Aperture development

So apparently the development of Aperture was considered to be a colossal failure.

I didn’t believe the Think Secret rumour, simply because the rumours sites are great but their technical competence leaves something to be desired. Their track record is poor enough that everything I read from them I consider to be heavily filtered through a “Chinese whispers” chain of information. Mostly I just refrain from reading them.

But then, Gruber sort of agreed with what they said. Which piqued my interest. But I think there’s a little more going on here than simply a case of poor management leading to a delayed app. Quoth John:

The user interface and interaction model of Aperture aren’t just good — they’re innovative. I think Aperture is at the leading edge of UI design … Word within Apple is that Steve Jobs himself is enormously enamored of Aperture.

This is the meat of matter. From all accounts (I haven’t used the thing) Aperture is a great success of user interface innovation. When was the god damn last time you heard that? Apple’s HI labs have been closed for years, and the last time people were excited about some increase in interface efficiency was when NetNewsWire removed the 20 pixel border around its main window.

How hard is it to design an interface that is new? Hard enough that Microsoft has never really got the hang of it? If I were magically in charge of the Aperture team, I wouldn’t care if that app never got out of the lab if it managed to produce workable results for an improved GUI related to the way people manage large sets of information linked with various sorts of metadata. (That might be an exaggeration.)

As it happened, apparently people believed that the whole thing was a disaster, coming in nine months overdue. This makes total sense, though, when put in a certain way. The Aperture team are at the peak of interface design. What’s that thing that top-notch programmers are terrible at (classically)? Design. Conversely, are great designers likely to produce tight, clean, and bug-free code? It's doubtful.

If Aperture had shipped on time, it’d just be another run of the mill app with nothing to be learned from it. Perhaps not unlike its main competition, Lightroom, which is interestingly a product of Macromedia rather than the company which consumed it, despite its close association with Photoshop.

As it happened, Aperture did not ship on time, but its release showed people that there is still scope for change in the way we interact with computers. And frankly, that couldn’t have come soon enough.

Remember the storm Motion caused when it was introduced for its astounding performance with what later were revealed to be CoreImage and CoreVideo-like technologies? I have a tiny hope that Aperture is showing us now one of the things Leopard might have in store with regards to improvements to the way we deal with metadata and our files. But that would require a new Finder, wouldn’t it? And we know there’s not much hope there. Oh well; time will tell.