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Pixels Are Hot

June 17th, 2008

And then there were three (at least!). After much anticipation, Matthew Drayton has shipped Iris 1.0, his company Nolobe’s entry into the “Photoshop-like” pixel-pushing market on OS X.

Congratulations, Matthew! I know how hard it is to get 1.0 out the door, even with products of considerably less complexity than a well-featured image editing application.

Over all, I like the interface of Iris quite a bit. There are some niggling jarring points, where I feel the UI could be “freshened” without compromising Matthew’s commitment to a clean, traditional UI. The application takes an “all-one-window” approach which I think is a valid approach and will work very well for some people. But the gray gradients used throughout the framing of this window tend to bleed together in my view. I would like a little bit more contrast, even if it’s just in a bit more highlight on some of the icons.

A Race With No Finish Line

Iris joins an increasingly popular market, already inhabited by the likes of Acorn, from Flying Meat, and Pixelmator from, umm… Pixelmator. The range of choice here is incredible and really valuable for consumers. But I would argue that it’s also valuable for each of the developers participating, or if you insist, competing in this market.

Mike Lee touched on the subject of competition in a recent blog post:

Competition does exist in our market, but it’s mainly perpetrated by visionless hacks who see money in an app and try to recreate someone else’s work in an attempt to cash in. These people aren’t really part of the community, and frankly, I’d like to see it stay this way.

What I think Mike means is that most of the real competition on the Mac boils down to players who are apishly trying to match each others’ products, feature for feature, look for look, shortcoming for shortcoming. Products that are competing in this manner may earn dollars for their vendors, but will not win the hearts of passionate Mac users.

This question of competition on the Mac is particularly interesting precisely because of the “community” that Mike alluded to. I think developers often make too much of so-called competition, either out of fear, or out of a misguided winner-takes-all mentality. But on the Mac, many developers have evolved and embrace the community, in spite of so-called competitions. See my C4-inspired post, We’re In This Together, for more thoughts in this vein:

It’s pretty awe-inspiring to sit in the same room while the makers of competing products such as BBEdit and TextMate, or Transmit and Fetch discuss product design issues, laugh at each other’s jokes, and yes, withhold some of their more strategic plans! But almost everybody in the room, competitor or not, is respecting each other’s work, and having a great time.

Competition is complicated, even in the simplest of markets. Consider a popular driving intersection in your town. You know, the one where cars race by most times of the day, and at least two corners of the intersection, on opposite sides of the road, are occupied by a gas station. Each business sells a similar product, for an extremely similar price. And each is unanimously preferred by a select group of the market: the half that is driving on its side of the road. The two are equally assured success, because of the size of the market and because of their unique position to serve half of it with aplomb.

On the Mac, we’re all racing towards the same goal: mindblowing experiences for users. Even in a niche such as pixel editing, where lots of players compete, we’ll never have a declared winner. To have a winner, you need a finish line. And when it comes to maximizing user happiness and productivity, there isn’t one. Furthermore, the map to that pot of gold has been drawn differently by every user and by every developer.

So we’re left with this beautiful spectacle: teams of developers racing toward perfection in every direction. The crowd shouts and oohs and aahs, cheering the acceleration and cringing at the occasional fiery crash. As they watch, a particular stroke of elegance inspires them to buy a product. And perhaps another. Or maybe the whole lineup.

I said you couldn’t have a winner without a finish line, but I was wrong. In this competition, you win just by being in the race.

3 Responses to “Pixels Are Hot”

  1. Matt Stevens Says:

    Glad to see someone cast competition in a more positive light! It’s troubling to hear people speak negatively about it, because there should be nothing wrong with developers competing. When you are passionate about your app, when you are trying to build the best possible product, then competition doesn’t matter. You’re there to realize your vision, not copy someone else’s. And I don’t think anyone can find fault with that.

  2. Serhei Says:

    I think this is why it’s better to wait until the initial App Store rush blows over before taking good stock of how well your iPhone app is going to do. Right now, a large portion of your “success” depends on luck – did you get into the beta? Is the app going to be ready by July 11? Is there an ADA app that “competes” with yours (and if so, should you worry about whether it’ll affect your ability to get your app seen)? There’s just too many ways right now you could get discouraged.

  3. Chad Says:

    Meh. I tried out a couple of the early Iris betas, but they had a lot of problems, flaws, and glitches that made it feel more like an alpha product. I went to Nolobe’s blog to download the completed version of Iris and…

    404 Error
    The requested URL /iris-10.dmg was not found on this server.

    Brilliant. Wunderbar. Hmmm…. Went to the main Iris page and finally downloaded a real copy.

    Some of the glitches had been smoothed out, yet I am not impressed with this. It still feels very minimal, doesn’t offer too much, yet they are asking $79 for this?! Sorry, but Pixelmator and Acorn offered much more out of the gate, and at a lower cost. Here are a couple of problems I’m finding with Nolobe’s Iris:

    1) There are already several other applications out there named Iris. This causes for confusion, and could perhaps even lead to a lawsuit.
    2) Would it be asking too much to have tool tips appear when my mouse hovers over a button?
    3) Where’s the beef? Feature-wise, this application just isn’t there yet. And considering that it requires Leopard to run it, that will cut out people who are still using Tiger (which works perfectly well, thank you).
    4) No Help or other documentation.

    Image editors is an area I’ve had an eye on for a number of years. As Photoshop has continued getting larger and more expensive, I have had my eye out for a lower-end image drawing and editing program, including trying to design my own. Pixelmator and Acorn came out last year, which answered my call, and I have copies of both. However, Iris seems to have garnered far too much attention so early in the game and it just doesn’t seem that it has baked long enough.

    But in the spirit of competition, a healthy fight between a few strong competitors should only make them stronger. ATI and nVIDIA continually push each other. Aperture and Lightroom keep going back and forth. In the end, we can all win — it doesn’t need to be a zero sum game.

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