The Argument for Adobe

Brand loyalty is a really silly thing, but it is an often enjoyable illness that often infects people - particularly people who are both technical and creative. If you want an example, look no further than Apple Computer Inc. In the early 90s, Windows became the personal computing platform of the masses. Apple, which had made the initial thrust into the field, was ahead of the curve in terms of technology, and because it exceeded the needs of the new mainstream breed of computer users, the Mac's power was perceived to have a premium on it and it fell out of fashion. But creative people needed that power and the Mac remained popular with them. Even as the Wintel platform closed the gap in terms of power and sophistication, brand loyalty, bolstered by intangibles such as design aesthetic and operating system usability, kept creatives using Apple products.

Fast forward to the present day and you find brand loyalty which is becoming more and more misguided. The assertion that a Mac is superior to a PC can be disputed readily, and, vice-versa, so can the assertion that the Mac comes at a premium (an equally-outfitted PC costs roughly the same as a Mac, but Apple, unlike most manufacturers, doesn't make crap low-end computers). Even the OS, now, is a matter of dispute because Microsoft has caught up: Windows 7 is just as good as OSX. There are other points on which you can argue the fitness of one platform over the other, but you can't argue that either isn't up to any task while the other is not.

In creative fields, though, Apple has done a good job of shoring up it's market presence. Chief in my mind is motion picture editing. Final Cut Studio, available only on the Mac, is now the standard for independent film and has a large cut of Hollywood as well. Photography has it's Mac bias too. Aperture is as popular as Adobe's LightRoom, and ties its users to Apple's platform. Couple that with the fact that Adobe's Creative Suite products have always run on Mac, and there's little reason for creative users to stray.

As a film editor, Final Cut Pro/Studio is a point of frustration for me. It's a wonderful program and its counterparts, particularly Color and Compressor, are excellent. Apple even brought the price down on FCS recently, making it very attractive to many editors. But if you're a true independent film maker, fully outfitting yourself for end-to-end production, you may be creating additional expenses for yourself because Adobe packages a much more comprehensive product bundle in the form of Production Premium. What's more, you may be positioning yourself to rely on a corporation that is about to be having an identity crisis.

First, let me address the fiscal proposition for the filmmaker on limited funds. You need more than a nonlinear editing system. You need a motion graphics tool, visual effects tool, audio editing tool, color correction tool, and an encoding utility. That gets your movie made. You need a DVD tool to put it on disc. You also need photo editing and possibly some vector graphics to design your posters, DVD art, website, flyers, business cards, etc. With Final Cut, I can get everything I need to produce a movie for $1000, except that it has no visual effects or compositing tool. It has some built-in tools, some borrowed from Shake, but it is certainly not a comprehensive solution. Nor would I have any real image creation or editing tools.

Enter Adobe. 

For $700 I can get a standard version of Photoshop, and for $1000 I get After Effects. Photoshop is a cross-industry standard and After Effects, while certainly not considered in the same ballpark as, say, Nuke, is a good all-round scrappy vfx and motion graphics tool, and less expensive than any reasonable competitor. But wait. I just spent $1700 to round out my $1000 production package. Why do that when I can have Production premium with all those tools packaged for $1700?

People will declare FCP is a better editing solution, but it just ain't so. Premiere Pro is every bit the NLE that Final Cut is. That wasn't the case 2 or 3 versions ago but it is now. I'll admit that Soundtrack Pro beats Sound Booth hands-down, but I think that most filmmakers won't get that benefit, or if they would, they'd be much better served using Pro Tools or Logic perhaps. I prefer Compressor to Adobe Media Encoder, but I never have any real problems with Adobe's tools and maybe CS5 will yield better results. The point is that you can do everything with Adobe software that you can with Apple's, and more, for what amounts to less coin in the long run.

But of course standards are in place, battle lines drawn, and if you like Apple, you like Apple. I understand that saying something else is "just as good" doesn't mean a whole lot. This is where I find myself asking which company I want to rely on.

Adobe makes, for the most part, imaging or image-related software. They always have, and for the foreseeable future, they probably will. Apple, on the other hand, makes iPhones, iPads, and iPods. Perhaps this is unfair, but recall that they removed "Computer" from their name a while back. No one will dispute that Apple is now primarily a consumer electronics company. But even before the tsunami of i-brands, they declared that they were first and foremost a hardware company. Software, then, is really just a sideline that supports hardware sales. As the ratio of those hardware sales skew further towards consumer products and personal computers slide deeper into the minority, how much will Apple feel the need to support the software that supports that minority?

Apple and Adobe are now in a war of sorts. Apple wishes to maintain a vice-like control over its consumer platforms and, in doing so, is sidelining one of Adobe's key technologies, Flash. This has a lot of people peeved. Adobe really relied on Apple through the years when the computer manufacturer had primacy in creative markets, but, as I've stated, that doesn't have to be the case any more. If it came to blows, Adobe could seriously cripple Apple's computer sales by no longer supporting the Mac platform. That wouldn't hurt Apple too much overall, but a vindictive Apple, who is a key player in the sale and display of media made on Adobe's apps, could also cause pain. It's kind of an ugly scenario.

Truthfully, I hope it gets sorted out because, despite how this article is regarding Apple, I really like the company and think they make a great product. Until Apple learns to play nice, though, and until they start showing us what kind of company they really are (maybe they're doing this already, in which case boo), I'll continue to primarily use Adobe for my own work (professionally I sometimes have to use Final Cut and I don't bemoan that fact, but if it's for me, I prefer Premiere anyway).