossip, no one knows what he really said unless you go back up to the post and read it very carefully.

    As for me, I can envision a point in time when the image editor space does become supersaturated. It’s possibly for image editors because it’s already happened for FTP apps, as pointed out. If it can happen for one class of apps, it can happen for any other.

    I do see a need for mid-grade image editors (and Pixelmator is a very good entry in this space; quite a nice product). It’s a void that needs to be addressed. But, should there suddenly be a deluge of dozens of imitators and clones, then yes, they become harmful (at the very least unhelpful) to the consumer.

    As for Gruber’s comments, I usually agree with him, but Joe (#22) nailed it.

  5. @David (and others): You seem to have missed the point of the post. The post does not say “the mac has 3 new image editors…things are overcrowded.”

    The post talks about how the fact that 3 new image editors have been announced or released in the matter of a few weeks got me thinking about what the “breaking point” is for there being too many. I didn’t make claims that the the image editing app genre is overcrowded. I questioned whether it was getting there or if there was even a point at all that it even could be overcrowded.

    I’m not sure how else to say that.

  6. David Fischer

    As a recent Mac convert, I’m saw the announcement of these image editors as good and significant entries to the Mac market. I was looking for a good, middle-ground image editor akin to Paint Shop Pro or PhotoImpact (on Windows); these are $50 – $100 apps. On the Mac I found nothing in that space. You’ve got sub-par freebies and $500 Photoshop. And a version-out-of-date PS Elements that looks like a photo tweaker and not a full featured editor.

    So now come what seem to be the first all-around sub-$100 image editors. How can this possibly be like the over-population of FTP apps?

  7. God, it’s about freaking time some image editor competition stepped up. Adobe Products irritate me to no end for being overkill & non-intuitive Too bad these new editors didn’t come out pre-native PhotoShop.

    I’ll be buying one of these new image editors but I totally agree with #17 Mike Perry on his point about “Tagged Text Editor and Translators”

    When are we going to have a truly professional “Write Once Publish Everywhere” workflow that isn’t hacked together or custom built? Who will build this? Apple?

  8. I wouldn’t really mind the plethora of image editors, except for my somewhat Eeyore-like mopey suspicion that none of them are going to actually be… well, good enough. They’re all going to have great filters from Core Image, sure, but I already have GraphicConverter.

    But, you know, guys? Great new UI ideas and simplicity and other things are cool, but I would like a feature from Photoshop 1.0. Seriously. That feature is dodge and burn tools. I really don’t think I should have to pay for Photoshop (or suffer with the non-Intel Photoshop Elements or, uh, non-Euclidean GIMP) to have this.

  9. I think the problem is that a lot of these image editors try to be a bit too generalised. I think there’s room for a couple with distinctive and useful features. I own both Textmate and Coda, for instance.

    You know, I’d probably pay US $50 for a good Mac-native clone of Deluxe Paint III. But don’t suggest Pixen, cos that app seeems to be totally dead now.

  10. Competition is wonderful. Why not accept that developers will want to scratch an itch and write. Why are you down on that? How does it hurt you? The Mac platform is lucky to have strong developers with such a high bar to reference. One of the (many) reasons I hate to be forced to use win32 at work is that, although its strengths are supposed to include a large variety of apps, the truth is that most of them aren’t worth a damn. I wish more people would attempt a stab at (on win32, you name it — FTP, mail, calendar….. And pls don’t even mention mozilla….)

  11. The reason that so many OS X image editors are popping up is simple. There’s a demand for them. On OS X, if you want to edit images, you had Photoshop ($700), Fireworks ($300), or a non-native Photoshop Elements ($99). All three are owned by Adobe, and either overkill for most people, or non-native and not seriously considered.

    There was a market for these editors, and rightly so, a few smart developers saw that opening and decided to fill the gap.

    Three new image editing apps hardly constitutes the same flood we have in the FTP arena. Competition is good, and so far, both Acorn and PixelMator tackle the problem in different ways.

    The more the merrier. After playing with Acorn, and the first beta of PixelMator, I’m excited to see what Iris can bring to the table. All these apps bring competition to Adobe, which can only be a good thing for everyone.

    Jeesh, I never thought I’d hear someone say there were too many apps for the Mac, but that’s exactly what I’m hearing….

  12. kohlmannj

    @Eric Nadler – No sweat, Adobe has already hired Shai Avidan, the co-inventor of that non-linear image resizing technology.
    Some thoughts on IMG vs. FTP – the image editing app space differs from the FTP app space. First, there is no 800-lb. gorilla FTP application – there doesn’t need to be. As Maciek mentioned, the main differences between FTP apps are the interfaces (and the prices).
    Second, for developers and webmasters, FTP applications offer, on the core level, “a way” to do something the core OS does not deliver in a user-friendly interface, considering the Finder’s total lack of usable FTP functionality. One could argue, therefore, that the FTP app market produced its own demand and supply out of necessity.
    These new image editors, on the other hand, have been created because of the accessibility of Core Image in Mac OS X 10.4. Core Image is very much like a WebKit for image apps. Think of how many apps use WebKit functionality, and then consider how WebKit eliminates the need to develop and implement a web rendering system from scratch. These apps have come into existence because Core Image has lessened or eliminated a large technical hurdle.
    Finally, consider the varying use of Core Image in actual image editing applications up until now. iPhoto has nothing more than an extremely meager selection of custom (and boring) Core Image-based effects. No new effects can be added in this environment. Other apps such as BeLight’s Image Tricks offer more access to Core Image effects, but lack many other essential editing and manipulation features beyond the effects themselves. Stone Software’s iMaginator might have ended up being the app to fix all this, but its convoluted interface, moreso corresponding to how Core Image processes images than now the user would edit them (see the masking system) leaves much to be desired. Aside from that and Core Image Fun House, there aren’t many applications that truly allow full, centralized access to Core Image’s functionality.
    The most Mac-specific advantage that a framework like Core Image has given to developers, however, is the option to fuss over interface design and workflow philosophy, i.e. the “just works” aspect. Given the time gap between, say, the first release of iMaginator and Acorn, I believe this next wave of image editing apps will have significant usability improvements over the first generation of Core Image editors.
    The people who drop a photo into iPhoto, or worse, Word to edit it? Probably.
    (One of Acorn’s immediately visible help documents describes how to use Acorn as an external editor with iPhoto. That’s a good example of Gus’s “companion app” paradigm for Acorn – make it play nice with others, not stand alone in its own ecosystem, like Adobe apps might/do.)
    People who use Preview’s Image Corrections palette for quick edits? Maybe (iPhoto already has this covered, and Acorn doesn’t emphasize photo corrections in particular).
    The best and possibly most obvious answer? These apps will be targeting the young, first-time Mac users. Of course. I’ve always remembered how crippled I feel when it comes to editing an image on a factory-fresh Mac, and these apps’ price points have the potential to fix that. What’d be even more awesome is Apple decided to bundle one such application with new Macs in the same way Comic Life and OmniOutliner have been bundled for the past 1+ year. That’d basically solve the issue I described.
    Slightly unrelated, but, heck, Gus Mueller and company might even have a chance at cannibalizing Photoshop piracy “sales,” so to speak. Adobe wouldn’t mind that, I’m sure.
    All this in mind, I have a feeling there may be many people writing from the perspective of a Photoshop user in regards to Acorn, Pixelmator, and Iris. I certainly feel that I have little use for Acorn when I have Photoshop CS3 around. (Furthermore, CS3 feels significantly more responsive than Acorn 1.0 on this MBP 2.4 GHz, but it should, given the amount of resources it’s allowed to use. Plus, it’d be downright cruel to dismiss an app after only version 1.0.)

    The real key to these apps’ success will be their compatibility and interoperability with the Photoshop format – the same kind of battle that Apple iWork and Neo/ face with Microsoft Office. Right now I have a feeling that Pixelmator will end up handling this best, but that presupposes that it will be released in the next few millennia, doesn’t it ;-).

  13. I can think of several useful applications that those working on redundant ftp and image applications should to be developing—applications where the field is wide open.

    1. Text-to-iPod Audio Book. The application that would take a Project Gutenberg book and turn it into an audio book, broken down into titled chapters, and then place it on an iPod as an audio book. Double CRs would indicate a new chapter whose title would be the first line that follows. It’d multiply the number of available audio books a thousand fold.

    2. Tagged Text Editor and Translator. All the major text handling applications from HTML and Word to InDesign, Quark and FrameMaker have a tagged text interchange format that tags paragraphs (i.e. Heading 1) and blocks of text (Italic) with what they mean. What’s needed is an application that can read any of these formats, stripping out irrelevances like font and size, let users edit the tags, and then write them out to any other application’s format in that application’s tagged interchange format. And no, this isn’t an XML editor. XML has too many complexities.

    3. Recording Classroom Notetaker. Students, bloggers and others use their Macs to record and take notes. Why not combine both into one application? Users would take notes while their Mac recorded someone speaking. The notes would be tagged with the point in the speech recording where they were made. To clarify or elaborate on those notes, clicking on the text would play the audio recorded at that time. A slower-without-pitch-change mode would let it be used for transcription.

    –Mike Perry, Untangling Tolkien

  14. Ultimately its a good thing. Most folks don’t need most of what Photoshop offers, so there is definitely a market need there.

    I would rather not have to upgrade to Photoshop CS3 and deal with their draconian activation, so I’m looking forward to some image editor alternatives. I doubt I use 20% of Photoshop 7 right now.

    Sure, Core Image helps make this easier, but there is still a lot of work involved going from Core Image to Image Editor.

    I’m holding out for Core Mail and then hopefully we can get some alternative email apps!

  15. @James: true, I think they s*** themselves when Firefox took that giant chunk out of their market share.

    That said, I don’t think IE7 has done all that great, I’m setting up a corporate network for a client of mine, and the director explicitly requested Firefox be installed on all the machines because he “discovered it the other week and thought it was much better than all that Microsoft crap”.

    This is turning out to be quite a discussion isn’t it :-)


  16. Although an ‘uber app’ would be nice, you’re completely right — it wouldn’t happen.
    What I’m saying is that by a million and one people trying to do the same thing, eventually someone does something better, which somewhere down the line might be picked up by someone else, who has something over that. Eventually you end up with 95% junk, and 5% (maybe two or three apps) actually worth taking a look at.
    I’ll use Windows as an example here:
    As much as I loathe the Microsoft platform and wished everyone would use a Mac, Microsoft (almost by cheating) got a first mover advantage and managed to consume the monolithic market share they still have today (although it’s slowly slowly being eaten away at, granted).
    Because Microsoft have such a by-default-grasp of the market, with each software release their platform gets marginally better, yet a million times less innovative.
    If they were forced to be more competitive, and less satisfied with staying the same, then the Windows platform would be much improved.
    Look at Silverlight — Although I don’t use it, I’ve been told it’s the best thing to come out of M$ in years. Because they already have a bundle of competition to try and out-do.
    Cheers -Rich

  17. @Richard: So let me get this straight Richard, you think that (going back to my FTP example) having over 100 applications for the same general task is a good thing? I mean you honestly believe that there should be hundreds of a genre of application because the whole community will magically mesh together and build some uber app? I just can’t accept that.

  18. No Josh, you’re very much wrong. Flood the market with sub-par applications? That’s fine, just use the one you like and actually think is good.

    But with each app brings something new to the table (minus a few, of course). These apps can then build off each other, hell, even acquire each other.

    Even Photoshop has features that used to be in indie applications, and everyone is innovating in one way or another.

    So the reality is, we need more competition, not less.

  19. Eric Nadler

    If an image editor could incorporate non-linear resizing based on the subject matter in the picture it could really set itself apart from the others. I get the feeling that would be expensive technology at this point though. However, I’d love to be able to take any picture and make it into a wallpaper without having to have bars on the sides or have it distorted. Here is an example of the technology:

  20. @Mark: I wasn’t implying that these 3 image apps were sub par. I was presenting the question about what might happen if the image editing app market actually did get flooded with sub par apps in the same way that FTP apps have.

    @Maciek: I’d hardly say I’m overracting…I’m presenting a question for thought. Also, to think that the market for image editing apps can’t be overcrowded like FTP apps have become is simply naive.

  21. I think the author overreacts a bit.

    I completely agree with point about FTP clients – nothing more can be done in this field. User needs are pretty similar here: upload, download, sync and we have 90% functionality covered. The main differences are in interface.

    But when we comes to image editing, things are definitely much more complicated and rules from FTP world doesn’t apply here.

    If we give Adobe Photoshop as a reference point, then none of existing OSX image editors didn’t come close to even 20% of it’s functionality.

    My conclusion? I want to see more Photoshop alternatives and seeing stable version of Acorn today makes me happy.

  22. “Subpar” is a pretty harsh term to describe these applications.

    I like the idea of a lot of small applications that are targeted to specific uses. I would like a small, fast application that duplicates Photoshop’s “Save for Web” feature. Mostly I use photoshop to resize and compress images for use on the web. Sometimes I need to add a little text to an image, or create something using a couple of layers, but primarily, I just need to resize and “save for web.” I really like the simplicity of Acorn, but it doesn’t have that feature. I think it would be fantastic if there were a dozen or more image editors that had small, targeted feature sets.

  23. Primarily, I think its just developers jumping on the bandwagon. I personally would like to see some more full featured image editing applications available at no charge. I know, I’m cheap. But for the occasional image manipulation that I do, paying for an image editing application is not worth the money for me. At this point its not clear what the price for this one will be.

    Currently, I use Seashore, which is free and works great for resizing, cropping and adding text to images.

  24. It’s hard to tell developers to not create an application because some already exist.

    I assume developers continue to make FTP apps and Image Editors because they feel they can build something better. In some cases they do and in some they don’t.