Adobe Creative Cloud 2014: It's all about apps and APIs

Adobe launches some new mobile apps and its first hardware, plus a new software development kit that it hopes will bring in third-party supporters.

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Adobe's new app, Photoshop Mix, serves to demonstrate features of its new SDK for remote processing of images. Lori Grunin/CNET
Editors' note, June 19, 2014: Updated with a tour of some of Photoshop CC's new features.

In a recent briefing to prepare us for the annual barrage of Adobe announcements, one of Adobe's technology development people said of the company's app development, "These early experiments...are one of the first stages of constructing the core products. Sooner or later, mouse and keyboard won't be enough in Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. We're trying to prepare ourselves for when that entire market gets disrupted. "

To me, that's the theme of this year's Creative Cloud extravaganza. Yes, Adobe's offering up the usual updates to the desktop applications, major and minor. But we're also seeing a company whose success has been built on monolithic, computationally intensive applications struggling to address the changing needs of its core base of imaging professionals -- whose need for lightweight mobile apps is growing rapidly.

The launch of CC in 2011 was the first step down that road, building an infrastructure to connect all the as-yet-unforseen tools. This year's announcements display a strategic commitment to underlying technologies, but in my opinion, its actual mobile apps still convey a sense of confusion rather than clear purpose.

More on Adobe Creative Cloud 2014

The company's delivering its first hardware products plus two new drawing apps (Ink and Slide), a brand-new Photoshop app variation (Photoshop Mix) an iPhone version of Lightroom, and a brand-new Creative software development kit (SDK) designed to help third parties hook into remote processing for advanced imaging capabilities. In general, the apps and hardware fall rather flat for me, and mostly seem to serve the purpose of attracting developers to its little corner of the world.

I think part of the lack of cohesion I sense is a result of the development incentives of the subscription system. During the briefing for Ink and Slide, the result of the company's Projects Mighty and Napoleon, the assembled group asked questions about possible new features or extensions that we might see for these products. And all of the answers began with, "Well, if it's successful..." So I asked: what's your metric for gauging success? The blunt reply: if it drives subscriptions. What I see is Adobe throwing apps at the wall to see if any stick.

And they're all iOS apps. On one hand, it makes sense for the company to devote its resources to a platform that most of its existing users are on. But as a multiplatform user -- I have an iPad and an Android phone -- I feel the loss. There's now a Creative Cloud app for iOS that lets you manage your profile and assets similar to the way you can with the desktop application.

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The Creative Cloud app lets you manage files and upload from the Camera Roll. Lori Grunin/CNET

But let's get to the news. In a surprise to nobody, Adobe has made its continually extended limited-time $10-per-month Photography plan permanent for all, and enhanced its Enterprise and Education subscription plans, including device-based licensing for education and better deployment and management tools for Enterprise subscription admins.

Desktop application updates

To differentiate these big changes from last year's big changes, Adobe has switched to a new way of identifying the desktop applications: now they all bear "2014" in their names.

Hitting the highlights:

As usual, Photoshop gets most of the buzzy new features. In addition to enhanced performance from its underlying Mercury Graphics Engine, Adobe adds a masking tool that I've been waiting for forever and two new blurs to Photoshop CC 2014.

Focus mask basically finds the in-focus areas and makes a selection area from them; this is the first significant improvement to the masking tools since Adobe introduced Refine Edge, and I'm hoping it will eventually spawn focus-area previews in Lightroom.

A new radial blur, Spin Blur, adds motion blur to elements like wheels, and a new blur variation, Path blur, allows you to blur along multiple paths. And updates to its Mercury Graphics Engine promise more acceleration for blur effects via OpenCL.

Typekit has also been better integrated into Photoshop in the form of better font search, live previews in your document, and search filtering by Typekit fonts. Unfortunately, the handling of character and paragraph styles remains woefully clunky. And the company has tweaked its Content-Aware-related tools to better handle areas with gradients.

If you followed the Microsoft Surface event on May 20, you also got a sneak preview of Photoshop's touch-optimized operation. Though there's nothing earth-shattering here, the updates -- pinch and zoom support, 200 percent scaling of the interface, and more responsive performance -- are essential to make it usable on touch devices. It also has enhanced stylus support and performance, rendering smoother strokes. (Here's more of what's new in Photoshop.)

Illustrator CC 2014 inherits Live Shapes from Photoshop. Part of me thinks "yawn," but another part realizes that every shape addition to the traditionally path-oriented application is a step in the right direction. Adobe also added Nvidia-accelerated vector rendering on Windows.

InDesign CC 2014 gets table row and column selection, finally, and it will now support Epub fixed layouts so that you don't have to use Digital Publishing Suite and illogically generate your books as apps. Muse gets a 64-bit upgrade and HiDPI support, as well as the ability to preview desktop, phone and tablet versions of sites before you publish.

As for video tools, Premiere Pro CC 2014 will offer better integration with After Effects CC 2014, plus Live Text Templates, masking and tracking; there's generally better integration between Premiere and AE and SpeedGrade. The faster Mercury Playback Engine announced at NAB Show 2014 gets its public debut in Premiere as well. Adobe says there are more precise keying effects in After Effects, SpeedGrade CC 2014 has a "more flexible Direct Link color pipeline," and Audition CC 2014's multitrack editing tools have been tweaked.

On the Web side, Dreamweaver CC 2014 delivers a view that lets you navigate Elements and modify the structure of a document more easily, plus improves handling of properties (including gradients, box shadows and borders). Flash Pro CC 2014 supports the ability to export any frame of an animation as an SVG file, and Edge Animate will now support direct import of HTML5 video.

 

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