Adobe Takes the Cloud to the Max in Its 2015 Software Releases

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Adobe used the recent Adobe Max conference to unveil major changes to its mobile lineup, following a big June announcement in which the company rolled out Creative Cloud 2015, highlighted by new syncing capabilities, a new stock content service and two new mobile apps.

Oh, and by the way, Adobe also upgraded its desktop software.

Adobe Senior Vice President and General Manager, Bryan Lamkin, outlines his vision for Creative Cloud at Adobe MAX at the Microsoft Theater Monday October 5, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.

Adobe Senior Vice President and General Manager, Bryan Lamkin, outlines his vision for Creative Cloud at Adobe MAX at the Microsoft Theater Monday October 5, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.

When Adobe introduced the Creative Cloud in 2012, it was mainly where you went to download Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and other desktop applications. Since then, Adobe has gradually built out the Creative Cloud as an integrated ecosystem for design pros. The desktop software remains as the core, but it’s surrounded by an ever-increasing array of mobile apps and online services that extend its capabilities.

Additions to the core applications have been rather thin, at least compared with the old days when Adobe relied on upgrades as a major source of revenue. Up through CS6, Adobe had to add enough functionality to each program to justify the hefty upgrade cost. Nowadays, you get the upgrades automatically by virtue of being a Creative Cloud subscriber. So Adobe’s goal is to keep you as a subscriber and attract new ones, and it matters less whether the capabilities live in the cloud, on your mobile device or in the desktop software.

Let’s take a look at what Adobe has done since I reviewed the 2014 release of Creative Cloud.

Mobile Apps

For the past several years, Adobe has recognized that designers would like to do more of their work on smartphones and tablets. Those devices are still underpowered for big applications like Photoshop and Illustrator, so Adobe’s strategy has been to roll out lightweight apps based on the desktop tools. That approach took a big leap in June 2014 with the introduction of Adobe Photoshop Sketch, Adobe Photoshop Mix and Adobe Line, followed a few months later by three “capture apps” — Color CC, Shape CC and Brush CC. The latter allowed you to use mobile devices to capture images from the real world and turn them into (guess what?) colors, shapes and brushes for the desktop programs.

In March, Adobe released Adobe Comp CC, which turns your iPad or iPhone into a sketch pad for conceptualizing layouts. Its power lies in its ability to translate drawing gestures into precise objects, though you can also import objects from Creative Cloud libraries. You can then move, resize or rotate the objects, and once you’re done, you can export the layout to Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign.

That’s seven new apps in all, plus two more (Adobe Hue CC and Preview CC) that Adobe rolled out this past June. It seemed like a bit much, so at the Max conference, the company unveiled Adobe Capture, combining Color CC, Shape CC, Brush CC and Hue CC into a single app for iOS and Android devices. It will soon include a new feature that lets you capture an image and turn it into a seamless pattern.

Adobe also yanked Line from the app store, moving some of its features into Photoshop Sketch and Adobe Illustrator Draw.

New to the app lineup is Photoshop Fix, which Adobe previewed during Apple’s September announcement of the iPad Pro. It provides a basic set of image-retouching tools, including exposure and saturation adjustments plus a healing brush, patch tool, clone stamp, paint brush and red-eye removal. This one should appeal to consumers as well as creative pros.

The Healing Brush in Photoshop Fix, Adobe’s new photo-retouching app.

The Healing Brush in Photoshop Fix, Adobe’s new photo-retouching app.

Preview, one of the apps introduced in June, is great for Photoshop users who create mobile content. Run the app on your iPhone or iPad (sorry, Android users), open the new Device panel in Photoshop, and voila, the image you’re viewing in Photoshop appears on the mobile device. You can even switch between artboards if your document includes them. (Yes, Photoshop now has artboards, one of the new features in CC 2015.)

In the Cloud

The major highlight of the June Creative Cloud release was CreativeSync, a new technology that uses the cloud to more-seamlessly integrate Adobe’s mobile and desktop tools. Building on the Creative Cloud libraries introduced in 2014, it automatically syncs your assets (files, images, fonts, colors, brushes, styles, etc.) so they’re available across multiple apps. For example, graphics from a Creative Cloud library can be placed in Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign as linked assets, so you (or a team member) can modify an image with one program, such as Photoshop, and you can see the changes reflected in an InDesign or Illustrator document.

CreativeSync also allows integration among mobile apps, and between mobile apps and the desktop. During a demo at the Max conference, Adobe design director Eric Snowden and product manager Jenn Tardif used a combination of Photoshop, Comp CC, Photoshop Sketch, Photoshop Mix and Capture CC to create a poster for a yoga workshop.

The CreativeSync demo included a look at Adobe Stock, a rebranded version of the Fotolia stock content service that Adobe acquired in January. Creative Cloud users now have access to a huge library of photos, vector graphics and other artwork (about 40 million pieces, Adobe says). At the Max conference, the company announced that it will soon add video content.

Adobe Stock is available to non-subscribers as a standalone service, but what makes it significant is the way it integrates with the Adobe applications. Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator and other programs now include “Search Adobe Stock” commands, which open your browser and take you to an Adobe Stock search page. That’s not such a big deal, but you can also save watermarked versions of images to a Creative Cloud library at no cost. You’re free to experiment with the images until you settle on the ones you prefer, and then pay to remove the watermarks. Any modifications you’ve made to the watermarked images are preserved in the paid versions.

Adobe offers several payment options. You can spend $9.99 for a single image, or Creative Cloud members can opt for a $29.99/month plan that includes 10 images per month. Any unused portion rolls over to the next month, so you’re ultimately paying for 120 images over the course of the year. Like the Creative Cloud, this plan requires an annual commitment. Heavy-duty users can go for the $199.99/month plan, which gives you 750 images each month. Non-members can purchase individual images or pay $49.99 to get 10 images per month.

Adobe Stock also provides opportunities for creatives to make money by providing a marketplace to sell stock content. The royalty is 33 percent, and these are not exclusive deals, so you’re free to sell your content on other services as well.

One other announcement at Max was Adobe Portfolio, a forthcoming service based on Behance that will make it easier for designers to create responsive websites showcasing their own work.

The Desktop

Much of the added functionality in the desktop software comes from the cloud-based features and integration with the mobile apps. Otherwise, the additions to Photoshop, Illustrator, et al seem a bit thin.

The highlight feature in Photoshop CC 2015 is Artboards. The concept is similar to artboards in Illustrator, but Photoshop’s implementation is geared more toward creation of mobile content. When adding an artboard, you can choose from a list of presets for various devices — iPad mini, iPad Retina, iPhone 6, etc. — allowing you to see how your artwork will appear at different screen sizes.

Artboards are managed through the Layers and Properties panels, and within the Layers panel they function much like Layer Groups. For example, you can move or copy a layer from one artboard to another; when you do so, it’s clipped based on the artboard’s dimensions. Adobe has also added an Artboard tool (under the Move tool) that lets you draw freeform artboards on the canvas or resize existing ones. You can learn more in this video tutorial.

With each Creative Cloud release, Adobe seems compelled to tout some new form of “Adobe Magic” in Photoshop. This isn’t an underlying technology — it’s a marketing term for features that seem to do the impossible with images. As Adobe VP Mala Sharma explained it during a media conference call, “we enable what appears to customers to be magical output, but behind it is an incredible amount of innovation and engineering prowess.” Early examples like Content-Aware Fill were truly astonishing, so when  Adobe promises magic, I expect to be wowed.sf_skyline_haze

The new Dehaze control in Adobe Camera Raw. Was an Adobe engineer inspired by a view like this one?

The new Dehaze control in Adobe Camera Raw. Was an Adobe engineer inspired by a view like this one?

This year’s “magic” comes largely in the form of a Dehaze slider control in Adobe Camera Raw, allowing you to add or remove haze from a photo. It works better than the alternatives for reducing haze (such as Clarity or Levels adjustments). But compared with other feats of Adobe Magic, this one seems like a parlor trick.

Photoshop CC 2015 includes a technology preview of Design Space, a new alternative interface.

Photoshop CC 2015 includes a technology preview of Design Space, a new alternative interface.

Another new feature in Photoshop is actually a technology preview: The Design Space presents a simplified user interface intended largely for mobile and web design. You can learn more in this YouTube video.

Illustrator CC 2015 offers faster performance, improved zooming and a technology preview of Creative Cloud Charts. Once you create a chart in Illustrator, you can upload it to the cloud and import data from Excel or a .csv file. Vector objects in the chart are then resized based on the tabular data.

At the Max conference, Adobe previewed some additional Illustrator features slated for release later this year. These include a new Shaper tool that lets you draw rough shapes that are transformed into precise objects (much like Comp CC), plus enhancements to Smart Guides and the shape tools. See this blog post and Max keynote video to learn more.

I won’t go into detail about the other applications; you can find summaries of the new features on this product page.

The point to keep in mind is that the baseline isn’t last year’s CC release — the baseline is really CS6, the last version of the creative applications that did not require a Creative Cloud subscription. It’s telling that in the press announcement for Creative Cloud 2015, Adobe touted a 10-fold speed improvement in Illustrator compared with CS6. That’s clearly speaking to users who haven’t been sold on the new subscription model. Each major CC release since then hasn’t compared with earlier upgrades, but the cumulative total of added features and functionality since CS6 is a big improvement over the old software.

One program that’s sorely in need of a facelift is Adobe Bridge. It hasn’t been upgraded since 2013, and even that was little changed from the CS6 release. I have a love-hate relationship with this program. It’s an essential part of my own workflow, but I’m constantly frustrated by performance issues and the lack of seemingly basic features, such as the ability to search for images based on landscape or portrait orientation.

Technology Previews

At the Max conference, Adobe also previewed some forthcoming technologies.

Adobe Fuse CC: This is a character-modeling program that Adobe picked up through its recent acquisition of 3D software developer Mixamo. As part of the Creative Cloud, Fuse CC will enable export of 3D models to Creative Cloud libraries. Within Photoshop, you’ll be able to apply a variety of animations and poses to the characters and incorporate them into other artwork.

Muse CC: Adobe’s web-design program will adopt technology from Adobe Edge Reflow to enable creation of responsive websites. Because this is Muse, no coding is required: Just use a slider control to expand or contract the viewport, set a breakpoint, and use the visual design tools to rework the layout to accommodate the new screen size.

Project Comet: This is the code name for a new all-in-one design tool aimed at developers of websites and mobile apps. Slated for release next year, it will let you take a project from initial wireframing to visual design, interaction and previewing of content. Based on the demo at Max, it looks pretty cool. Each screen in a project appears as an artboard on a large canvas, and you can add interaction by drawing lines from one screen to another.

You can see demos of Muse CC and Project Comet — as well as Photoshop’s new Artboards feature — in this video clip from the Max conference.

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