The top-of-the-line graphics and content-creation suite is moving with the times, and embracing all the myriad gadgets that are now displaying content
I’m sure Apple fans think that when the late Steve Jobs rebuffed Adobe by not allowing Flash software run on its new iPad, he forced Adobe to revamp its entire approach to multimedia, a revamp that is now visible in its Adobe Creative Suite 6 (CS6).
There’s some truth in that, but there’s more to it. Much more.
Apple’s iPad didn’t really change technology; what it did was refocus the online experience, as I wrote here in January (The iPad at 2 — its full impact is yet to be seen). On an individual level, I argued, the iPad provided an outlet for users who prefer to be consumers of content and entertainment or users of social media, and neither want nor need a computer to do this. And on a corporate level, the iPad offered content creators — magazine and book publishers, newspapers, Hollywood and TV producers — an app-based system that steers users to pay for the content they are viewing. This is not a perfect scenario (a number of people will have both), but their uses will break down the same way.
That’s just the way the online world is evolving. The high-tech revolution has been diverging into two different streams for a few years now — on-line entertainment on one hand and computer-intensive productivity tools on the other. Looked at this way, the refocusing of computer usage into two separate streams is natural, even inevitable. Apple’s real accomplishment was to make us face the new reality.
Adobe’s newest version of its content-creation system Creative Suite 6 has been placed at the crossroads of those two diverging paths. You can’t really create content for tablet or smartphone devices without processing it first on more traditional computers, which have the power that designers, artists, photographers, videographers, publishers and others in the content-creation business need to display their creations on a variety of handheld devices.
And CS6 has all the tools — a bewildering array of them, in fact — for that purpose. This suite includes programs for print publication such as Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, Web-creation tools Dreamweaver, Flash Professional and Fireworks, and film-production tools Premier Pro and After Effects. And Adobe has organized them into four different formulations — Creative Suite 6 Design & Web Premium; Creative Suite 6 Design Standard; Creative Suite 6 Production Premium; and Creative Suite 6 Master Collection. Pricing starts at $1,299 for CS6 Design Standard and moves up to $1,899 for CS6 Design and Web Premium or CS6 Design Standard, and $2,599 for CS6 Master Collection. (Upgrades for existing customers are less, and the prices for all are the same as in Canada. See Adobe’s prices.)
The high price for these tools is a clue to another shift Adobe has had to make. Most of its programs are at the top of their respective lines, with few serious competitors. But the prices are sure to put off a number of small operations, never mind home hobbyists who like to dress up family photos.
In recognition of this, today Adobe is launching the Creative Cloud, for creative people to rent the company’s software packages on a monthly basis (software as a service). Customers sign up, and for $49.99 a month they can download all the tools necessary to create and dress up content (this system is at first limited to Web content), and keep using them for as long as they need. Later this year, Adobe will release an edition called Team, aimed at businesses, which will allow for creative work in a collaborative environment at a cost of $70 per month per user for an annual commitment.
The Creative Cloud is also designed to store and sync devices to access work and collaborate anywhere. The monthly membership offers access to new features and upgrades as soon as they're released.
And yes, users will have to make a choice similar to looking for a place to live: buying your own home or renting one. Or perhaps going for one of the less-expensive but good alternatives, such as CorelDraw.
Adobe has also embraced the iPad as a tool for content creators with the release of Touch Apps. Though not part of CS6 and sold separately, Adobe’s Touch Apps are meant to be used on the iPad to design, edit, and present work, using either a stylus or fingertip the idea is to use gestures to seize the inspiration and sketch, make photo composites, moodboards and interactive wireframes. These will also allow designers to use their iPads to present files made by Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign without conversion.
Among the improvements to Adobe’s CS6 toolkit is the ability to handle HTML5, the core technology of the Internet, which has still not completed its development as the successor to HTML4, released in 1997, but is in considerable use already. The primary changes in HTML5 offer support for the latest developments in multimedia and the browsers that display them. (It was HTML5’s ability to handle video and animation that led to the banning of Flash from the iPad, which did pretty much the same thing but with Adobe’s software.)
Other general improvements include faster and more powerful tools that take better advantage of the new rendering engine, which Adobe calls Mercury Graphics. The new engine increases performance by shunting memory-intensive operations, such as video editing and the creation of video effects in Adobe’s After Effects, to cache memory, which relieves the pressure on the central and graphics processors. The result is that the whole process of content creation goes along much more quickly. Heavy use of cache memory is usually fraught with danger, resulting in crashes; but Adobe has thought of that too, and the engine now saves auto-recovery files at set intervals. This replaces the old system of saving work by hand, which means the system would be locked up until it finished saving high-resolution and multilayered files.
Each software package now includes the ability to ensure that websites and apps created with Adobe’s tools will look good on just about any handheld device’s screen.
And the company has also enhanced its interfaces to simplify users’ work, organizing the tools in a simpler layout for the video editing tools in Premiere Pro. Most noticeable is the new interface, which is darker and more neutral to set off the colour of the photos and videos.
Individually, the more prominent components of CS6 break down this way:
Adobe Systems (handout)
Adobe's Photoshop, the flagship program of its Creative Suite
The premier photo-editing package, Adobe Photoshop now has placed its camera RAW at the centre of the program, handling both the high-definition features of the RAW format as well as the traditional JPG format. Extra power has been given over to the adjustment brush and graduated filters, which can vary temperature and tint across an image.
CS6 has also elevated Photoshop’s ability to edit video, with more film-editing tools.
A revised crop tool automatically centres the image in real time, and overlays help with composition effects such as the golden spiral and the golden ratio. The tool can also hide pixels instead of deleting them during a crop, meaning the image can be cropped differently later.
There’s also an Adaptive Wide Angle feature to straighten the distortions that happen with wide-angle photos. This means Photoshop can read the lens angle metadata in your photo and then draws curves directly onto images, which it then straightens. This kind of feature makes magic that professionals gasp at.
A blur gallery introduces three new effects — a graduated Field Blur, an elliptical Iris Blur and a Tilt-Shift Blur — which until now have been usually offered by third-party plug-in makers. Most welcome is a filter called bokeh (the elliptical tool), which allows the user to isolate a character and put a blur on the surroundings, which is ideal for portraits, among other things.
A Content-Aware Fill, which was introduced in CS5, has been embellished; it grafts parts of the image to cover unwanted items, effectively removing former lovers, stray dogs or assorted strangers from the family album. A Patch Tool lets the user specify the source area for the graft. Content-Aware Move is a companion tool that transplants a selection from one area to another, blending the original and new positions.
The results of both these tools aren’t always perfectly magical, but they are a better start for the manual tweaking Photoshop previously demanded.
Most interesting is that Photoshop CS6 has new video-handling ability. It starts by opening the new Timeline tab and pressing the Create Video Timeline button. Each image layer is added to the timeline, and you can simply right-click on them to add typical motion and pan-and-zoom effects, and hit Play to view the results onscreen. You can also create cross-fade effects, set keyframes, add music, and final work can be saved in a range of formats, including AVI, FLV, MPEG, MP4, MOV and WMV.
One disappointment here is that Photoshop does not yet have a much-discussed and previewed tool that Adobe has been working on for some time: A tool that can correct a picture blurred by camera movement. It measures the distances between the different extremes that make up the blur, and unifies them, making the image sharper. We’ve seen this tool, or something pretty much like it, on TV (CSI), where a touch of a finger can make a license plate appear perfectly sharp. Alas, the feature isn’t ready for prime time.
Adobe Systems (handout)
Adone's vector-graphics program Illustrator
Adobe Illustrator is to vector graphics what Photoshop is to bit-mapped images, and the CS6 version has been redesigned to take full advantage of 64-bit operating systems. This allows the program to work on large and complex files more quickly and reliably. It also helps both Mac OS and Windows machines to improve the speed involved in opening, saving and exporting large files.
There is an overhauled tracing tool to turn bit-mapped images into vector art and an updated interface, with streamlined tasks, from inline editing of layer names to more accurate color sampling.
InDesign, originally made for laying out print productions, now includes “Adaptive Design Tools” that are focused on digital publishing, allowing parts of pages to link to other pages or websites. New “liquid page rules” allow interactive page layouts, such as pages that automatically shift from portrait to landscape on tablets.
Most important, InDesign will handle alternate page sizes for different devices, to allow a user to design pages for print, tablets and other screens.
Adobe Systems (handout)
Adobe's website-creation tool Dreamweaver
Once heralded as the easiest website creation tool out there, Dreamweaver has grown up a lot and now knows all about HTML5, which uses a “Fluid Grid Layout” designed for cross-platform compatibility for different devices — desktop, phone and tablet platforms — and permits users to review designs with “Multiscreen Preview” before publishing.
This kind of thing has forced Dreamweaver to move well beyond the website-starter level and create complex e-commerce sites without writing any code for the servers involved. FTP transfers to upload the pages to a server are faster,
Adobe Flash Professional
Adobe Systems (handout)
Adobe's animation tool, Flash Professional CS6
Despite Steve Jobs’ rebuff a couple of years ago, Adobe sees no reason to lose faith in Flash, for creating animation and multimedia content. After all, according to Adobe’s count, Flash has been installed on something like 98 per cent of the world’s desktops and devices, including tablets, smartphones and televisions.
Adobe Premiere Pro
Adobe Systems (handout)
Adobe's video-editing package, Premiere Pro CS6
The video-editing package now has a simpler user interface and includes a stabilizer to help fix shaky clips, and new controls to cut video files down to size. It has expanded its handling of multiple-camera editing and publishing to allow for multiple handheld screens.
Premiere has usually been overshadowed by competitors, such as Apple’s Final Cut Pro or Avid, and now Adobe obviously feels Premiere is ready to steal those users by offering resources that will help make the transition easier.
More specialized apps include:
A new component of Adobe’s Creative Suite package, SpeedGrade is a highly specialized professional-level color grading system incorporating the Lumetri Deep Colour Engine to the production workflow. This allows for more control over the look of every scene using floating-point precision, correct alignment and colorimetry and control depth placement. It even works with native RAW and HDR footage. SpeedGrade also offers tools for stereoscopic color correction.
Another professional-level tool is Adobe Prelude CS6, which streamlines production by creating searchable markers and other temporal metadata that flow through post-production and switch to nearly any file-based format.
Adobe Encore CS6 is a 64-bit software app to create DVDs, Blu-ray discs and Web DVDs all from a single interface. It can read Adobe Premiere Pro projects without rendering, and then uses flowcharts to define and view their navigation.
Though Steve Jobs’ rejection of Flash for the iPad was officially based on new features in HTML5, it was still a divisive decision for fans of both Apple and Adobe. But Adobe managed to have the last word — last year, Apple upset a number people when it drastically updated its own video-editing software, Final Cut Pro X. A number of Final Cut Pro users felt alienated, and that resulted in a small flood of new users of Adobe’s Premiere Pro.