What's in a Name (Or Version Number)?

I listen to a lot of podcasts about a number of different topics. One of them is This Week In Photo. A while ago they were talking about Apple ending development and support of their Aperture photo editing software.

I use Aperture to manage my photography library. Apple will abandon it for a new app called Photos. In spite of Apple giving Aperture the axe they will updated it to work on OS X Yosemite, but will not update any features. I'm guessing Apple will kill off Aperture for good after Yosemite.

This brings me to what I want to talk about. Aperture has gone a few years without a major update. It was first released in 2005, and is now only on version 3. Adobe's Lightroom, by comparison, was released in early 2007 and it is currently on version 5. Adobe continues to update Lightroom, and has committed to supporting it long-term.

Though Aperture has had more than 40 updates, few have been major. It was about a year ago that Aperture updated to v3.5 from v3.4 and that blew the lid off of the Aperture community. People were screaming that Aperture was a dead product (they were more right than they realized) because Apple released v3.5 and not v4.0.

That begs the question. What's in a name, or version number?

Every product you buy has a distinctive name, and it will often have a version number. Aperture is no different. It has the product name of Aperture along with a version number (currently 3.6). As I mentioned, it is being abandoned for a new app named Photos, which is another product with its own unique name and version number(s).

You see this naming scheme play out in many other products. For example, I remember people crying foul when the iPhone 4s was released. They were complaining that the new iPhone 4s was not the iPhone 5, and somehow it was a lesser release. It's as if these people can't count. It was the iPhone 5, but with the name of 4s.

And Microsoft changed their whole Windows naming scheme - again. They began with version numbers, then years, then names like XP and Vista, then back to version numbers like Windows 7, to 8, to 8.1, and Windows 10. Hugh? Where's Windows 9?

And there's the rub. It doesn't matter what a company names a product. The names and version numbers are arbitrary. What matters is that the product does what you need it to do. If it does, keep using it. If not, get something that will. Names and version numbers mean nothing. Functionality is everything.

Version numbers however, do have some relevance. They indicate that a change has been made, and a changelog is often associated with the release describing what has been updated. You may not want to update your software every time a change takes place, however.

I've experienced, and I'm sure you have too, where a piece of software updated and lo and behold the one thing you loved about it was removed, it was now incompatible with old hardware, or otherwise made the app less usable for your needs. That's why I've made a habit of waiting at least a month and reading the change-log before updating. Let some other fool break their system first. 

Often times you don't have this luxury. Developers and companies create new products that make your current version obsolete or incompatible with new hardware. Software doesn't "wear out" the way cars do. Developers know this, and they know that if they  don't "innovate" they die.

Keep What You Have If It Works

One piece of comedy I've read on photography websites and heard on podcasts is that, with the end of Aperture, people need a new photo editing program. As if Aperture instantly became useless with the announcement from Apple. 

Should they buy something new? No! And here's why:

Note: You can apply this logic to any product you currently own, and find useful.

As I mentioned, I use Aperture to manage my photo library. It does what I need it to do. I color correct, and process my images with it. I can upload photos to flickr.com, send pictures through email with Aperture, convert files to different formats, and much more. It still works well.

Lightroom, and other image editing programs do the same thing. And the new Photos app will also do the same thing. There is no reason to rush out and spend money on a product that will do what your current software already does simply because a company makes an announcement about it.

You see this behavior all the time when new cell phones are released, when computer hardware is updated, or when the sheet metal on a car is changed. Marketing departments understand the psychology behind updates and changes and manipulate the masses to jump when they say so.

Since Aperture already does what I need it to do, regardless of what Apple calls it or what its version number is, I'm going to continue using it until they force me away from it. Or, if the new Photos app is better I'll start using it. Photos will be free, so no harm no foul.

The primary reason that I am sticking with Aperture is that I know the program and it works well. I would rather spend my time shooting photography and processing images rather than spending that time learning how to use a new product that, in the end, will give me the same results.

The second reason I'm keeping Aperture is that it is paid for. If I jump to Lightroom I would need to either purchase a boxed version for $150 or subscribe for $10/month - forever! As a result, I would spend money on a new product that does what Aperture currently does.

Third, since I use Aperture and Apple is replacing it with Photos. I may as well wait and see how Photos works before making any rash decisions. Again, I need photo editing software that can also manage my library. Aperture v3.6 will change to Photos v1.0, and you can bet Photos will be updated to new versions over time.

Finally, I'll wait for Photos before jumping ship on to something new for no other reason than it will be free of charge. If Photos works well, great! If not, I can decide at that time what I will do. But unlike what the Internet tells you there is no reason to panic and abandon Aperture before Apple does. Or, for that matter, any other product that currently does what you need.

Panic in the Streets

Why do people panic or get angry when product cycles are updated infrequently, or they don't follow a predictable naming scheme, or are abandoned, or all of the above? I think it has to do with two things - the psychology of scarcity and the psychology of improvements.

1. Scarcity - When a company reports that a new product will be released on a certain date and they indicate that stores will only have a small number to sell, people panic. You see them sleeping on sidewalks outside of stores for a week. And when they do get the pleasure of being separated from their money they pay extorted prices.

As if Foxconn can't keep up with demand. While scarcity is fabricated there are containers sitting in warehouses with hundreds of thousands of units of the same product waiting to be incrementally released over time. This keeps prices high, and makes people believe that they are somehow special, or lucky for owning a product that someone else doesn't have.

Then, when the product comes to market with a name or version number that is not what was expected people bitch. They express their disappointment in the belief that the product is less useful or less improved than if it had a different product name or version number.

You also see this when software is updated. This is most evident when Apple releases their latest mobile OS each year. It seems that Apple can never have enough servers and their whole system crashes once the OS is released.

Is this a fabricated scarcity? Who knows, but it makes headlines every year. New coverage is one way to get free advertising, and to promote how amazing the new software is because everyone wants it and few have it. All you need to do is wait a day and the whole system is back up and running. 

2. Improvements - When people have owned a product for a while, let's say 6 months, and there has not been an update during that time it is perceived that the product is old, obsolete, unsecure, or no longer does what you need it to do. In fact, it is still as current as it needs to be for what it is used for. If it wasn't it would be updated.

Then when the update does happen the so called "improvements" make your current system run slow because it is optimized for the new hardware. Had you just left well enough alone your phone, computer, or whatnot would still be working fine like it always had.

Overall, it's a simple formula.

You buy a product for a particular use. You use it and it serves you well. A new version is released that makes it look different. Yours looks old, but still serves you well. You upgrade because you feel compelled to do so as if it will be even more amazing. Instead, your old widget runs like shit. You buy a new one, and think it is amazing until the cycle starts over the following year. 

Features?

Another thing you get with updates are added features. You paid $700 for PhotoShop and then they release an update that smooths skin grain or some such nonsense. They convince you that your images will never look as good with the "outdated" software, and the update only costs $99.

You buy the update, get the skin grain smoother, and guess what? You never use that feature because what you had already did what you needed it to do. But that doesn't matter because you have the latest version number, and you are at the bleeding edge.

As Nigel Tufnel famously quoted, "This one goes to 11." When in fact going to 10 works just the same.

I've fallen into the update and version number trap a time or two - maybe 3 - in the past and have since learned to avoid it. I thought I needed whatever snake oil update they were selling me. Even if it were free it sometimes broke my system. If your hardware or software still works well for you I encourage you to avoid this trap too.

What's the takeaway? Pay more attention to the functionality of the software or hardware and less on the name or version number. Often times when things are sluggish you don't need a new one, you just need to do a little maintenance on the one you already have.

Update: I now use Adobe's Lightroom to manage my photo library and process my images. The concept of this article also applies to Lightroom, which was my reasoning for purchasing Lightroom outright rather than opting for the $10/month recurring cost of the Creative Cloud version. The break even point is 15 months of use. I plan to keep version 6 for a few years at least, and when they move to version 7, 8, etc. I will still be using version 6 for no other reason than it already does what I need it to do, and I know how it works. Plus, $10 every month would just add to my subscription fatigue.