To Affinity and beyond: what does the Canva buyout means for the future of Serif?

Australian Financial Review yesterday got the scoop that Canva had eaten Serif. Today, the news was confirmed. Wisely, Serif’s CEO then attempted to reassure the community that all was good, actually.

Although the press has in recent years often positioned Serif as a kind of scrappy underdog newcomer, the company has a long history. It was founded in 1987, which makes it only five years younger than Adobe. Most of its recent history has been tied up in becoming a direct competitor to Adobe – and also a direct competitor to Adobe’s business model. Through its Affinity suite, Serif offered an alternative: buy-once apps rather than subscriptions. And although I can’t imagine Serif makes anything other than a minority of its sales on iPad, the company’s superb Affinity apps for Apple’s tablet – compared to Adobe’s comparatively stumbling efforts – haven’t hurt the company’s reputation any.

Which brings us to today’s announcement. Canva now owns Serif. According to Serif’s CEO, not much will change. He claims Canva is a kindred spirit – that Canva and Serif have complementary products, hence the buyout making sense. He says the Affinity brand will continue, the apps will be developed by the same British team, and that no changes to the pricing model are planned “at this time”. But then he would say that, wouldn’t he?

I very much hope this British success story doesn’t get crushed under the weight of a comparative giant. Canva imposing its will on opinionated software with a business model that people love would be a big risk. While Affinity users might love the interface and feature set, a large number of them were drawn – and remain loyal – to the product primarily because of the business model. That’s where much of the goodwill lies. Any switch to a subscription could fatally damage the brand. I suspect Adobe would be quick to counter by unveiling a ‘designer’ Creative Cloud tier comprising Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign that just happened to be priced competitively, in an attempt to win people back.

Version 3 of the Affinity suite will probably be the moment we’ll know. You can already picture a press release stating that Canva has made the “difficult decision” to move Affinity apps to subscriptions, and a “hard choice” to move development from Nottingham to Canva HQ in Australia. I hope this won’t be the case, but we’ve seen this scenario play out so many times before. We’ll find out for sure one way or another within a year or two, and I do hope that in the same way Affinity bucked the trend with modern software, Serif bucks the trend when it comes to modern buyouts.

March 26, 2024. Read more in: Opinions, Technology

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Some brief personal thoughts on Apple and regulatory fights

Apple’s being walloped by regulators, and it’s increasingly clear most of the tech press doesn’t understand antitrust. Fortunately, Ian Betteridge does, so go and read his blog.

My take, honestly, is all this just makes me feel a bit sad. I like a lot of what Apple does. Even if I didn’t write about Apple, I’d have an iMac, an Apple TV or two, an iPhone, and an iPad. But Apple as it grows (and is expected by the markets to continue doing so) has overreached in some cases, and enacted dark patterns elsewhere.

I imagine a lot of people are rushing to defend Apple by default because, in part, they remember when the company nearly winked out of existence. Others, perhaps, because the company does objectively do an awful lot of things really well, and seems to care more than most rivals about what matters. But that doesn’t excuse the bad stuff, nor that in some cases Apple has decided it’s OK to just be ‘least bad’. That isn’t good enough.

I don’t want an MLS nav item forced on me in Apple TV. I want to install Retroarch on my iPhone. I don’t want ads in the App Store trying to trick me into installing something other than what I searched for. And I don’t want devs of apps I love to partake in a lottery with every single update they file. Small things, of course, but all of these little pieces – from millions and millions of users, businesses and creators – add up.

If nothing else, what happens next will be interesting. But mostly, I hope it will be beneficial, leading to a better future for consumers and Apple alike, even if the Apple that emerges is in key ways different from the one we have today.

March 23, 2024. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Game over for Apple Arcade?

As ably documented by Michael Tsai, Apple Arcade’s future is looking rocky. This comes from reports Apple’s rowing back on new content and paying less to developers.

Honestly, I always thought Apple Arcade was a strange move for Apple, given that it’s never seemed there was anyone sufficiently senior at the company who genuinely cares about gaming. Music and typography are infused in Apple’s DNA. Gaming is too often presented as something cool to show off the power of new devices, or comes across from Apple execs as a weird thing people waste time on. No new M-series chip or gaming toolkits will get us past that.

However, specifically on Apple Arcade, while I thought it was a weird decision, I’m nonetheless glad it exists. Because it’s objectively good. Sure, people who claim the only ‘real games’ are AAA (and who even attempt to dismiss the Switch, let alone mobiles) won’t give it a chance. But there are loads of fun titles, even if much of the service’s strength now lies in ‘+’ fare (existing App Store releases minus ads/IAP) rather than exclusives. It’s superb for kids who like mobile games (again: no ads; no IAP). And there are still interesting new things to play. (I mean, Arcade added a pinball game at one point. And pinball is pretty niche!)

For me, the main error Apple Arcade made was during its launch. It offered too much, too soon. It was simultaneously overwhelming and somehow yet made people think they could blaze through everything and instantly demand more. And more didn’t come for a long while, and so users felt they weren’t getting good value, even though Arcade at the time cost only five bucks per month.

Retention then became the driver, as subscribers dried up, extinguishing much of the original direction of the service (quality; games as art; experiments; uniqueness) for friendlier and grindy fare that is too often akin to freemium with the IAP ripped out. It’s hard to see where things go now. Maybe the future of Apple Arcade will be mostly + games, thereby turning it into Apple’s equivalent of Google Play Pass, rather than a place to exhibit the pinnacle of mobile games.

Perhaps I’m being unfair, but Apple Arcade feels like the same old story with Apple and gaming: what success occurs is in many ways despite rather than because of Apple’s decisions and direction. I do hope things improve. I won’t hold my breath. Had I been doing so with Apple and gaming, I’d have expired within a year of getting my first Mac, way back in the 1990s.

March 2, 2024. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, Opinions

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Pen computing didn’t fail – it just evolved into something else

I recently spotted an interesting post by Benedict Evans on Threads. He argued people spent 20 years dreaming about pen computing, but now Apple has a flawless pen computer, it’s “pretty much useless for anything except actually drawing”. He therefore concludes: “Pen computing didn’t happen. I do wonder how far that is applicable to voice, natural language processing and chat bots – the fact they didn’t work was a trap, because even now that they do work, they might be a bad idea.”

I have a different take. If people did once dream ‘pen computing’ was the next step, it feels more like Apple subverted this by removing the need for a specific input device. Instead, you just use your fingers. ‘Pen computing’ became a subset of that, for people who needed more control and precision. Arguably, then, ‘pen computing’ is a massive success, because what it evolved into is how the majority of people use computers – that is, touchscreens on smartphones.

The takeaway here for me isn’t so much that Benedict is wrong nor that I’m right. It’s that you cannot predict the details of the next big thing. We don’t know with any certainty how things will play out, even when the broad brushstrokes become obvious and later largely come to pass.

So with voice, will it work? Quite possibly. But not necessarily in the specific ways we currently imagine it will.

January 13, 2024. Read more in: Opinions, Technology

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Boys will be boys

Boys will be boys. I’m not sure there’s another phrase that infuriates me quite so much. Since my daughter’s attended school, that’s only cemented the phrase’s place in making me fume.

The first specific moment was during a pre-school open day. Parents could attend the grounds. Outside, boys were zooming along on cars and trikes, directing them at girls and scaring the life out of them. A member of staff looked on, smiling. “Boys will be boys”, she said.

In infant (5–7) school, I became aware for the first time of how girls were used to moderate the behaviour of boys. Classes were broadly evenly split by gender. When possible, a boy and a girl would be paired for tasks. My daughter is now in juniors (8–11) and this continues. The argument for this pairing is boys otherwise misbehave. Throughout, my daughter has complained that most (not all) boys muck around while she’s trying to complete a task. She and other girls are regularly told off for trying to tell boys to be quiet.

At her infant school leaving event, the teachers sweetly said something positive about every child. But it was notable how many adjectives along the lines of ‘funny’ and ‘silly’ were used for boys. For girls, ‘sensible’ was far more common.

And through to yesterday. My daughter came home from school quite upset. During lunch, some boys had decided to throw horse chestnuts at a group of girls. My daughter was hit in the leg repeatedly by their spiny cases, to the degree she was bleeding and this morning has marks that look like a horrible rash down one leg from all the puncture wounds. The initial response from a teacher she told: boys will be boys.

Talking to other parents, all the above isn’t ubiquitous but it’s far from uncommon. And while I’m not an advocate of single-gender education, I can see why it has advocates. As it is, the attitude elsewhere that so often pervades is to our wider detriment. Boys are taught that they can get away with things girls can’t, and push the limits. Girls are scolded when they step out of line and for a moment are not ‘sensible’. And any response to physical harm that’s casually dismissed as ‘boys will be boys’ isn’t setting anyone up for a good future. Society needs to do better.

October 3, 2023. Read more in: Opinions

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