Adobe Systems and Apple may not see eye to eye over the Flash Player plug-in, but they've come to an understanding with the new app store era of software distribution.
Adobe announced today that both its consumer-oriented photo and video software, Photoshop Elements 10 and Premiere Elements 10, are now available on the Mac App Store. The move parallels what Adobe already has done with iOS apps and expands on its earlier sales only of Photoshop Elements 9 on the Mac App Store.
The Mac App Store, a standard feature of recent versions of Mac OS X, lets Apple account holders download software to their computers the same way they might download apps for their iPhones. I see five implications of Adobe using the Mac App Store compared to traditional ways of selling software.
Bye-bye boxed software
First, and most obviously, it accelerates the move to software distribution by download. Adobe has been doing this for years through its own site, and plenty of other software arrives over the Net, but some folks are still accustomed to getting CDs or DVDs in a cardboard box. That's especially true it comes to mammoth downloads like Photoshop Elements, at 1.21GB, or Premiere Elements, at 924MB.
Note also that although the Mac App Store pricing for the Elements packages--$79.99 each--roughly matches the cost of Premiere and Photoshop Elements 10 at retail outlets, it's cheaper than what Adobe itself charges to buy directly from its site, $99.99 each. And although Adobe doesn't have to pay for the server maintenance, billing, and download bandwidth consumption when a sale goes through the Mac App Store, Apple gets to keep 30 percent of the purchase price.
Apple as gatekeeper
Second, those prices indicate growing comfort on Adobe's part to rely at least in part on Apple for that distribution. Adobe has sold several iOS apps on the App Store used for iPhones and iPads, and it offers the free Carousel app for editing and sharing photos on the Mac App Store, but the Elements products are closer to the company's core business.
Here's why I find the company's partnership with Apple notable: Adobe made a big stink in 2010 about how much control software makers cede when using Apple's app stores to distribute software. When Apple's App Store rules changes last year undermined Adobe's technology for repackaging Flash apps, Adobe scrapped the development technique, and when Apple reversed course months later, Adobe resurrected the team and the technology. That's not the kind of steady course a company wants to show developers.
And using the Mac App Store means Adobe will have to abide by Apple strictures such as the requirement for app "sandboxing" for better security starting in March. Those sorts of requirements can be tough for developers accustomed to having more freedom--especially for developers creating software that also runs on Windows machines.
Mac App Store adjustments
Third, the Mac App Store hasn't yet caught up with some basic aspects of software sales. For one thing, you can't buy the Elements bundle of both apps together on the Mac App Store. Online pricing at Amazon puts that package deal at about $135, which is substantially cheaper than the $159.99 you'd pay for both at the Mac App Store.
For another, there are questions about how upgrades work. Today's app stores are geared for two alternatives: free minor updates or new versions that cost the same for both new and upgrading customers. Existing Photoshop and Premiere Elements customers don't get a special deal here, and it's not clear what will happen when version 11 rolls around, either. Will those who purchased through the Mac App Store get a significant discount? Will they be able to get update pricing if they buy the new version from Adobe and not through the Mac App Store?
I suspect Apple will fine-tune the Mac App Store to accommodate upgrade pricing. After all, it's a common mechanism to keep software customers loyal, and while people may not object to paying a few bucks "again" for a significantly upgraded version of an iPad app, it's a bigger deal for software that costs $80. Bundles, too, seem like something that could be accommodated with App Store refinements.
Buy once, run on multiple computers
Fourth, there's a possible tension in paying for multiple copies of the software. Apple's Mac App Store gives permissions to run software based on the user account, so if you have three Macs in the house, all three of them may run the same software downloaded from the Mac App Store. But Adobe gives permissions by computer and doesn't permit concurrent use of the same software. Here's the relevant section from the end-user license agreement for version 9 of Elements (PDF), the most recent I could locate:
16.17 Premiere Elements, Photoshop Elements or the Premiere Elements/Photoshop Elements Bundle (collectively, "Elements Software") is licensed for non-concurrent use on either a compatible Mac OS or Windows operating system platform. By way of example, if you desire to install any Elements Software on both the Mac OS and Windows operating system platforms on a device that runs both of those platforms (i.e., a dual boot machine), then you may do so, provided that only one version of such Elements Software is operating at any given time.
Fluidly updated software
Fifth is a byproduct of online software distribution: the shift toward fluidly updated software. The more we're used to getting software online--as with smartphone apps and Web browsers, for example--the more ordinary it is to expect a constant series of bug fixes, security patches, and even new features added incrementally.
How this will shake out for Adobe's big software packages remains to be seen. I don't expect Photoshop will become anytime soon a living project, no longer anchored down to specific major version releases, with new tools or user-interface tweaks arriving steadily. It's hard to build that into corporate workflows, for one thing.
But in the long term, it seems at least possible--especially given Adobe's move to subscription pricing for its flagship Creative Suite products--and online distribution enables that approach. And given how often Adobe's own update software tries to get my attention, it's clear the days are long gone that software is done when it's burned into the installation disk.
Updated 9:12 a.m. PT to note that Photoshop Elements 9 previously was available on the Mac App Store.