Apple's Aperture is a wake-up call to Adobe - but not because the software giant sees Apple's new pro-level application for managing and editing digital photos as a Photoshop rival. Rather, Adobe believes that Aperture underscores the desire of professional photographers to have better workflow tools. And that's a desire Adobe hopes to meet with its own offerings.

"Whenever there are other solutions popping up, it is a sign that there is a lot of change going on and that everyone needs to keep innovating to solve those problems," said Kevin Connor, Adobe's director of digital imaging product management: "Apple is recognising some of the same things that we are - there are some problems for photographers that are not fully solved yet."

A complete solution

Adobe attempted to solve some of those workflow issues with the release of Adobe Creative Suite 2 earlier this year. This added a new standalone application called Adobe Bridge. Replacing Photoshop's File Browser, Bridge provides file-management and automation tools throughout Creative Suite.

"We want to provide as complete a solution as possible to photographers," said Connor.

That desire stems from the ever-shifting landscape for photo pros as their profession becomes ever more immersed in the digital world. Photoshop debuted as a general-purpose image editing application, but as time went on, functionality appeared to deal with more specialised tasks. Take Web graphics: before there were specialised applications for creating Web graphics, people used - and continue to use - Photoshop to tackle that problem.

Digital is photography

"I think we are seeing the same type of situation today with digital photography," Connor says. "People have been editing their images in Photoshop for a long time now and that workflow is well established. What is new is that, with digital SLRs, the entire workflow, not just the editing process, is now on the computer."

A study by market research firm InfoTrends says that 80 per cent of professional photographers now own a digital SLR. There are currently 250,000 pro photographers and 8.5 million serious amateur or semi-pro photographers in the United States.

In the RAW

Another trend in high-end photography is the increasing preference of the RAW file format over JPEG. When you shoot in RAW, the camera records only raw image data, leaving you to make adjustments at your computer - the process is not unlike taking a negative into a darkroom and adjusting white balance and exposure to your liking.

One of Aperture's chief selling points is its support for RAW files. And Adobe believes that has led to the perception among some users that Apple is targeting Photoshop with its new program.

"If you look at what Aperture does nondestructively with RAW files, it's not that different than what Photoshop does nondestructively with RAW files," Connor says. "[Apple does] a few things we're not doing on RAW, and we do a few things [Apple isn't] doing with RAW."

Still, while Apple says Aperture isn't a Photoshop competitor, that perception remains - though Connor believes it's beginning to fade. "In the beginning you saw a few stories out there that said Aperture was a Photoshop killer," he adds. "The customers were pretty quick to say, 'No, this isn't a Photoshop killer, but it is an alternative to Bridge and Camera RAW.' That's a pretty accurate way to look at it.

"[Aperture] is an alternative to Bridge and Camera RAW, but if you use any of those, you still need Photoshop," said Connor.

Change is good

Adobe believes Aperture has highlighted specific problems related to workflow for professional photographers. Those are the problems Adobe, Apple, and other software makers will be working on in the coming years.

"You are probably going to see innovation and change from a variety of companies over the next few years," said Connor. "Ultimately that's a great thing for photographers."