Photoshop may rule the photo and image editing world, but Mac owners have long wanted other options. Pixelmator has been a candidate for PS replacement for many people for some time now. It is a native Mac app with many of the features found in Photoshop. However, anyone who has used both apps for any length of time knows full well that Pixelmator isn’t really a Photoshop replacement. Chief amongst its omissions are things like edit history, fully non-destructive editing, and layer masks for effects.1
Enter Pixelmator Pro, a soon-to-be-released industrial strength version of Pixelmator, promises to wash away those sins and truly compete with Photoshop on the Mac. This version of the application will bring all the things you expect from a professional (or even halfway decent) photo editor in 2017, such as non-destructive editing, presets for styles and effects, and auto layer naming, auto horizon detection, better object removal, and more. It does look good.
The Pixelmator team isn’t above strange decision making. It’s always struck me as odd that Pixelmator made it as far as it has without history and paintable effects, and they messed up right from the start of their Pixelmator Pro adventure with the app icon. Especially humorous (to me — they, on the other hand, were deadly serious about it) was their blog post recanting their original idea for the Pixelmator Pro app icon, because anyone who’s ever fired up a Mac could see the problem with it: it was basically a square rip-off of the Apple Photos app icon. The fact that it took them as long as it did to see the problem says a lot about the danger of falling in love with your own ideas. Fortunately for them, Pixelmator includes a blur tool, and they put it to use to fix their app icon problem in, I’m guessing, about a minute and a half. Well played, blur tool person at Pixelmator.
I hope Pixelmator appreciates the fact that at least I used their product to whip up this graphic aimed solely at making fun of their cluelessness about their original Pixelmator Pro icon design.
It’s because of the sometimes odd design decisions with regard to Pixelmator Pro that I worry about what’s coming in terms of marketing strategy. Clearly Pixelmator Pro will cost more than the $30 required to get into Pixelmator for Mac (Pixelmator Classic? Pixelmator Lite?), but the obvious question is whether or not the Pixelmator Team will dive enthusiastically into that ever-so popular trend known as subscription pricing. I’ve talked about subscription fatigue before, but there’s more to it than that. It’s going to be really hard for Pixelmator Pro to be on a subscription model and still manage to be a more attractive option than the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography option.
Regardless of what Pixelmator pumps into their new program and how well it utilizes Mac specific hardware and software APIs, Photoshop is THE standard in photo editing software. You can get a subscription to Photoshop and Lightroom for $99 per year. That’s $8.25 per month for the two programs that no serious photographer wants to live without. Even if Pixelmator makes their product $5 per month, they can’t compete with that bundle, in my opinion. Most amateurs don’t want a subscription for their photo editing software, and if they do give in to the arm-twisting, it’s probably going to be for the two programs that are the industry standards instead of the one application that isn’t.
I think the argument gets even harder for pros, the people most likely to pay a monthly fee for the privilege of using software: they are also even more likely to stick with the Adobe classics. Adobe provides the standard and has a proven history of constant updates. Pixelmator has updated their app regularly as well, but the fact it took them so long to deliver so many of the must-haves for a serious photo editor can’t be ignored. It’ll be awhile before any serious photographers or photo editors believe Pixelmator Pro is an equivalent choice.
The whole subscription model is interesting. Somehow software developers have managed to convince Mac and iOS device owners that subscriptions are the morally just way to buy things (with the resulting effect that if you don’t long for more subscriptions in your life, many in the Apple community will label you a communist). I don’t believe this is true for users on other platforms other than professionals. Pros will pay for the tools they need to do their jobs, whether it be doling out a monthly fee or just paying a big chunk of money every time there’s a major upgrade to their software. But in terms of the average user, I think we (Apple product owners) are the only ones racing to get in line for more bills in our lives.
There are upsides and downsides to that, of course. Developers need to make a living, and if their customers are more likely to support them, they can keep writing good software. However, eventually people will decide enough is enough, especially since Apple seems determined to keep upping the margins on their own products. How many people can afford an iPhone X, an iPad, a Mac, a 4K Apple TV, and twenty annual app subscriptions?
I hope Pixelmator Pro is released for a flat fee. Yes, that would meet my personal needs better, but I honestly think they’ll compete better against Photoshop on the Mac that way. If they decide to try the monthly bill plan, I don’t see how they can convince too many people that they’re a better deal than both Photoshop and Lightroom if they are anywhere close to the same monthly fee. It just doesn’t make sense.
- Pixelmator does have layer masks for certain things, but they don’t seem to be able to be applied to effects. ↩