Adobe Creative Cloud Update + New Design Tools

Last year, Adobe Systems threw many of its customers into a tizzy when it announced that new versions of its design tools would be available exclusively through subscriptions to the Creative Cloud service. No longer would you have the option to purchase a perpetual license for applications such as Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign. Instead, you’d fork over a monthly fee, gaining access to all of the company’s creative software plus additional online services. Rather than waiting for a big annual upgrade, you’d be able to download new features as they became available. But you’d lose access to the software if you failed to make your monthly payments or chose not to renew.

The move was controversial, sparking angry blog posts and even an online petition drive. But as of last month, Adobe says it had more than 2.3 million Creative Cloud subscribers, and these users found a nice surprise awaiting them on June 18 when the company released new versions of its desktop applications along with three new iPad apps. Adobe also announced its entry into the hardware business with the release of Adobe Ink and Slide, a stylus and ruler combo that sells for $199.

adobe creative cloud

Adobe’s new Ink and Slide gadgets are designed for use with the new Line and Sketch iPad apps.

Tweaking the Creative Cloud Subscription Program

Adobe is clearly sticking to its guns with the subscription plan, but the June announcement revealed a few tweaks to its strategy. Instead of continually updating each application, the company will release major upgrades every year or so. You still download them from the Creative Cloud website or desktop app, but they’re installed separately from last year’s releases and carry the new “CC 2014” versioning: Photoshop CC 2014, InDesign CC 2014, etc. (Adobe also changed its internal numbering scheme; for example, last year’s InDesign CC was technically InDesign 9.x, but InDesign CC 2014 is version “2014.x.”)

During a press event in June, Adobe senior marketing director Scott Morris said the company chose to return to big annual releases after getting feedback from partners such as plug-in developers and book publishers, who found it difficult to keep their products in sync with the continual upgrades. However, he promised that Adobe will continue to provide new features between the major releases.

One consequence of the new strategy is that you’ll have to migrate your old settings and reinstall any plug-ins used with last year’s versions.

In a nod to photographers, Adobe also made permanent the $10-per-month Creative Cloud Photography Plan, which includes Photoshop CC 2014 and Lightroom 5. Adobe originally offered the pricing on an introductory basis. Photographers were among the harshest critics of the decision to remove perpetual licensing.

The Applications

I don’t have the space here for a thorough overview of the core applications, but in general, many of these seem like incremental or “x.5” updates, even when accounting for features added in the months between the big 2013 and 2014 releases. This is especially true with Illustrator and InDesign. For example, the “headline” additions to InDesign are improved table-handling and the ability to create fixed layouts in EPUB3 e-book files. Illustrator fares a little better, with new anchor point controls, improved pen and pencil tools and a handful of other features.

These are useful enhancements, but overall, the upgrades seem underwhelming when compared with past releases. You can judge for yourself, since Adobe has provided a handy, “What’s New” list for each major program:

Dreamweaver

Flash Professional

Illustrator

creative cloud; Adobe

Illustrator’s new Live Shapes feature makes it easy to create rounded corners in rectangles.

InDesign

Muse

Photoshop

However, as I noted in last year’s story about the Creative Cloud, the old calculations about whether to upgrade no longer apply. If you’re a Creative Cloud subscriber, you get the new features automatically; the only “cost” is the time it takes to download the software and perhaps reinstall plug-ins. If you’re not a subscriber, the question is whether it makes sense to become one.

Some are opting out for philosophical reasons—they just don’t like the idea of being forced to “rent” their software. But if the equation is strictly features vs. cost, the baseline isn’t last year’s Creative Cloud release—it’s CS6, or whatever earlier version you happen to be using. In that case, the gap between old and new is wider, and will continue to grow as Adobe keeps adding new features. And if you use any two or three of the programs on a regular basis, even a few incremental productivity enhancements can make a difference.

The Mobile Apps

During the June announcement, Adobe revealed results of a survey indicating that about 30 percent of creative professionals would like to do more content creation on tablets. Adobe already offers several iPad apps for designers, but augmented this lineup with three new ones: Adobe Sketch, Adobe Line and Adobe Photoshop Mix. Each is free, and you don’t have to be a paid subscriber to use them, but you will need an Adobe ID.

adobe pen tool

 Illustrator’s Pen tool now provides a live preview.

Sketch and Line are drawing apps designed for use with the new Ink and Slide hardware. Ink is a pressure-sensitive stylus for the iPad, while Slide functions like a ruler on steroids—not only can you trace straight lines, but also various other shapes depending on which app you’re using. Both gadgets require an iPad 4 or later, but the new apps also work pretty well without the Adobe hardware. You can draw with your finger, and each app includes an on-screen version of the Slide called the “Touch Slide.”

As for the apps themselves, Sketch is a free-form drawing and painting tool that can create painterly illustrations. Line is geared more for artwork with precise lines, curves and shapes. It includes an assortment of “Trace Packs”—shapes that function as tracing templates—as well as “Stamp Packs”—various objects that you can “stamp” into the drawing. The latter features are implemented via the Slide or Touch Slide.

Photoshop Mix brings a subset of Photoshop features to the iPad, including basic image enhancements, filter effects and a cut-out tool that applies an editable mask. What’s interesting is that three of the functions—Upright, Shake Reduction and Content-Aware Fill—are performed in the cloud. For all the talk about tablets supplanting laptop and desktop computers, they’re not yet powerful enough for heavy-duty imaging functions, so Photoshop Mix offloads them. (The app warns you that these are premium features available for free on a trial basis.)

All three apps were built using Adobe’s new Creative Software Development Kit, which the company plans to offer to other developers. Adobe says this will enable non-Adobe apps to add features such as the Touch Slide, cloud-based photo-editing tools, access to PSD files and the ability to work with new Adobe hardware.

Adobe also introduced iPad and iPhone versions of the Creative Cloud desktop app, which allows users to manage files and other assets from those devices.

(Disclosure: I’ve done some editorial work for Webydo, which makes online web-design tools that compete with Adobe Muse.)

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