Some Mac loyalists turn against Adobe

November 1, 2006, 9:59 AM UTC
Fortune

Apple Computer and Adobe Systems long have been allies in their underdog struggles against Microsoft. But in the aftermath of Apple’s recent shift to Intel chips, some of Apple’s most ardent fans are aiming bitter attacks at Adobe, the maker of Photoshop and Illustrator graphics programs.

Their assertion: Adobe is taking too long to release a version of its graphics suite that fully utilizes the new Intel chips.

A typical complaint was posted Tuesday on MacDailyNews, a site whose

readers tend to be the most loyal supporters of Apple’s Mac platform.

“Adobe has known about the switch to Intel LONG before the public did,

and they STILL don’t have a Universal version of Photoshop,” wrote a

poster identified as mudflapper. “If it wasn’t for diehard Mac

designers, photographers and retouchers, Adobe wouldn’t even BE here

today.”

Though the posts on the MacDailyNews site were by no means uniformly

critical â several posters defended Adobe â there was a familiar theme

to the attacks. Adobe should be working faster, many implied, because

loyal Mac users supported the company in the old days when Adobe was

struggling. Apple is a powerful company now, and doesn’t have to take

this kind of treatment from Adobe. Some have asserted that Apple buy

Adobe. Others have suggested that Apple release more of its own

graphics programs to compete with Adobe’s dominant offerings.

Perhaps fueling such arguments, Apple over the past several months has

shown an unusual willingness to compete with Adobe in professional

imaging software. Apple last year introduced Aperture, a program that

helps photographers manage and manipulate professional photographs.

Adobe released a rival program, Lightroom, soon after.

From all indications, Apple plans to continue pushing into Adobe’s

turf. A former colleague at the San Jose Mercury News told me last week

that marketing folks from Apple recently contacted the newspaper’s

photographers, quizzing them about why they had chosen Lightroom

instead of Aperture, asking them what their biggest image management

challenges are, and offering equipment and other support. Those sound

like the moves of a company that’s laying the groundwork for a

sustained charge into the professional imaging software market.

So why is this happening? Apple and Adobe are supposed to be best friends, right?

My take is that two companies that once needed each other desperately now have the freedom to be critical. Six or seven years ago,

professional desktop systems were the bread and butter of Apple’s

profit, and Adobe’s Photoshop was the most popular program among those

valued pro users. Photoshop, meanwhile, was Adobe’s most profitable

franchise. Each company had a big vested interest in keeping the other

happy.

Then five years ago, a shift accelerated that has dramatically altered the Apple/Adobe dynamic.

Apple introduced the iPod, a device that it had mainly crafted to drive

Mac sales. Five years later, the iPod is the main driver of Apple’s

sales and its profit growth, and its revenues from workhorse

professional desktop systems seem to have shrunk to an insignificant

number. (It’s hard to know how insignificant, because Apple stopped

breaking out separate numbers for professional desktop sales a couple

of years ago.) Apple is now very much a consumer company at its core, and is puzzling over how to regain lost ground with professional users.

Meanwhile, things changed at Adobe too. Its Acrobat software for

digital documents overtook Photoshop as the company’s biggest driver of

sales and profit growth. And Adobe also watched as Apple’s market share

slipped among graphics professionals, to the point where most customers

of its imaging and graphics programs are Windows users, not Mac users.

Though Adobe made specific efforts to assure the Mac community that it

didn’t love them any less, it became increasingly clear that the Mac

community doesn’t have the same pull with Adobe that it used to.

That perhaps became most starkly clear in a recent blog post from John Nack, an

Adobe manager who is working on the Intel-native version of Photoshop

for the Mac, in which he warned that the more caustic comments from Mac

users are discouraging people from writing software for the Mac

platform. (The post has drawn 76 comments as of Wednesday morning, many showing some tension between pro-Adobe and anti-Adobe Mac users.) Macworld forums are buzzing about Adobe/Apple issues as well.

So bottom line, what should we make of all this?

Apple has the most to lose from the recent sport of Adobe bashing. Apple wants to rebuild its pro desktop business, and to do that it needs the support of strong pro software players. To grow market share, Apple will need to lure Web designers and cross-platform designers to the Mac â many of those folks use Windows now.

They’re just not going to make the switch if the apps they use (such as Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver and Flash) aren’t supported on the Mac. Adobe gets the sale whether they stay on Windows or make the switch.

So Mac fans would be wise to pipe down. Yes, I know it’s frustrating to wait for apps. But sometimes in software, as in politics, diplomacy gets you better long-term results than dropping bombs.