Adobe Systems plans to release new technology Wednesday that amplifies the power of software running on mobile devices -- and points to part of the the future of computing.
The technology, called the Creative SDK (software developer kit), lets apps running on relatively feeble tablets and phones tap into more powerful servers connected over the Internet. It's built into its new Photoshop Mix app for iPads, but Adobe also is beta testing it with third-party programmers.
Its initial services are limited to file sharing via Adobe's Creative Cloud and to perform three high-powered image-processing chores: sharpening photos blurred by camera shake, content-aware fill for advance copying and pasting, and the "upright" tool for correcting perspective corrections. But there's more on the way.
Adobe could well use the technology to beef up its mobile version of Lightroom software for editing and cataloging photos. A PC has enough to power for the software, but Lightroom for iPad -- and now iPhone, too -- can't handle some tasks like local brightness or contrast adjustments.
"Lightroom is the logical thing to look at next," said Scott Morris, Adobe's senior marketing director for Creative Cloud.
The Creative SDK offers a narrow set of abilities now, to be sure. But they point to the direction that at least some computing in general is headed: a distributed collection of devices scattered across the network, storing data here, processing information there, and generally shuffling work around to balance performance, reliability, and flexibility.
That approach is well suited to an era when people reach their computing services with everything from their smartphone to a shared computer in a hotel lobby -- in short, the future.
But an adaptable grid of computing resources poses problems and complications, too. Security can become more of a concern with data stored all over, programmers must write software that works even when networks are sluggish or absent, and synchronizing operations and data is challenging.
Adobe builds its online services atop Amazon Web Services, Morris said. That service offers fast network connections, an ability to rapidly expand or shrink as computing demands change, and pay-as-you-go pricing that means Adobe doesn't have to invest in resources it doesn't immediately need.
It's not clear how far Adobe plans to go in this direction, but it's a significant departure from selling licenses to Photoshop or After Effects that run on a creative designer's PC. Adobe is moving away from that business approach, embodied by its Creative Suite software products, and moving toward its $50-per-month Creative Cloud subscription service.
Buying software is similar to buying a physical good, and designers can reasonably judge whether it's worth the price. A subscription, where the product stops working when the customer stops paying, requires a different sort of financial assessment.
Adobe's subscription numbers tick steadily upward quarter after quarter. There are 2.3 million Creative Cloud subscribers, according to figures Adobe released this week. However, the company triggered resentment last year when it decided to restrict old-style perpetual-license sales to its 2012-era Creative Suite 6 software.
It's possible some of this resentment could ease if customers felt they were getting more of a service Adobe delivered continuously than a product delivered once and occasionally updated. Online sync, backup, and processing delivers that more continuous service. It's probably not enough to mollify today's critics, but it could help give Adobe and its Creative Cloud a new image.