Apple Is Trying to Compete With Adobe’s Creative Cloud Dominance

By pricing its popular pro-level apps with a reasonable monthly subscription model on the iPad, the company could set the stage for new generations of users that might feel priced out by Adobe.
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Image: Apple

For years, Apple’s pro-leaning users have been begging for the company to bring pro-leaning apps to the iPad. And this week, they finally got them.

And yet, after all that wait, the most interesting thing about Logic and Final Cut Pro finally coming to Apple’s tablets might be their pricing model.

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After years of charging a set price for the Mac version of each product—$199.99 for Logic Pro and $299.99 for Final Cut Pro—the company is getting into the subscription model for its pro-level apps for the first time, charging $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year for each app.

(An important note: While Logic Pro runs on any iPad with at least an A12 Bionic chip, you need a very recent iPad Pro or iPad Air to use Final Cut Pro, with only models made after 2021 supported. Sorry, no real-time video editing on your fifth-gen iPad Mini.)

While the old hands will be quick to note that you probably won’t be able to stretch an iPad app quite as far as a Mac app (even with a Thunderbolt port), it nonetheless leads to the tantalizing proposition that Apple’s high-level creative apps will be accessible to the masses.

That’s an argument that’s hard to make about Adobe, the traditional leader in the creative software space. The company’s business model for Creative Cloud is built for large businesses at the cost of the emerging user, and as a result, it can sometimes feel like the model can close the door to emerging creatives whose ambitions don’t necessarily meet their budgets.

While Adobe has, for years, offered discounts to college students, as soon as they graduate, the cost of the suite more than doubles, to $54.99 per month for a 12-month license, with a significant fee if you attempt to cancel early. Apple’s App Store certainly has its problems, but it doesn’t try to gouge you with a huge cancellation fee as you try and cut bait.

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In that light, the idea of being able to subscribe to a double-threat of a high-end video tool and high-end audio app for the price of lunch could do wonders to bring more creative types into Apple’s ecosystem.

What Apple Needs to Build a Creative Cloud

Speaking of Apple’s ecosystem, the question arises about whether the company could make any further plays in the creative software space. If you squint hard enough at the applications that already come with MacOS, you can see a version of Apple’s software suite that could legitimately put up a pro-level play against Adobe.

Last year, Apple started offering Freeform, a creative whiteboarding app that is clearly built to highlight the feature sets of Apple hardware. That app is free and relatively basic, but it’s also in its first iteration, and competes in the same area as one of Adobe’s major acquisitions, Figma.

“Free and relatively basic” has been a good traditional descriptor for a number of Apple’s creative-leaning apps. But it doesn’t have to be that way. For example, Pages, a word processor with some modest desktop-publishing aspirations, could be turned into a suitable InDesign competitor with some extra detail work, such as a workflow for copy editors. Meanwhile, Keynote largely stands toe-to-toe with Microsoft’s PowerPoint—and, perhaps, could even be expanded on long-term.

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While Apple doesn’t have a dedicated pro-level photo-editing app, it did once sell the Lightroom competitor Aperture, and one could see the company acquiring a firm like Pixelmator if it ever wanted to compete with Photoshop.

Of course, Apple may be betting that its App Store ecosystem is strong enough that all it really needs is one or two pro apps to carry water for the rest of the ecosystem.

After all, a couple of solid third-party players—Serif’s subscription-free Affinity suite has made inroads among some creatives—have started to make the creative software space competitive again, and Apple may not need to own the whole stack, like Adobe does.

Playing Into the Services Model

As Apple watchers have long known, the company has worked on emphasizing its services revenue in recent years, with services such as Apple Music, Apple TV+, and Apple Arcade proving useful additions to the company’s bottom line—hitting an all-time quarterly record of $20.9 billion in the prior quarter, a bright spot for the company as overall device sales fell.

While Final Cut and Logic play in a space that is known to charge hundreds of dollars per user, the iOS-style model of small monthly charges could be easier for many consumers to swallow—and that could increase the overall customer base by making it something more people buy. And if they ever decide to build more pro-level apps, they could probably offer a cheaper package than Adobe currently offers, based on current pricing.

Apple’s service business has made for odd bedfellows, as anyone who has used the Android version of Apple Music or watched Severance on a Roku can attest. But odds are that while this new monthly model for its pro apps probably won’t lead to a Final Cut Pro for Windows anytime soon—they have hardware to sell, after all—it could be a good bet for someone who’s already deeply committed to all things Apple.

To put it all another way, Apple is playing a different game from Adobe. And with a pricing model that makes Final Cut Pro cheaper than a whole month of Apple TV+, it could equip budding creatives that might have flipped for Adobe in the past.

Pro apps on the iPad have been a long time coming—and if Apple plays its cards right, it could win over the next generation of pros.