Adobe System's Spring Software Tsunami
When Creative Suite 6 ships, sometime within the next few months, Adobe is hoping you'll purchase a subscription to its Creative Cloud, which is a central component of the release. Let me restate that: Adobe is really, REALLY hoping you'll pop for a subscription. And when you look closely at this cloud-based "creative hub," as Adobe calls it, it's not hard to see why, since it solves a lot of problems for the firm.
Perhaps most importantly, it puts a stake in the heart of Adobe's upgrade dilemma. Until CS5, engineers beavered away for years between releases, at which point Adobe would unleash a marketing blitz to convince its users to upgrade. Many did but more than a few upgraded only every second release. This included yours truly, who maintains Graphics.com on a daily basis with CS4 Design Premium. I started with CS, then went on to CS2 followed by CS4 but passed on 5 and 5.5. Adobe is not crazy about customers like me, since we further fragilize a revenue stream based on long release cycles, as well as being a pesky tech support burden. Adobe's solution was to offer a subscription model in 2011, as well as point releases every year, beginning with 5.5. My sense is that response to both these initiatives was less than overwhelming, thanks to the new features in the 5.5 apps not being that compelling and the subscriptions not adding any value to the classic buy-and-own approach.
But with CS6 and Creative Cloud, laggards like myself will find themselves on the endangered species list. Sure, I'll be able to upgrade my Suite to CS6, via an offer that's available until the end of this year. I applaud Adobe for recently reversing its draconian upgrade policy of last November, which would have provided upgrades only from 5 or 5.5. But I'm not expecting the CS7 Suite to be available as a downloadable or boxed product. Perhaps even 6.5 will be available only by subscription. Because the advantages of the subscription model to Adobe are just too compelling.
Ask any utility company, cell phone service, bank or landlord: you can't beat monthly income. For a software company this is a dream come true with many benefits, such as the elimination of piracy. But without the Creative Cloud, such an approach wouldn't be feasible, since there needs to be a lot of perceived benefit for users to turn their backs on something they own and embrace a rented product that disappears when they stop paying for it. Pricing isn't finalized at this point, with Adobe saying only that memberships will start at $49.99 a month (why not just make it $50?) for a one-year subscription. Will it be worth it? Not for those using just one or two apps but the Creative Cloud offer should prove tempting for heavy Suite users. Just what will membership, as Adobe prefers to call it, get you?
First off, nothing less than the latest versions of all the Creative Suite desktop tools. That's right, all of them, as well as other applications, such as Lightroom, Edge and Muse. Just to be clear, you download, install and run these locally, like you do now, it's just that these are all included in a Creative Cloud membership. Then there's all the Adobe Touch tablet apps, including Photoshop Touch. But wait, as they say, there's more. Services include device and computer syncing of your creative files, cloud storage, Adobe Business Catalyst for creating and hosting sites, the very nifty Adobe Typekit for serving webfonts, and even Adobe Digital Publishing Suite, Single Edition, for creating iPad apps. That's quite a pile.
Of course, questions remain. One of my first thoughts was how many computers a membership was good for — this will be a non-starter if I can't continue to run my applications on both my desktop and laptop. And what will cloud storage cost beyond the free 20 GB, which will be chewed up pretty quickly? But for 50 bucks a month, I have to admit that at this point Adobe has my attention. So when its PR firm recently contacted me with the offer to play with all the Touch apps on a Samsung tablet running Android 3.1, there wasn't much chance I'd decline.
The Touch line currently includes Collage, Debut, Ideas, Kuler, Proto and Photoshop. I spent some time with all of them but my main interest was in Photoshop, given that I've been using the desktop version since version 3. I have to admit that I was prepared to be dismissive, given the horsepower of the Samsung tablet and the idea of using my finger to perform actions I was so used to making with a keyboard and mouse. However, Adobe has clearly given the interface of Photoshop Touch a lot of thought, with the result that it's not only aesthetically pleasing but quite responsive. Little touches make all the difference, such as tool names being only visible when you touch them to save screen space, and an offset pointer option that makes it a little easier to work with some precision, if you don't have a stylus. So yes, I had fun messing about with the Touch's stripped-down implementation of layers, selection tools, filters and effects. Speaking of selections, I was surprised to encounter Scribble Selection, which seems to have been lifted verbatim from the selection technique used by many AKVIS plugins, such as Coloriage.
I was able to make use of the Creative Cloud to exchange files with my desktop, albeit in a limited way. Perhaps because I'm using the CS4 version of the Creative Suite, I hadn't known that the Creative Cloud was in beta at this point and available to anyone with an Adobe ID, which is itself free for the asking. Whether this will remain the case after CS6 ships is hard to say, since the Creative Cloud pages on Adobe's site say that "Customers will have access to a free membership to explore certain features of Creative Cloud." The key words there are "customers," "explore" and "certain features." It would make sense to assume that at least those purchasing any of the Touch apps would have a free base level of Creative Cloud functionality, such as the 20 GB of storage currently provided by the beta.
I was able to upload a PSD file from my desktop to the Creative Cloud and open it in Photoshop Touch. But here's where the limitations kick in, beginning with a 1600x1600 image size limit. Larger images are simply resized down, with a noticeable loss in image quality. It gets worse, since layers in the PSD file are also flattened when opened. It wasn't any more fun going in the other direction, since Touch saves files in PSDX file format, which unfortunately requires Photoshop CS5 or later plus a free plugin to open. The alternative is to save as JPEG. Ugh. Clearly Adobe could have made it possible to open Touch files in earlier versions but it chose not to. A good guess would be that this was because the main role of all the Touch apps is to add value to the upcoming Creative Cloud membership plan, since they are designed to work with the latest versions of the desktop applications. Photoshop Touch itself is still at version 1.0.0, two months after it shipped. No doubt the next version will show up when Creative Clould becomes available.
Which brings me to the question of who will use Photoshop Touch. On Adobe's site the firm says that Photoshop Touch "lets you quickly combine images, apply professional effects, share the results with friends and family through social networking sites." Well, that's all good fun but what about using it as part of a professional workflow? So here's how I see it. Adobe is hoping that Photoshop Touch will be a hit with consumer users, as this text indicates. That could happen, since Photoshop Express, despite all its shortcomings, has been heavily downloaded. But of course that's free and Photoshop Touch is $9.99. If it is a hit, Adobe can also make money from Creative Cloud storage fees and other services. Photoshop Touch sales in the Android Market have declined in the last 30 days, its Facebook page is moribund and the discussion forum on Adobe's site is also pretty quiet, so it's not clear what its fate will be as an isolated purchase, whether for consumers or pros, although availability for iOS will give it a boost.
If you have Photoshop 5 or 5.5 I say what the heck, for 10 bucks why not give its Touch cousin a spin? You might find it handy for visual brainstorming, simple comping or perhaps tweaking web-resolution images. But it will really make more sense — as will all the Touch apps — when it has more functionality and can take advantage of the upcoming Creative Cloud and CS6 applications. To close on a positive note, only Adobe could have released an entire suite of tablet apps for the creative community and it should be applauded for doing so. In fact I'm counting on Adobe to make Creative Cloud so compelling that I won't have to think twice about joining when it becomes available. Adobe, don't let me down!
What do you think: will you be the first in line for a Creative Cloud membership?