Social networking is turning our world inside out: Where once we switched on our computers, then ran software that loaded our words, images, movies, and other stuff, now the “stuff” is at the center of the universe and can be loaded anywhere there’s a computing device. Today [15 November 2011], Adobe, which makes many of the programs that we use to create and alter that stuff, turned itself inside out.
It has launched Adobe Creative Cloud, a new initiative that includes a cloud-based file storage organizer (confusingly, also called Creative Cloud) and Adobe Touch Apps, a suite of six imaging apps for Android tablets. (In early 2012, the apps will become available for the iPad.) This initiative is just the start of a complete overhaul in both the way Adobe’s software will work and the way we will all be using its products. Eventually, Adobe will deploy Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere, and its other desktop applications via the Web—with Creative Cloud as the hub.
In this product preview, we’ll look at the hub first, then the six spokes: Adobe Photoshop Touch, Adobe Kuler, Adobe Collage, Adobe Ideas, Adobe Proto, and Adobe Debut. This first look is based on three days of testing that started on 10 November, during which we used a Samsung Galaxy Tablet 10.1 that Adobe loaned us at an invitation-only demo in New York City.
Released today as a public beta, Creative Cloud (CC) is a Web-based storage system for sharing files among the various new Touch Apps and Adobe’s desktop imaging programs. All uploads from your desktop computer are executed via a Web browser, though Adobe hints that eventually you’ll be able to save directly from your desktop applications to the cloud. CC supports several formats, including JPEG, PNG, PDF, Photoshop PSD, Illustrator AI, InDesign INDD, and different flavors of RAW. However, the Touch Apps can’t use most of the supported formats.
In our tests, we were able to upload only one file at a time to CC from our Windows-based systems, and even comparatively small images took a long time. Adobe says that batch uploading should work and that this bug will be fixed quickly.
CC is a classic, albeit limited, file organizer with three views: folders, thumbnails of files within each folder, and an image viewer for individual files. While you can rename files and folders, and move files among folders, you can’t reorder them, nor can you view image metadata—so you can’t use keywords for searches. Even embedded copyright notices are hidden, which may present a problem for professionals using CC to share images with clients.
Unique to CC, the image viewer displays a list of the layers within a file and even allows you to turn individual layers on or off, with the preview of the image changing accordingly. Similarly, you can view each page of a multipage document. There was no lag when we leafed through a 48-page PDF that we imported into CC. In addition, a downloadable Kuler swatch is automatically calculated from the picture and displayed alongside it (more about Kuler later).
The recipient receives an e-mail with a link that displays the image framed in black on an attractive dark charcoal background and may comment on it or download the file if those options were enabled at the time of sharing. The link is a public URL, but a person would need to know it to access the file. No security protects it; you can, however, choose to unshare a file at any time.
Each Touch App needs to be registered individually to CC, with separate sign-ins. Once registered, CC and the Touch Apps are well integrated, with files accessible from within the app’s interface. Exporting from the apps to CC requires tapping the Upload command before selecting the files, which we found counterintuitive.
CC is clearly a work in progress. Many functions are bogged down with time-consuming tasks that were superannuated long ago with more-efficient workflows. But its basic structure is sensible, and the control over layers and pages within complex files offers some new creative possibilities.
Incidentally, while this product launch is only for Android tablets and Windows computers, since CC is a Web-based program, files saved on it are accessible from any iOS or Mac device through a Web browser.
At this time, Adobe offers six Touch Apps: Photoshop Touch, Kuler, Collage, Ideas, Proto, and Debut (follow the links to jump to a particular section). But don’t expect the power and sophistication of Adobe’s desktop applications. Instead, the Touch apps offer the digital equivalent of the classic cocktail napkin sketch—a quick idea jotted down over drinks. Of course, these apps are more versatile than pen-and-paper drawings, potentially allowing you to flesh out your concept more fully while retaining the spontaneity that generated the seed of the idea.
Unfortunately, these apps are not integrated—there’s no equivalent of the “jump to” option for editing a photo that’s in an Illustrator document with Photoshop’s tools.
The Touch Apps are designed for both finger and stylus input. The immediacy of drawing directly onto the screen with a stylus can be very freeing, especially when you add pressure sensitivity (for those tablets that support it). Because of current touch-screen technology limitations, the stylus doesn’t produce the precision or responsiveness of a full Wacom tablet attached to a desktop computer. But in our tests with the Samsung Galaxy Tablet 10.1, the stylus worked well, including recognizing levels of pressure to create calligraphic-like lines of different thicknesses.
However, one tablet technology that didn’t work well within the Touch Apps is the display pivot. We found that the Samsung’s gyroscope—which automatically turns the display when the screen is rotated—is sluggish in the Adobe apps. (We had no such problem with other, non-Adobe apps.) In fact, in Adobe Ideas, we never did get the screen to auto-rotate.
Most of the tools and features in these apps are very simple, if not always self-explanatory. That’s good, because “help” is very limited in PS Touch, Debut, and Proto, and nonexistent in the other apps. Adobe promises to eventually implement an online community, but otherwise we users are on our own.
Incidentally, the name “Photoshop Touch Apps” was previously used for Adobe Eazel, Adobe Nav, and Adobe Color Lava (iOS apps that were released earlier this year). They have now been rebranded by Adobe as “Photoshop Companion apps” and are not part of this collection of Creative Cloud Touch Apps.