Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

A Look Inside the Fraught Development of Aperture 1.0

Chris Hynes shares his experience working on the first version of Aperture. In short, it quickly became a dumpster fire:

Given all that happened, we started looking around for jobs elsewhere right after the product shipped. Since Aperture was well known at Apple to be a disaster, we wondered how our job search would go. When you said you worked on Aperture, you’d get a sympathetic response. Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.

Graciously, Bertrand Serlet, the head of Software Engineering told all his directs that a bunch of great engineers from Aperture were going to be sending out resumes. He told them to ignore the gossip and hire all these people. We are forever grateful for that.

This piece is full of heartwarming stories, but it’s painful read — I cannot imagine working on a project that had such a fraught development period.

I miss Aperture greatly. It is perhaps the piece of software I would choose to resurrect if I could make such a decision. The earliest versions may have been slow and buggy, but I remember running Aperture 1.5 (or thereabouts) on a Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro with a spinning hard disk and it was fast. And it wasn’t just the speed with which Aperture rendered photos or adjustments; it was everything about the app — every interaction, every UI component, every menu, and every panel. Every action felt deliberate and precise. The whole app also looked and felt damn near perfect.

The modern-day replacements don’t have anything like that character. The Photos app may render RAW files pretty quickly, but much of the UI feels slow, fragile, and — in some cases — almost unfinished. I dislike its pure white background, too; if there’s one change I could make to contemporary UI design paradigms, it would be to encourage more sensitivity to colour. Shades of slightly-tinted grey are much nicer than pure white or pure black. And I don’t like that photos expand to fill the entire width or height of the available area, leaving no border or white space.

Lightroom Classic isn’t much better. It feels like an Adobe app, so it doesn’t quite feel at home on either MacOS or Windows. It’s also slow, even on my top-of-the-line iMac.

Maybe this is just the nostalgia talking, but Aperture is, for me, the very model of how a modern MacOS app ought to behave. This year, it would have turned fifteen if it wasn’t unceremoniously dropped.