Adobe’s New Direction

AdobeAdobe are looking to the future with two products that seem strange but, as Drew Turney discovers, make perfect sense.

As the leader in design software, Adobe is the company much of the world naturally looks towards for future trends. The most recent MAX, Adobe’s yearly product announcement round-up and conference, saw two new directions that might affect the way your designers work any day now.

Up in the air

We’ve seen cloud offerings from all the major technology vendors in the last few years, from Microsoft to Symantec and industry leader Google. Online is the last place you’d expect to perform design and production for marketing or advertising, but Adobe Creative Cloud ( promises to unshackle you from your desktop system forever.

It seems disingenuous at first – as few other industries realise, designers deal in huge file sizes that seem completely unsuited to online productivity models. If you’re updating a document on Google Docs, for example, you need only commit to a few text or calculation changes, no big drain on networks of today.

But two things have changed that mean Adobe’s might work. One, fast online connectivity is now pervasive through much of the world. Because of Australia’s reliance on our primary (some would say monopoly) carrier, huge down- and uploads have never been realistic, but with the advent of the NBN, we might soon end up leading the world when it comes to fast broadband.

The other change is that storage is cheap. Over the last few years it’s become economically realistic to store your data in humming server farms at the four corners of the earth rather than your own desktop system. Your browser is the software that sends commands and makes changes to your document, all of it stored online (an Adobe Creative Cloud membership gives you 20GB, enough for most small studio operations).

But technology isn’t the only thing changing. Cloud computing is also overturning the pricing model of software. You’ve probably heard it called Software as a Service (SaaS), the delivery of applications and utilities on a per-use basis over the web rather than a one-time-purchase box product.

Part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud is the provision of software as well as storage of your files. Though paying your money and having an DVD shipped to you (or downloading the installer file) still forms the lion’s share of purchases, the membership model may one day take over. Your annual US$49.99 payment gives you all the applications of Creative Suite as well as storage for your files. No more downloading and installing to your local system – everything is online.

Will it work? Time will tell, but if the combination of super-fast networks and mass online data storage takes over, the logical endpoint will spell the end of the powerful deskbound computer. We’ll all be working on a global thin client-style fleet of simple, multi-faceted user terminals that access and manipulate data, all of it stored online.

We’ve already seen the tentative first steps of such a movement with the Netbook, a device that enjoyed some success until its successor came along and blew all others out of the water – the tablet.

The rise of mobile

Which brings us to what Adobe thinks might be the next big thing in design, your iPad – or its many competitors. We’ve all seen the tablet take over the consumer world and because designers are consumers too, MAX saw the release of the Touch Apps, simpler tools than you find on a desktop which take advantage of the interface of touching and swiping with your finger rather than clicking or dragging with a mouse or Wacom tablet stylus.

Announcing tools for sketching, concepting, generating colour themes and even a touch version of Photoshop (which covers the basics of the PC version) Adobe executives said they expected the Touch Apps to complement desktop programs such as those of Creative Suite.

And while many would shudder to think of putting together a magazine layout or logo concept on a tablet, the fact is the millions of iPads out there are teaching us a new style of interface interaction. If Adobe can hit the sweet spot between the gestures and controls we’re now so familiar with and the tasks design and production software is expected to do, its Touch Apps might be a new goldmine despite their comparatively rock-bottom price tag (US$10 each).

In fact, the Touch Apps might bridge a long-standing gap the mouse has never crossed. We traditionally sketch and doodle on paper because the mouse removes the physicality of doing so by an extra degree. Putting your finger to a screen and dragging it connects up with the medium again, like drawing pictures in the sand.

Of course, there are plenty of other factors yet to weigh in, some of them psychological. There’s a reason we work in an office on computers and play using iPads in bed, for instance. Designers sit down at a desk in front of a Mac and they’re in work mode, a quite different state of mind from sitting on the bus or beside the pool.

But if designing on tablets does catch on, software makers of the world will have a ready market. During the Touch Apps launch, Adobe claimed 16 percent of the company’s customers have tablets and of those, 92 percent responded in a survey that they’d do ‘an extended creative activity’ on one.

And the tablet will be ready for them. Those around today are already powered where PCs were five years ago, and with the sector’s explosive growth, your mobile device might simply be a better choice for professional productivity one day soon.

In fact, tablets have been so successful the influence goes both ways. The touchscreen PC is common today, and if designers take to touch-driven creative apps on tablets, they might in turn change the way we look at creative software for your computer – especially since desktop hardware is evolving too.