Yes, Google's been on a buying binge, so no, we shouldn't be shocked that it's made another moderate-sized acquisition. Still, I wasn't alone in my surprise to hear that it's purchased Nik Software. "Holy crap! Definitely didn't see that one coming," posted well-known Lightroom blogger and trainer Matt Kloskowski on Google+.
Among mobile device users, Nik is probably best known for its popular Snapseed photo editor -- Apple's 2011 iPad app of the year that's not yet available for Android. The good news is, I probably won't have to wait too much longer for Snapseed to come to Android; the Nik Web site has been pledging an Android version was "coming soon" for quite awhile now.
But among serious hobbyist photographers as well as pros, Nik is more than just Snapseed. Its desktop photo software lineup includes what many consider the top software for creating artistic black-and-white photographs from color digital files, Silver Efex Pro. Nik also sells several other popular Photoshop/Lightroom plugins for post-processing digital files. Most feature what Nik calls "control point" technology that makes it easy to do selective adjustments on only part of a picture. Want to make a bland sky pop? Instead of tediously selecting the sky in your image by manually "brushing" or clicking and dragging, adding a control point or two allows you to make various adjustments only on portions of the photo with similar tonality.
Incredibly, Google hasn't given Nik's user community the slightest inkling of what it plans on doing with Nik's product line. In a Google+ post, Google senior VP of engineering Vic Gundotra says only that "We want to help our users create photos they absolutely love, and in our experience Nik does this better than anyone." That's it.
But what does that mean? And who is "we," Google+ or Google at large? The guess is that Google will use Nik technology in Google+, allowing users to do some more serious Web editing of their photos than Picasa allows. Google+ has already generated a following among some professional photographers such as Scott Kelby, author of popular PhotoShop instruction books. However, that doesn't account for desktop products like Silver Efex, Color Efex, Viveza, Dfine and HDR Efex. There's a fair amount of unease among users of Nik's desktop software, myself included, that some of the desktop software will no longer be developed and supported. Even those of us who are heavily involved in social networking and upload lots of photos to multiple sites don't want to do all our serious photo editing on a social networking site in the cloud.
We're not talking $4.99 apps here. Some of Nik's users have invested hundreds of dollars in multiple plugins. Google owes Nik users the courtesy of some detail on whether these products have a future.
Update: The day after this blog and four days after the initial acquisition was announced, Gundotra posted on Google+: "I also want to make something clear: we're going to continue offering and improving Nik's high-end tools and plug-ins."