Adobe announces angst-laden iPad software effort

Longtime Photoshop product manager John Nack will lead the effort, but he worries whether Apple might block Adobe's planned imaging apps for the iPad.

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Stephen Shankland worked at CNET from 1998 to 2024 and wrote about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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3 min read
Adobe has begun a new effort to bring imaging software such as Lightroom to the iPad and other tablet computers--but the leader of the work also is fretting over the control Apple has over it.

"I love making great Mac software, and after eight years product-managing Photoshop, I've been asked to help lead the development of new Adobe applications, written from scratch for tablet computers. In many ways, the iPad is the computer I've been waiting for my whole life," Adobe's John Nack said in a blog post Thursday. "I want to build the most amazing iPad imaging apps the world has ever seen."

Nack also took advantage of the opportunity to further Adobe's agenda in its corporate power struggles with Apple.

At the same time he proclaimed his longstanding fervor for Mac computers, though, he also pointed to Adobe's ad campaign criticizing Apple for restricting choice, saying the disagreement extends beyond Adobe's Flash software foundation to other realms as well. Specifically, he discussed the competition between Adobe's Photoshop Lightroom and Apple's Aperture, both programs for editing and cataloging photographs, in relation to Apple's control over software distribution.

"Apple refuses to carry Lightroom in Apple retail stores. That's okay; Lightroom is doing just fine against Aperture, thank you. But what if the Apple store were the only store? How would Apple customers get the benefits of competition?" Nack asked, noting that many people requested a mobile version of Lightroom when Nack asked what Adobe applications people would like to see for the iPad. "I think that such an app could be brilliant, and many photographers tell me that its existence would motivate them to buy iPads."

And of course, for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, Apple does control distribution of software through its App Store. "Would Apple let Lightroom for iPad ship? It's almost impossible to know. Sometimes they approve apps, then spontaneously remove them for 'duplicat[ing] features that come with the iPhone.' Other times they allow competitors (apps for Netflix, Kindle, etc.), or enable some apps (e.g. Playboy) while removing similar ones. Maybe they'd let Lightroom ship for a while, but if it started pulling too far ahead of Aperture--well, lights out."

In a response, Apple didn't directly address the App Store issues, but reiterated earlier criticisms that for all Adobe's embrace of openness, its Flash technology is proprietary.

Although Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs criticized Adobe Flash for being behind the curve in supporting multitouch interfaces, Nack wondered what would happen if the shoe was on the other foot. "We have some really interesting ideas for multitouch user interfaces--things you've almost certainly never seen previously. Of course, 'groundbreaking' almost inherently means 'inconsistent with what's come before,' and Apple can reject an app if, say, it uses two-finger inputs in a new way," Nack said. "They do this to preserve consistency--until, of course, it's time for them to deviate innovate. (Think Different, as long as you're Apple.)"

Nack also speculated that raising his concerns could hurt Adobe's iPad effort. "Can you imagine a world where, say, constructively criticizing Microsoft could destroy your ability to ship a Windows application? It's almost unthinkable, and yet that's the position in which Apple's App Store puts us," Nack said.