An in-depth look at Adobe’s updated Creative Cloud

Software vendor refreshes its online offerings with new features and functionality.

This may be the last time that Adobe will be releasing new versions of its products all at once, according to Adobe digital media product marketing manager, Michael Stoddart. The observation comes as Adobe carries out its first major update to its Creative Cloud suite following the original launch in May 2012. Since Adobe’s products are now available from the Cloud, the software vendor plans to roll out incremental changes throughout the year instead of waiting for a full version upgrade to do so.

For this year’s update to the Creative Cloud, Stoddart said the focus will be more about synchronizing assets and settings than before. While free Cloud services such as Dropbox exist, the Creative Cloud comes with Adobe’s own online storage solution, which has the advantage of being able to recognized files created by the vendor’s software suite. Files from Photoshop, Illustrator and other programs can be viewed directly from the Cloud, with basic layer controls, commenting and change tracking available from a web browser. This functionality is not limited to Creative Cloud users, as Stoddart said that non-members, such as clients of a design studio, are able to view and edit the files online via the Creative Cloud.

In addition to web browser functionality, content stored on the Creative Cloud can also be accessed and edited via Adobe’s app for smartphones and tablets. Stoddart said the ability to synchronise assets opens up a “new workflow,” and while Adobe has integrated collaboration into its products in one form or another over the years, he said the Creative Cloud is where the collaboration process is “really built in.”

Gathering of artists

Community is a word that Stoddart uses a lot when describing the Creative Cloud, stating that the “days are gone where the expert keeps their expertise to themselves.” Instead, the more a user gives out to the design community, the more likely they are to get back, so the Creative Cloud enables users to put up a personal portfolio of work.

By joining the Creative Cloud, a user can publish their work to Behance, which Stoddart characterises as the “largest creative network on the Internet.” In addition to posting work to ask for feedback and help, the professional scope of the community allows clients to look up portfolios and offer work to artists. Stoddart said features such as this make the Creative Cloud “more than just the apps.”

A new addition is the Creative Cloud app plug-in for Mac and Windows, which consists of a dialogue box where users can quickly and easily find Adobe products to install, manage fonts and track files that are synchronised in the Creative Cloud. Fonts are managed through the TypeKit functionality, which Stoddart said has not been implemented yet but will be “coming soon.” The feature has been designed to overcome the complexity of finding and installing new fonts, with the user able to quickly browse potential fonts from the panel before installing and using them, both in Adobe applications and throughout the OS.

Behance can be accessed from the app as well, with the initial panel showcasing the latest artwork from members that the user follows. By following artists that inspire the user, Stoddart said the user can “look at other people’s work and see what excites them,” and in turn translate that inspiration into new ideas.

Instead of merely being an online repository for applications and content, Stoddart said the aim with the Creative Cloud was to “make a world that is social, connected and dynamic,” as well as one where work can be published and be seen. “The Creative Cloud is everything you need in one place,” he said. “We don’t make clients creative, but we can simplify the process for them.”

Mobile connected

Recognising that users do not always sit behind a desk and look outside of the office for inspiration, Adobe has introduced its Kuler app for smartphone, which samples colours from the environment using the smartphone’s camera. Another smartphone related functionality is the inclusion of QR code generation in products such as InDesign, enabling the user to quickly generate and paste the code into a work.

The DPS app builder lets the user easily turn an InDesign project into a smartphone/tablet app, complete with interactivity, hyperlinks and other features. The app builder is Cloud based, so the InDesign file is sent to Adobe’s servers where it is converted in a smartphone file, such as an IPA for iPhone, before being delivered to the user a few minutes later. The process supports both Android and iPhone, and the resulting files can be submitted to the respective app stores. Stoddart expects this type of functionality to “become as ubiquitous as desktop publishing” in the near future.

New additions and features

The biggest addition to Photoshop this time around is Shake Reduction for photos, which contains a new algorithm that smooths out blurry photos. Stoddart said this is the only new feature for now, but more features will be coming to Photoshop over the coming months now that the vendor is no longer planning to release regular product refreshes. A small yet significant addition has been made to the upscaling function in Photoshop, where instead of using the bicubic smoother the user can use the “preserve detail” option and then adjust the result with the “reduce noise” slider. Stoddart cites this as an example of features in past versions of Adobe’s products “getting constantly refined.”

Muse for web design makes use of Adobe’s prior acquisition of Business Catalyst, which enables a Creative Cloud user to host up to five web sites. This functionality is aimed at users that want to display web sites for clients, both via web browser and smartphone, enabling clients to make changes to the project online without needing to contact the designer directly about alterations.

Illustrator has been updated for better functionality, enabling layers to be seen and adjusted online and on smartphone just as in Photoshop, as well as with commenting from users. “Illustrator has been seen as hard to use for many years, but we’re making it easier and approachable to users,” Stoddart said. The new version of Illustrator allows users to make bitmaps on a path, so they can take an image and convert it into a pattern brush.

Up until now designers would have to create corners in patterns, but Illustrator now automatically creates corners as the brush folds along the line. Another small yet requested addition is the inclusion of rounded rectangles, and the resulting shape can also be copied as CSS into a web site. Products such as Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator are now also 64 bit, meaning that more than 3gb of RAM can be used for the program for improved performance.

Options and pricing

The Creative Cloud comes in several flavours aimed at individuals, teams (which includes more storage, expert support, virtual workgroups, centralised admin and billing), and enterprises. Packages such as CS6 Design Standard comes with Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Bridge, Acrobat, and Media Encoder, and other packages comes with a different mix of products aimed at different types of users.

With this edition of the Creative Cloud, the number of products available to users comes to 40, and Adobe has updated the product icons with a periodic table design to separate this generation of applications from the last. As before, all applications from the Creative Cloud are installed and run on the desktop, so the products are not SaaS based and users are not required to be connected to the Internet to use them. “Upgrades are included, but upgrade what you want, when you want, as it’s a voluntary process,” Stoddart said.

The user also retain ownership of their creative work and files, with synching to the Creative Cloud being optional and controlled by the user, and files can be shared with colleagues or clients who are not members. The Creative Cloud uses Amazon Web Services for its backend, with the datacentre based in Singapore and files not synching outside the APAC region.

Creative Cloud access will retail for $49.99, the team version for $69.99 and point products for $19.00. If upgrading from CS6, the Creative Cloud is $19.99 and point products for $9.99. Adobe will continue to offer a free 30 day trial for users to get started.

Patrick Budmar covers consumer and enterprise technology breaking news for IDG Communications. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @patrick_budmar.