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Adobe Releases Updates, So Does Everyone Else

It must be that time of year or something. Adobe just celebrated the release of Creative Cloud 2020. And by coincidence, other photo software makers keep announcing new releases as well. Everybody's doing it.

This past week, throngs of Microsoft users congregated in Florida for the annual Ignite conference. At the same time, vast hordes of Adobe users descended on Los Angeles for Adobe Max 19. I wasn't at either, although both would have been nice. As companies do, both Microsoft and Adobe used their annual confab to announce new products and proclaim the benefits of current offerings.

Microsoft isn't much of a player in the photo software marketplace. They've tried to be so more than once over the years, but they've never been able to produce a competitive product. It would seem their attention is elsewhere. But there have been quite a few third-party competitors that have released interesting applications in recent years. It seems like every time I turn around, there's another version or even a new program entirely entering the marketplace. At least some of these alternatives have come about to fill the opening created by Adobe changing to the Creative Cloud subscription model. All of a sudden, lots of folks found themselves searching for a way out from under Adobe's cash cow. Not a pretty picture. Photoshop has always been expensive. But Creative Cloud took away the choice users always had as to when to pay more to get improvements. With Creative Cloud, you have to pay, or they take away your software. OK, they merely cripple it. I exaggerate.

Today, third-party applications such as Affinity Photo offer potentially viable alternatives to Photoshop. Before I started with Photoshop when version 4 was released in 1996, I tried third-party, less expensive versions from Microfrafx and others. Back then, none of them could offer the accuracy and precision that Adobe provided. By comparison, today's third-party options are beginning to look quite professional.

On the Adobe side, the biggest news this year at Adobe Max was the unveiling of Photoshop for iPad. Photoshop has existed as a scaled down Android application for some time now. Apple users have been teased about an iPad version, but Adobe made it official this year. But based on how they presented it, many users report disappointment. I don't recall anyone ever expecting the Android version to match the features of the desktop version, iPad users ended up expecting considerably more than what Adobe delivered. Oh, and Affinity has had an iOS version for over a year now.

Also in the news, Skylum has announced the forthcoming release of Luminar 4. The demos I've seen from some of the AI integration Skylum has been incorporating look interesting indeed. AI is new frontier driving many new product features. To see the potential, look no further than Photoshop's content-aware fill. Its not that you couldn't do it yourself, but it sure is nice to have a tool smart enough to do the heavy lifting for you.

One of the cool new features in Photoshop CC 2020 is the "Select Subject" content-aware selection tool. I really don't do much wholesale object replacement and similar major editing that requires isolating a subject from its background. That means I typically need to invest far more time than I know I should have to. It's painful. If you've seen what Select Subject can do, it's nothing short of miraculous. Yes, another miracle brought to you by AI. Adobe dubs their implementation of AI as "Adobe Sensei." Expect to see more from Sensei in the future.

DxO recently announced Dxo PhotoLab 3, an upgrade to their own photo editing software. I've had an on-again, off-again relationship with DxO going back years now. They typically provide raw conversion features not found in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom. But then, six months later, Adobe releases an update of their own that closes the gap. And so, the cycle keeps repeating. The problem has been, though, that Adobe still wins when I factor in the better integration that an Adobe-only workflow has provided.

And that's the problem. Several of these third-party programs can potentially be looked at as replacements for Adobe's offerings. At various points in time, they can appear very attractive indeed. But then Adobe releases their next major update, and the game of leapfrog trades places once again.

If looked at in terms of cost effectiveness, there's really no contest. The ongoing expense of Creative Cloud licensing is not insubstantial. Adobe makes users pay for the privilege of using the market leader, and they retain their position as market leader because we all pay them for the privilege. As an alternative, you can actually purchase every innovative third-party program out there and still save money over CC licensing. But if you did, you'd find that they simply don't integrate together as well as Adobe does.

Things are changing though. The new DxO PhotoLab 3 features PhotoLibrary, their new asset management feature. And Affinity Photo is said to be working on an image organizer. Everybody is competing with everybody else.

And what's interesting is that we as users stand to benefit no matter what. Whether it's Affinity, DxO and others striving to produce cost effective alternatives that actually compete with Adobe on features, or whether it's Adobe being forced to innovate more for to justify their subscription model, we get new features either way.

It's an interesting time for digital photographers.

Date posted: November 10, 2019


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