Updated September 9, 2011 with comment from Adobe.
When Adobe asked users about their photo sharing-pain points, it generated some buzz about an expected cloud solution. And today it delivered. Adobe Carousel automatically uploads, stores, and syncs photos from all your devices--as long as they're from Apple--and lets you create shareable galleries (Carousels). When shared, you and they can edit and apply special effects to the photos nondestructively.
(Aside: Adobe PR denies that the name Carousel was inspired by the Kodak Carousel slide projector.)
It sounds neat on the surface, and it's based around solid goals--"People want ubiquitous access to photo libraries; to browse, adjust, and share all their photos from anywhere; to share a photo library with friends and family; and simple, easy-to-live-with setup."
But I think there's an unstated goal here as well. Photoshop.com already meets a lot of these needs and the company could likely have been extended the back end with the syncing technology; unfortunately, Adobe can't leverage the site because it's
completely partly Flash based, so it can't run on the iPad or iPhone. Thus, Adobe's need to start from scratch. Adobe comments: "The team did not start from scratch to build Carousel. The backend of Photoshop.com provides some of the infrastructure that supports the digital imaging mesh that Adobe Carousel uses. There are also some things that Photoshop.com can't do which is why we developed the DI mesh platform."
In some ways, Carousel works much like any other photo organizer in that it builds a database of your images as you import them and keeps the databases synced across devices. It also copies each image to its servers, which act as a central repository for all your photos. Based on some new imaging-specific mesh technology developed by Adobe, these databases also contain information about edits to the photos, which it applies on the fly when you view an image--hence the nondestructive aspect. That's what also allows it to nondestructively sync edits to shared photos. It caches the original on the device when you open it to edit, and Adobe claims it has decent memory management for working, even with large images.
While you can import as many photos as you want, you're limited to five Carousels, and can only share each with up to
four five people. Note that there's no subscription required to view others' Carousels, just to create your own. Unfortunately, there's no view-only option. Anyone you share with can make changes. You can make virtual copies, though.
The app will allow you to tag an image to select it, make the typical basic set of adjustments (white balance, exposure, contrast, highlights/shadows, vibrance, clarify, plus crop and rotate). You can also select from about a dozen special effects. There's no keywording, it doesn't expose any geotagging metadata, and you get one organizer view: by date.
I'll hold off with my opinions until I get to use it later today, but I will point out what seem to me as obvious drawbacks, such as the lack of support for Windows and Android until 2012. It also doesn't support all Apple devices, just iPhone 3GS and 4, iPad, iPod Touch 4G, and Macs running OS X Lion. Plus, sharing Carousels requires that anyone who wants to view them needs to download the app. That type of system only works for consumers when you have tons of content from tons of sources supplied in a given format (for instance, Flash or PDF) or if it's a content source you've chosen (such as proprietary e-book or movie formats). Adobe at least needs to provide a Web interface for viewing on unsupported platforms.
The lack of integration with other Adobe platforms is a serious disappointment, and I think a mistake. I'm guessing that will come later, with support for the cloud aspect of Carousel built into applications like Lightroom or Bridge. But by then a lot of the same Apple users may have already committed to iCloud and Photo Stream, even though it's unclear if Apple will offer a permanent storage solution (rather than Photo Stream's 30-day cache) soon.
Finally, it doesn't come cheap. You get a 30-day free trial, after which you'll be charged $59.99/year or $5.99/month--until January. At that point, the price will rise to $99.99/year or $9.99/month. On one hand, that's for unlimited storage; on the other, it's only a decent deal compared with Photoshop.com if you need more than 100GB of storage. And I can't believe the company wouldn't roll out a less-attractive tiered pricing model once you're locked in. The good news is that at least in its current incarnation, it doesn't look like you're really locked in to the platform, but that's going to take some closer scrutiny.
Check back in a couple days for my review.