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


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

1 Comment

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

1 Comment

Apple, Reduce Motion and the battle for vestibular accessibility

In 2012, I fell ill. Abrupt dizziness. I felt like I’d been drinking heavily, and had no idea what was going on.

Being a logical type, I looked at changes in my life around that time. It took a full day before I realised the only major change had been updating my Mac to OS X Lion. The full-screen animations were making me sick. Fortunately, I could avoid the worst of Lion’s effects when I knew they were the problem, and third-party apps subsequently dealt with the issue entirely.

And then iOS 7 happened. In an instant, Apple’s smartphone switched its familiar but largely static interface to a minimalist effort packed full of animations. Parallax wobbled about on the Home Screen. Folders blasted towards your face at incredible speed. Within half an hour, I realised I couldn’t use my iPhone.

I wasn’t alone. In a piece for The Guardian, I spoke to several people who were suffering, along with spokespeople for vestibular disorder societies who confirmed this was a real problem that could potentially impact millions. I received personal messages from many more folks desperate for a solution.

The piece was widely shared. Online, I faced significant scepticism. People noted I wrote about mobile games, and so how could these animations affect me? But by that point I’d rapidly learned with vestibular accessibility – in fact, any accessibility – that everyone is different.

With vestibular conditions, some people are floored by parallax, but it doesn’t affect others. Some can cope with iOS folder animations. For others, it might mean being dizzy for a few minutes – or a few days. Personally, I can enjoy motion-based entertainment where I can anticipate what’s next – roller coasters; driving games – but am knocked back by abrupt animation I cannot prepare for and that takes up a significant portion of my field of view.

The article – and presumably other feedback – must have reached suitably senior people at Apple, because fixes subsequently arrived. They weren’t total, but they also weren’t an end point. Over the years since, I’ve swapped quite a few messages with Apple’s accessibility team. One involved slide transitions for nested menus on iPhone. In my sole live WWDC, I was fortunate to attend an accessibility session where it was revealed the animation could be disabled in the Settings app. Reader, I may have shed a tear.

It’s ten years since that Guardian article was published. Accessibility remains an odd beast. Far too many people consider accessibility to be solely about helping people with vision issues to use technology. But increasingly we do see a wider understanding of accessibility, in that it needs to be for everyone – something I wrote about for the dearly departed MacUser back in 2015. That we now have accessible games controllers is a genuinely exciting development.

However, I’d still like more software developers to bake in accessibility as a default. Start with an accessible foundation, rather than plug gaps later. But I do appreciate companies from the tiniest indie to massive corporations increasingly take this subject seriously, including catering for people with vestibular conditions. And I hope if you have any accessibility concerns yourself, you’ll be met with the kindness I’ve received from Apple’s teams.

Speaking of, that action button screen on the new iPhones is a vestibular trigger. Time to write another quick email…

September 27, 2023. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

1 Comment

iCloud sucks and it really shouldn’t

Hello. Rant time. I hate iCloud. I’m so sick of it. Of everything I’ve ever used by Apple, there’s no single other thing that’s this awful. And that includes Game Center, which literally didn’t work for months, because Apple apparently forgot it existed. (Games didn’t – they failed to load when Game Center itself failed.)

iCloud is great when it works. Seamless. You don’t notice it’s there. But it’s dire when it fails. Last year, it broke for a whole lot of people. Widgets and apps stopped working. And because iCloud is opaque, it wasn’t possible for users to do anything to fix the problems.

During that period, I suffered unrecoverable data loss for the first time in over a decade. I now cannot trust iCloud to house documents created by one of my key daily driver apps. It’s just too risky.

There are other niggles. Last week, iCloud populated my shared Downloads folder with dozens of empty folders, making me temporarily freak out until I found they were folders I’d deleted months ago. (Thanks, Time Machine! At least you work.) When you move a folder, iCloud sometimes (not always) inexplicably updates its creation date. And then there are times when it just won’t sync data.

I had that happen this morning. I was happily populating an app with a bunch of data, and the iPad and Mac versions were oblivious to this. And also each other. The solution? Turn iCloud off and on again for all those apps, which naturally nuked the new data. It was only half an hour of time wasted, but this shouldn’t happen. It should just work. Why iCloud is still as flaky as it is, despite being the backbone of dozens of Apple services – and instrumental to countless Mac and mobile apps – baffles me.

August 26, 2023. Read more in: Opinions, Technology


« older posts