Category Archives: Graphic Design

REVIEW: Adobe Acrobat XI

Adobe is promoting Acrobat XI as a productivity enhancer for a variety of markets:

  • Increased editability and cloud service integration for business professionals
  • Integration with Microsoft Office and SharePoint, and increased efficiency for IT departments
  • Much easier text and image editability for content creators and designers
  • Security measures and PDF protection is now easier to apply, for data security personnel

One new feature in Acrobat XI is a complete sea change from previous versions and something I personally would never have expected to see—full PDF editability. From the reviewer’s guide: “Professionals frequently need to edit content from existing PDF files without wasting precious time locating and revising source files.” This is very true. As a designer, I’ve asked for native files a hundred times from clients who delivered PDF files and then needed changes (and didn’t want to pay the original designer). There have always been tools to make PDF edits and Acrobat has had ways to revise certain elements such as images, but the PDF format has never been conducive to editing. That has changed in Acrobat XI.

Edit Image

Edit Text

This new editability is handled by the new Edit Text and Images tool. When it’s active, text and image elements can be scaled, rotated and edited. Text will usually reflow during editing, which cures a major pain point for designers editing PDFs. Images can still be sent to Photoshop or Illustrator and back again. And you can execute find/replace commands to make text changes across an entire PDF. Acrobat XI’s new editing tools are an improvement but I see some problems with it:

  • PDF pages are treated as individual documents, so changes on one page will not cause text to reflow across pages. In fact, if you add enough text to a block on the bottom of a page, it will flow beneath the next page.
  • Acrobat XI segments a PDF into text and image blocks during editing. Each one will reflow but they are not aware of each other, and this causes problems. For example, each bullet and item in a bulleted list is its own text block, and editing one will not cause layout changes for the other items. Paragraphs are separate text blocks and will not move up or down due to text changes around them.
  • For some reason, I have also seen single paragraphs and captions composed of multiple text blocks. Editing these would be tedious.
  • As with any document, missing fonts will be replaced with a default font. It looks like images are embedded, so they don’t need to be linked with native files.

I think Edit Text & Images is a decent improvement but it doesn’t replace native files. You can edit pretty much anything in a PDF with Acrobat XI, but it is not easy unless revisions are small. It’s great for typos, but major edits causing page reflow would be a nightmare to deal with strictly in Acrobat XI.

Moving files with drag-and-drop merge

Drag-and-drop merge is another major feature in Acrobat XI. Recent versions of Acrobat have provided ways to build large PDFs (PDF Portfolio comes to mind) and the “Combine Files in a Single PDF” command is buried in the File > Create menu and in other places including the Welcome dialog box. Acrobat has a lot of features nowadays and this one can be hard to find. When you do invoke the command, a dialog box is provided to add, reorder and remove files.

PowerPoint Export

Corporate users will appreciate Acrobat XI’s new Export to Microsoft PowerPoint feature. Entire PDFs or text selections can be exported as PowerPoint documents, and Acrobat XI does a great job preserving formatting and document structure (including master layouts). I see fewer PowerPoint presentations nowadays—Apple’s Keynote actually shows up quite a bit in my work—but PowerPoint is still the industry standard in corporate environments. Along with PowerPoint, PDFs can also be exported in Word, Excel or HTML file formats. I can’t think of any export formats missing now in Acrobat except for Keynote, although Acrobat can export a PPTX file that Keynote can work with.

Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint now also integrate Acrobat XI’s enhancements in PDF security. Protect PDF is an option available when saving PDFs that will basically restrict copying, editing and printing. These restrictions are themselves not new but Acrobat XI makes it easier and faster to deploy these options. Along with Protect PDF, Restrict Editing in the Protection menu quickly password-protects PDFs from editing. This happens to be the restriction I apply the most, and it is an easy thing to do now. My only complaint—and it’s one that has been around for many versions of Acrobat—is that I have to apply the security to a copy of the PDF, not the same one I’m working on.

FormsCentral integration

This is the first version of Acrobat that really integrates with the Acrobat.com online applications and leverages those services. Acrobat XI ships with a desktop app for FormsCentral, the online form builder and response analytics service. FormsCentral is quite useful and I have used it for more than one project; it makes building robust forms easier and presents complete analytics. The Forms > Create menu item launches the FormsCentral desktop app, a portal to the online app, and from there you can command all FormsCentral features. One of the benefits of working with an online app is you can manage forms and analytics even if you’re away from Acrobat XI.

EchoSign integration

Another online application that Acrobat XI integrates with is EchoSign, the digital signature service. Acrobat has relied on digital signatures in PDF forms for years, and EchoSign provides another layer of features including online distribution and tracking, delivery confirmation with Adobe Certified Document Services, and hand-signed electronic signatures applied via touchscreen devices. Over the years, Acrobat’s electronic signature features have not changed much and I have found them to be confusing. EchoSign helps relieve the confusion, but what really clarifies things is the Place Signature option in the Sign panel. The Place Signature dialog box provides four options for electronically signing a document and it’s pretty easy to use. EchoSign’s real benefits come with document distribution.

One more feature that I think is really useful: Custom tool sets. Acrobat XI is a quite mature app and it has grown a long list of tools and toolbars. It has been particular long since the sidebar tool panel was released a couple versions back. There are almost too many tools, and definitely too many toolbars to be useful at once. Custom toolbars allow users to remove, add or move tools around in existing tool sets or create new tool sets. Tool sets are included on top of the sidebar panel. I don’t know how useful this is in the creative professional market: Adobe creative products have used task-specific workspaces for years now, but customizing tool panels have typically not done well. In this case, Acrobat XI might have a good use for custom tool sets in the corporate market, where there’s time, resources and motivation to build custom tool sets for department tasks. Another use for this could be in prepress and print production, where users work with PDFs regularly but have no need for Acrobat’s collaboration and commenting tool panels.

Acrobat XI provides several new features that really stand out, and it’s part of the Creative Cloud so it’s available to many users without extra cost. The standalone product costs US$449/$199 full/upgrade. FormsCentral and EchoSign are both services with monthly costs—both are just under $15 per month.

Acrobat XI
Adobe Systems
US$449/$199 upgrade
Rating: 8/10

Global Publishing Platform Blurb Expands High-Quality Print Options to Include Magazines and Brochures

The online publishing platform Blurb has expanded their digital publishing products to include magazines and brochures. Online publishing has greatly changed the publishing industry—I think it’s the greatest industry change since desktop publishing in the 1980s and 1990s—and Blurb’s new brochure product in particular turns the entire printing process on its head. Who would have thought you could have a print run of one ten years ago?

I might be able to arrange an interview with CEO Eileen Gittins in the near future, but until then here is the press release with links to Blurb’s magazine and brochure pages.


PRESS RELEASE

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Blurb, the global creative publishing platform, today released two additions to its on-demand print products—Magazines and Brochures. These new products, available via an Adobe® InDesign® plug-in, combine print-on-demand flexibility with quality and design capabilities to meet the individual needs of consumers and businesses, regardless of how big or small the job.

Until now, those looking to create high-quality product catalogs, promotional collateral, look books, brand presentations and brochures in small quantities were limited by minimum order requirements, resulting in high, unattainable costs. Blurb’s new on-demand offering allows consumers and businesses to print low-volume orders in one week, which can be easily updated and reprinted. This results in lower development costs, no inventory management or storage costs, and much less waste.

“Creating a distinctive print marketing piece used to mean printing thousands of copies and weeks to turnaround,” said Eileen Gittins, Blurb’s CEO and founder. “With our new brochure offering, the minimum order is one copy, the turnaround time is a few days and multiple options are available for cover finishes. Our new magazine offering is perfect for the short, ‘bursty’ way that people create and consume content today. Who doesn’t want to see their work published in a magazine?”

High-Quality Printing Meets Ease of Design

Blurb Magazines and Brochures, both of which are made using Blurb’s platform and its plug-in for Adobe® InDesign®, let anyone create customized publications that push the creative edge. Both products are printed on HP Indigo presses – the industry’s leading printer for on-demand publishing.

Blurb Magazines are affordable, lighter-weight, perfect-bound, 20- to 240- page publications ideal for creative and editorial content. Blurb Brochures, perfect for creating customized business collateral, range from 4 to 48 pages and offer saddle-stitched binding and a selection of cover finishes. Both Magazines and Brochures are U.S. industry standard 8.5 x 11-inch formats.

Customers can easily convert their Blurb Magazines or Brochures to digital versions as ebooks for the iPad® or as PDFs for easy sharing and dissemination. No minimum orders are required to create Blurb Magazines or Brochures, but customers creating publications in bulk can take advantage of Blurb’s volume orders discounts.

“With both of these new products, we are leveling the playing field; now individuals and businesses can look as impressive as their much larger competitors,” Gittins said.

Like Blurb on Facebook, and follow on Twitter. For more information on how you can get started creating your own Blurb magazine or brochure booklet, please visit http://www.blurb.com/.

About Blurb®

Blurb® is a creative publishing platform that unleashes the creative genius inside everyone. Blurb’s platform makes it easy to design, publish, market and sell professional-quality print books, magazines and ebooks. Blurb’s bookstore and online marketing tools enable customers to sell their work, and keep 100% of their profit for print books and 80% of their sales price for ebooks. Blurb’s social and community features allow customers to create and share Blurb books across social channels with ease.

Blurb was founded by Eileen Gittins in 2005, and includes a team of design, Internet and media veterans who share a passion for helping people bring their stories to life. In 2010, Blurb shipped over 1.4 million books to 69 countries. In 2010, Blurb was ranked the fastest growing media company on the Inc. 500. Blurb is based in San Francisco with offices in London.

Adobe Launches eLearning Suite 6, Presenter 8

Adobe has released the newest version of the eLearning Suite of products. eLearning Suite 6 includes Adobe Captivate 6, Adobe Presenter 8 and the CS6 versions of Flash Professional, Dreamweaver, Photoshop Extended and Acrobat X Pro. More details can be found in the press release below.


Adobe Launches eLearning Suite 6, Presenter 8
Industry-Leading Authoring Suite Introduces HTML5-Based mLearning Support, Presenter Compatible with Microsoft® PowerPoint

SAN JOSE, Calif. –July 18, 2012 – Adobe Systems Incorporated (Nasdaq:ADBE) today announced the immediate availability of Adobe eLearning Suite 6, the company’s tightly integrated toolbox for rapidly creating professional-grade eLearning and HTML5-based mLearning content. The suite enables eLearning professionals, educators and trainers to create immersive, interactive eLearning courses complete with simulations, product demos, digital imaging, rich animations and audio production. Anchored by Adobe® Captivate 6 and the new Adobe Presenter 8, Adobe eLearning Suite 6 includes several industry-leading titles including Adobe Flash® Professional CS6, Adobe Dreamweaver® CS6, Adobe Photoshop® CS6 Extended, and Adobe Acrobat® X Pro.

“Today’s eLearning professionals, educators and trainers are dealing with a growing mobile population, platform fragmentation and the need to communicate through video.” said Naresh Gupta, senior vice president, Print and Publishing at Adobe. “As a result, efficiency in mobile authoring and delivery, and ease in video creation are among the top considerations when they select an authoring solution. Adobe eLearning Suite 6 delivers on both.”

Adobe eLearning Suite 6 enhances productivity with robust roundtripping workflows between Adobe Captivate and Adobe Audition® CS6, Adobe Flash Professional CS6, Adobe Photoshop Extended CS6 and Acrobat X Pro. For example, users can open Adobe Captivate files in Adobe Audition CS6 to quickly adjust speech pitch and alignment or Adobe Photoshop Extended CS6 to retouch images and create 3D graphics. Prebuilt native extensions with Adobe Flash Professional CS6 enable users to generate sprite sheets and more. With Acrobat X Pro users can embed Adobe Captivate movies into PDF documents and PDF portfolios, bringing text-based learning materials to life, and make the finished project accessible via Adobe Reader®.

Adobe Presenter 8

The new Adobe Presenter 8 empowers business professionals, trainers and educators to create video presentations right from the desktop, without the need for specialized equipment or training. With Adobe Presenter 8, users can streamline projects and lower costs of producing and editing videos with a single desktop solution. In addition, they are able to simultaneously capture slide presentations, webcam video and audio and dynamically mix components without a separate video editor. The intuitive interface makes it easy to edit and trim video, pan and zoom, adjust brightness and sharpness levels and enhance audio quality by reducing background noise. A host of video add-ons, including the ability to highlight select portions of a screen, insert annotations and apply text overlays, makes it easy to polish a presentation while the “Adobe Presenter to YouTube” feature allows users to publish a completed project with one click.

Adobe Captivate 6

Adobe Captivate 6 enhancements improve mobile access and boost learner engagement while ensuring effortless publishing to leading SCORM- and AICC-compliant Learning Management Systems (LMSs) such as Moodle, Blackboard, Plateau, Saba and SumTotal. It introduces the ability to publish content as both SWF and HTML5, enabling learners to begin a course on their desktop, pause and later resume on a mobile device, including iOS and Android™ based tablets and smartphones. Users can also quickly create and edit HD-quality demos within the new “capture-as-a-video” workflow, insert videos in a picture-in-picture format and publish projects to YouTube – all within the same UI. A full library of out-of-the-box assets, improved Microsoft PowerPoint integration and enhanced quizzing capabilities complete the top new features in Adobe Captivate 6. For more information, refer to the Adobe Captivate 6 announcement and product page.

Pricing and Availability

Adobe eLearning Suite 6 is immediately available through Adobe authorized resellers and the Adobe Store for an estimated street price of US$1,799. Users of eLearning Suite 2 and 2.5 can upgrade at a discounted price of US$599. Upgrade pricing from Adobe Captivate 5.5, 5 or 4 to Adobe eLearning Suite 6 is US$1,199. Qualified education users can purchase eLearning Suite 6 for US$599. For a complimentary trial, visit www.adobe.com/go/try.

Adobe Presenter 8 is also immediately available as a standalone product for an estimated street price of US$499, with US$299 US$199 education and upgrade pricing from Adobe Presenter 7. For a free trial, visit www.adobe.com/go/try.

About Adobe Systems Incorporated

Adobe is changing the world through digital experiences. For more information, visit www.adobe.com.

Adobe Releases Creative Suite 6 and Creative Cloud

Adobe announced today the release of Creative Suite 6 (CS6) and the Adobe Creative Cloud, representing the latest in the company’s lineup of applications for creative professionals. They will be available for purchase in May.

Both products had been previously announced—Creative Cloud was first announced back in October at Adobe MAX—and there are many official and unofficial “sneak peek” videos online of new CS6 features. Some applications have also been available as public betas, including Photoshop CS6 (1 million downloads as of this writing), Edge and Muse (over 1 million downloads each). Despite this early exposure, the creative community seems more excited over this release than some previous Creative Suite releases and the response to the public betas have been very positive. The Photoshop CS6 beta has been downloaded more than any in Adobe’s history.

The Creative Cloud structure

Adobe Creative Cloud is a response by Adobe to the changing nature of software and online services. It’s become clear that large version releases every 18 to 24 months is an anachronism compared to bug fixes pushed over the Internet or online apps handled by many hands across Github. Most of the CS6 products are the same familiar ones we’ve used for years, but Creative Cloud provides a new pricing model, online services and a new activation/updating system.

Adobe Creative Cloud includes:

Lightroom 4 and the Digital Publishing Suite will not be included until the summer. Adobe Touch applications for iOS are planned for release before the summer, particularly Photoshop Touch which my source says will be available in May.

Adobe Creative Cloud is not dependent on an Internet connection; software is downloaded to the user’s computer and can run without a connection. The installed software does check Adobe’s servers once a month to ensure a valid Creative Cloud license exists for the user based on his/her Adobe ID. Software updates can be pushed directly to the user’s computer and content will be available on all devices through Creative Cloud synchronization.

Purchasing software through a Creative Cloud subscription has some advantages. Typically, a Creative Suite customer gets a boxed product that can be installed on two machines—typically a desktop and laptop computer—but the box contains either Mac or Windows versions. Creative Cloud users are still restricted to two machines but one can be a Mac and the other Windows. This is a sweet deal for Mac users who happen to use a PC laptop.

There is also a free subscription available for prospective Creative Cloud customers. The free subscription includes 2GB of cloud storage for projects and trials of all available software. Note that if you buy into Creative Cloud and then cancel at some point, the software will stop working (after it pings the server) but your cloud storage space remains for several months.

Creative Cloud Pricing

Adobe Creative Cloud costs $49.99 per month annually or $74.99 per month, paid monthly. There’s also an introductory rate of $29.99 per month for users of CS3, CS4, CS5 or CS5.5. A version of Creative Cloud optimized for teams will cost $69.99 per person per month. This team-optimized product will include expert services and support, company IT tools and workstation synchronization, but it’s buried deep in Adobe’s development timeline and a fall release would not surprise me.

What if I don’t want Creative Cloud?

Adobe expects many users to create on tablets and mobile devices first, then polish their creations with CS6 and eventually “publish anywhere” with software like Edge—which converts animations to HTML5—and services like Business Catalyst. I reviewed the Adobe Touch apps and I thought they were not robust enough as a whole to bring more than a kernel of a final product back to the desktop, so I’m glad to see a typical Creative Suite workflow—without most of the Creative Cloud-specific features—is still possible.

CS6 icons

There are four Creative Suite 6 suites:

  • Design Standard includes:
    • Acrobat X Pro
    • InDesign CS6
    • Illustrator CS6
    • Photoshop CS6
  • Design Premium and Web Premium have been combined into one suite that includes:
    • All Design Standard products
    • Dreamweaver CS6
    • Fireworks CS6
    • Flash Professional CS6
    • Photoshop CS6 Extended replaces Photoshop CS6
  • Production Premium includes:
    • After Effects CS6
    • Audition CS6
    • Illustrator CS6
    • Photoshop CS6 Extended
    • Premiere Pro CS6
    • Encore CS6
    • Prelude CS6 (new)
    • SpeedGrade CS6 (new)
  • Master Collection includes all CS6 applications.

Adobe Edge, Muse and Lightroom 4 are not CS6 applications and aren’t available in any CS6 suite, though they are included in Creative Cloud.

Prices are:

  • CS6 Design Standard: $1,299 full, $299 upgrade
  • CS6 Design & Web Premium: $1,899 full, $399 upgrade
  • CS6 Production Premium: $1,899 full, $399 upgrade
  • CS6 Master Collection: $2,599 full, $549 upgrade

Flash Builder 4.6 and Acrobat X will not see an update, but Creative Cloud users will get their updates automatically when they are available. CS5.5 single-product subscribers will be able to continue their subscriptions at $19.99 per month per product, and they will also score 10GB of Creative Cloud space. However, CS5.5 suite subscribers will need to transition to Creative Cloud.

What’s in Creative Suite 6?

A lot of readers will really just want to know what’s in the newest versions of the Creative Suite products. There are two new CS6 applications, both in the video category:

  • SpeedGrade CS6, for color grading and color-correcting video
  • Prelude CS6, for adding metadata to clips on import and handling shoot data

There are a huge number of new features for CS6, particularly for some of the flagship products like Photoshop. I think this is why so many public beta users are getting excited for the launch. I am using a few prerelease betas of CS6 software but I prefer to work with the shipping product before I write a review, so those will be forthcoming.

Conclusion

Adobe is naturally excited about the CS6 and Creative Cloud launch, which Scott Morris—Senior Marketing Director for Creative Pros—said might be the most important launch in Adobe’s history. The Creative Cloud product is what makes it so important—it’s a rethinking of the way Adobe delivers products, and it’s the first single product that puts the entire creative workflow in the user’s hands.

REVIEW: Adobe Digital Publishing Suite

The Overlay Creator

The Overlay Creator panel is the DPS component that InDesign designers will spend most of their time in. The Overlay Creator panel, a plugin that works with InDesign CS5 and later, is the interface for adding multimedia and interaction to InDesign files for inclusion in digital publications. You can add a variety of interactive features to InDesign documents, not all of which are new to InDesign:

  • Image Sequences display multiple images, which has a variety of applications including time-lapse sequences, animated clips and 360-degree views. Image Sequences can auto-play or respond to user “scrubbing.”
  • Audio & Video insert audio and video assets into InDesign documents. Thanks to the multimedia features that have been added to InDesign in the past few years, adding audio and video is easy to do and the media controls generated by InDesign are good.
  • Hyperlink overlays will add links to your digital publications that link to online content, articles within the publication and more. Quick tip: Apple provides a method to write hyperlinks that send SMS text messages. Apple has a URL Scheme Reference that explains how to build these links.
  • Like the Image Sequence, the Slideshow overlay displays a slideshow in digital publications. Think of Slideshow as a traditional slideshow, incorporating InDesign elements including text and graphics, while Image Sequence is more of a “flip book” slideshow format with only images.
  • Pan & Zoom is one of my favorites, allowing users to pinch and expand images in digital publications. The designer has to think ahead when using Pan & Zoom and insert large images in their graphic frames. These can be scaled down to the desired default view, but the digital publication will retain the full-resolution image so it can be blown up when the user enlarges it. The DPS does not enlarge images on its own.
  • Panorama will combine multiple images into a panorama. This can be tricky because the user needs to load six photographs into InDesign with the right angle and order so it can be stitched together automatically. There are also some esoteric settings in the Overlay Creator including field of view and limit vertical pan. Reading through the instructions and a little playing around with the controls will help users grasp the Panorama overlay, and there are tutorials online for shooting images to be stitched into panoramas.
  • Web Content, which used to be called “Web View,” will embed online webpages or an HTML file within digital publications. It’s really surprising and very cool to see a webpage loaded in an InDesign publication, but it works and users can even interact with the webpage. The process is actually fairly easy to implement.

Creating interactivity with the Overlay Creator does a good job of condensing extensive interaction into a panel with a few settings, but I think Adobe’s development team can make the process more intuitive, particularly with bringing multimedia onto the page. The current InDesign has a lot of panels to sift through and the Overlay Creator adds quite a bit more chrome to the package. Keeping track of all the user interface elements involved with Overlay Creator was my biggest challenge, not bugs or a lack of interactive features.

The Folio Builder

The other component of DPS that resides in InDesign is the Folio Builder panel, where users combine articles into .folio files for publication and also finalize the document’s orientation. Working with articles and folios can be a mundane task but this part of the process is where designers can see their work on a tablet for the first time through the Content Viewer, an Adobe app available on the desktop or on the Apple App Store, Android Market, BlackBerry App World and for webOS.

Articles can be pulled from multiple documents, so you can build a horizontal and vertical version of a publication and combine it into one app in the Folio Builder. Creating two versions of a publication is not ideal, but it’s necessary if you want a publication that changes orientation properly. Adobe seems to be at least on the right track in creating “liquid layouts” in InDesign that will re-orient themselves depending on the orientation, which would be a wonderful new feature. Here’s a demo of the technology at Adobe MAX.

Adding articles and pushing folios up to the Content Viewer is most of what the Folio Builder does, but there are also some sharing features which I think is very important in a production environment. The Folio Builder panel’s menu has a Share option which will let users share a publication with other users who have an Adobe ID. You can also append a subject and message to the share notice. This is very useful but I would also like an interface in the DPS website where you can set up groups of multiple users so you can grant rights and share folios with groups of people at once. This is what I do when developing Facebook applications. Even though you can share to multiple individuals at once in Folio Builder, groups and shared rights make collaboration easier.

REVIEW: Adobe’s Touch Apps for Android

Last month, Adobe released its line of Adobe Touch Apps for Android tablets. Adobe has been testing the mobile and tablet software markets for some time now, first with Adobe Ideas for iOS and Photoshop Express, then the Photoshop SDK and the three Photoshop-related touch apps for iPad, then with Adobe Carousel which also runs currently on iOS, and now with six apps for creative professionals on Android tablets:

  • Adobe Collage, where users can build mood boards with images, text and graphics,
  • Adobe Debut, suitable for presenting graphics and concepts to audiences,
  • Adobe Ideas, a vector application suitable for creating and marking up images,
  • Adobe Kuler, which provides an interface for picking and refining color schemes,
  • Adobe Proto, where layouts for websites can be constructed, and
  • Adobe Photoshop Touch, a tablet-based version of Adobe Photoshop.

I’ve worked with all six and I think the suite of apps are a mixed bag: some really stand out for their usefulness and ability to leverage many tools available in the Android SDK, while others are not as helpful and robust. I can’t tell whether some of the apps are hamstrung by limitations in the APIs or were designed by Adobe to focus on a very specific set of features.

The crown jewel: Photoshop Touch

PS Touch image

Photoshop Touch is probably the Adobe Touch app being promoted the most, and it got a lot of love at the Adobe MAX developer conference in October. Many Photoshop users—including myself—have been wanting “Photoshop on a tablet,” and I think Adobe delivered. Photoshop Touch has a lot of Photoshop’s tools, effects and adjustments, including some I wasn’t expecting (such as Warp). There are a few Photoshop tools that aren’t present, including some animation tools such as the Animation panel. But Photoshop Touch stands out as the most feature-rich and robust of all Adobe’s Touch apps.

I also think Photoshop Touch has the most robust user interface, and incorporates a helpful menu bar at the top of the screen. All the Adobe Touch Apps have a top menu but most only show a few icons and don’t have submenus. Photoshop Touch needs an extensive UI like this, and even though it’s packed with features it’s not hard to use. The only criticism I can make is that some tools aren’t in the same place they are in Photoshop, and Photoshop users might find this counterintuitive. I think the Photoshop Touch development team sometimes strayed too far from the example set by Photoshop.

ps-touch

The results you can achieve with Photoshop Touch are remarkable, particularly with the Scribble Selection tool which lets you mark areas to keep and remove. The app figures out the rest with very good accuracy. This tool reminds me of Photoshop’s old Extract filter, which was removed from that product a couple years ago and still hasn’t been given a suitable replacement. Most of major features are borrowed from Photoshop—layers, brushes, text, adjustment filters and effects are all integrated into Photoshop Touch. One missing feature is the layer mask, which I think is a major oversight. Fortunately, Photoshop Touch exports its files in a new .psdx format, which Photoshop can open with a plugin, so you will be able to bring the full power of Photoshop to your Photoshop Touch projects.

PS Touch image

Photoshop Touch performs best as part of a workflow that also includes Photoshop, though you can do exceptional work without it. Creative professionals who use the Creative Suite extensively will find Photoshop Touch to be a solid extension of their Photoshop tools into the mobile space.

Impressed by Proto

The other Adobe Touch app that really impressed me is Adobe Proto, a web wireframing tool for web designers. Like Photoshop Touch, it has a robust set of tools and a UI that also includes gesture shortcuts. For example, draw a box on the canvas and an HTML div element is created. Draw a “play button” triangle and an HTML5 video element is created. The gesture UI is very easy to work with and I wish Proto was not the only Adobe Touch app that implemented it, but each app has its own development team and the Proto team happened to be the only one to weigh gestures important enough to include in the initial launch. Proto’s gesture UI makes creating website wireframes quick, easy and even fun.

Proto image

Proto projects can contain multiple pages and link between them, and there’s a lot of emphasis on basic HTML elements, form elements and navigation powered by jQuery, the ubiquitous JavaScript framework. Projects can then be pushed up to Adobe Creative Cloud—Adobe’s upcoming cloud service for creative professionals—and then brought into Dreamweaver or any other programming application. I’ve looked at the code Proto renders out and it’s fairly basic but functional, consisting of HTML5, CSS and jQuery as needed. Each page in a project gets its own CSS file, which is not usually advantageous.

Proto image

Proto is a solid wireframing app that provides a lot of tools despite its restrictions in the tablet. Developers need to apply some design work to the output and perhaps clean up some of Proto’s code, but I think Proto can provide a decent starting point for many projects.

Two new apps: Collage and Debut

Collage image

Adobe Collage is a fun tool for producing “mood boards,” which agencies and design teams sometimes use to bring images and text together to communicate a concept for development. Collage leverages the tablet interface very well, including support for multi-touch gestures that brings a tactile behavior to the mood board experience. Moving items around with your fingers is different than using a mouse and a monitor. Collage also interfaces with the tablet’s camera so you can take pictures of your environment and make it part of your mood boards instantly. There’s a small set of tools as well for markup, including a vector brush, text tool and a drop-down menu for duplicating, deleting and stacking elements. You can also include playable video into your mood boards, but they play in a new window and not on the project board itself.

Collage image

Unfortunately, there are not many more features in Collage and I find it to be lacking a few features. Why not include a microphone or allow importing video from the tablet camera? Both of these could really bump up the personal experience of creating projects in Collage. Also, Collage files are currently imported into Photoshop by converting them into a PSD file that can’t be converted back into a Collage file. The converted PSD doesn’t retain video elements either. I think there’s a few kinks to work out in the Adobe Touch Apps/Creative Suite import/export process.

Debut image

Adobe Debut is the least powerful and weakest member of the Adobe Touch Apps family. Debut is a presentation tool that imports graphics and images from various sources and lets users swipe through them. It’s the kind of feature that can be handy in a client meeting or a portfolio presentation. Debut’s best feature is the breadth of sources it can pull images from, including from the tablet’s camera, the Creative Cloud, Google and Flickr. The Creative Cloud gives access to users’ Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator files, which is a real plus for creative professionals. You can also toggle Photoshop file layers on or off when importing. A vector markup tool allows Debut presentations to be marked up on the fly, which can be handy in client meetings.

Debut image 1

However, the fact that I’ve just described the extent of Debut’s functionality goes to show how little it can really do. Collage can do pretty much anything Debut can do except present multiple slides, which is what makes me think Adobe should combine these two apps into a more powerful mood board creation and presentation app for client experiences.

HP’s EliteBook 8460w Still Durable and Tough, Inside and Out

Last year I reviewed the HP EliteBook 8540w, which for me really showed how technology design could go in a different direction than Apple’s spare, minimalist approach. I’ve been a Mac user for years and the EliteBook showed me how some users need tough, sturdy hardware—which designers seem to avoid sometimes in favor of the elegant.

Many changes have happened this year in the computer hardware industry as tablets continue to affect the form factor of our computers. Laptops are becoming smaller and sleeker, and Apple is rumored to be applying the slim MacBook Air form to the MacBook Pro line. Other PC manufacturers like Dell and Asus have responded with similarly thin laptops. HP might do the same, but for now their current EliteBook 8460w remains a thick and durable piece of hardware.

The system configuration is powerful enough: 4GB of RAM, a 300GB hard drive and a 14-inch 1600×900 display all make the EliteBook 8460w a capable machine even for Photoshop work, though an extensive video project probably needs more screen area and more memory. As with the previous iteration, the EliteBook 8460w has plenty of ports and inputs including a fingerprint reader and four USB ports. I’ve never needed more than three USB ports when traveling so I tend to think all of the EliteBook’s ports are overkill, but other users may have several devices to connect and no USB hub to make things easier.

HP touts the EliteBook’s durable design, which still meets the MIL-STD 810G military standards for resisting various environmental effects such as drops, dust, temperatures and shocks. Not a lot of changed from last year’s EliteBook design but I am glad to see the difficult touch buttons at the top of the keyboard have been replaced by physical buttons. The brushed gunmetal case looks striking and stands out among Apple’s silver laptops and the plain plastic cases I see on other PC laptops. The EliteBook 8460w just looks like a machine that’s ready for work.

According to HP, the standard battery in the EliteBook 8460w lasts up to six hours and 30 minutes. I get different readings on the actual machine: at one point it said it was at 60% but had over six hours of life remaining. That makes it sound like the battery can hold 10 hours of power, which would be excellent, and it is corroborated by this user. However, I’ve only put this EliteBook through light to moderate testing, and haven’t tried to tax the system. Working with graphics or video will use more battery life. But it looks like the EliteBook 8460w’s battery performs very well—better than my MacBook Pro’s.

The EliteBook’s chunky design and moderate weight (almost five pounds) make me wonder how it will stand up next to the crop of sleek laptops hitting the market. I mentioned how the industry is moving toward smaller and thinner laptops and also tablets. I rarely see blocky laptops like the EliteBook 8460w at developer conferences and in designers’ cubicles, so where does the EliteBook belong? Since it’s military-grade hardware and even dubbed a “mobile workstation,” I think the EliteBook line belongs in physically demanding locations including military installations, construction sites and jobs requiring lots of travel. The EliteBook 8460w would excel in all these situations. Designers who worship at Apple’s altar may find the EliteBook form factor practically barbaric, with its extraneous ports and blocky exterior, but the computer itself is strong enough for most design jobs and it could serve designers pretty well.

I think the EliteBook 8460w can be a designer’s workstation, but the laptop’s design might not be everyone’s favorite. I personally need a laptop that’s lightweight and thin because I’m often carrying other devices with me, and can’t carry a bulging laptop bag everywhere I go. But if I was in a line of work where durability was more important, the EliteBook line would be a strong contender.

HP EliteBook 8460w
HP
US $1,329
Rating: 9/10
Buy at Amazon.com

Adobe Releases Touch Apps Tablet Applications For Android

Today Adobe officially released their lineup of Touch Apps for Android tablets, deepening their dive into products for mobile devices. The company has devoted considerable resources to mobile applications for a few years now, so the Touch Apps represent a major investment for Adobe.

The Touch App lineup released today includes six applications:

  • Adobe Collage, for creating “moldboard” layouts including photos, drawings and text.
  • Adobe Debut, a presentation tool for mockups and Touch App projects.
  • Adobe Ideas, which is similar other vector drawing programs like Illustrator.
  • Adobe Kuler, a color palette builder.
  • Adobe Photoshop Touch, which is designed to deliver core Photoshop features on a tablet.
  • Adobe Proto, for building interactive prototypes of websites and mobile apps.

Even though it’s considered part of the “Touch Apps family,” the previously-announced Adobe Carousel photo management app isn’t listed as one of the “Adobe Touch Apps.” It also is only available on iOS devices at the moment; see below for more details. Kuler and Ideas both exist in other forms as well.

I received a demo tablet from Adobe just last Saturday and I’ve just started to work with the applications, so no review for now. However, these applications were shown extensively at Adobe MAX (including the Day 1 keynote) and I’m fairly familiar with how they work. Together, they provide a solid collection of core tools from most of the major Creative Suite products—Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Dreamweaver and minor elements from a couple others. The hurdle Adobe has to clear is to provide a user interface that works in a tablet but has the power and flexibility to get serious work done in a variety of environments.

The Touch Apps are on the Android Market now and sell for $9.99 each, a price well over the $3.13 average price of paid Android apps. Adobe will have to appeal to the professional community to justify the price. The apps are also restricted by language (English only) and by hardware specs: 8.9-inch, 1280×800 minimum screen size and resolution with Android 3.1 or higher, which eliminates all current Android non-tablets. The apps are currently available only on Android, but they will be ported over to iOS devices in early 2012. There’s no word yet whether the apps will be restricted to the larger iPad.

Day 2 Announcements From Adobe MAX: PhoneGap, Flash Player 11, AIR 3 and Unreal Engine 3

Compared to the first day’s MAX keynote, the second day’s keynote was much more focused on hard-core development but also a lot less exciting and with fewer major announcements. The only acquisition that was announced was Nitobi, which brings the PhoneGap development platform into Adobe’s portfolio. PhoneGap is a popular way to publish HTML5 and JavaScript-built applications to most major mobile platforms, including iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile. I bet it will be rolled into either Dreamweaver—which has had similar frameworks like jQuery Mobile integrated with it—or the newly-announced Adobe Creative Cloud, where it could end up as another of its creative services (along with TypeKit and others). They did say that PhoneGap will remain an open-source project available to everyone.

According to the keynote, Adobe’s intention is to “bet on HTML5″ while “doubling down on Flash,” which I expected. Some people, particularly Apple fanboys, expect Adobe to kill Flash—but I don’t think it will happen anytime soon if at all, and right now HTML5 can’t duplicate all of Flash’s capabilities so I don’t think it should. Interestingly, Ben Forta—Adobe’s Director of Platform Evangelism—asked for a show of hands of who has built an HTML5 application before, and almost no one raised their hand.

Flash Player 11 and Adobe AIR 3 were also announced, which focus on games, rich media and data-driven applications—all things that are not easy to implement with HTML5 right now. I’m particularly interested in 3D and gaming capabilities that are being built into Flash Player 11, and a demo of the Nissan Juke website—which features an online driving game—shows some good things with the new technology.

Other announcements

  • Adobe Edge, currently in beta, has reached the third preview iteration and has some new features including loops and hyperlinks. The beta has been downloaded over 150,000 times.
  • The new ThemeRoller product was demonstrated, showing how jQuery Mobile themes can be built with a user interface. This is also something that can be built into Dreamweaver, but at this point it looks like it’s generating a lot of CSS code. Until ThemeRoller can generate lean code, web developers will criticize Adobe for bloated code.
  • CSS Shaders was demoed for the crowd. CSS Shaders is a CSS3 module that Adobe has contributed to the W3C for inclusion in the general CSS3 spec, and it leverages current PixelBender technology to bend and warp HTML elements. The presenter had a very nice demo of a live page curl on an HTML element and also on a live video element. CSS3 is where Adobe can provide the most benefit to developers, because CSS is pervasive across the web and it’s not tied to a particular product.
  • Another CSS3 module presented by Adobe is CSS Regions, which uses CSS to generate text columns and live text wrap. This is already implemented in Google’s Chromium (a beta version of Chrome) and Internet Explorer 10.

The last presenter, Epic Games’ CEO Tim Sweeney, showed something that means a lot to me personally: Unreal Tournament 3 running in Flash. I played a lot of Unreal Tournament 2004 years ago and Unreal Engine 3 (UE3) is now able to run on Flash—how cool is that? According to the press release, Flash Player 11 has up to 1,000 times faster 2D and 3D rendering than Flash Player 10, which sounds…unreal. If Flash can gain a foothold as a runtime for top-of-the-line games, Adobe can pivot the technology into a data-centric and graphics-centric product and leave web graphics and rich Internet experiences to HTML5, which is what I think will happen one way or another.

Day 1 Announcements From Adobe MAX: TypeKit, PhoneGap, WoodWing and DPS Single Edition

Adobe Acquires TypeKit and PhoneGap

Adobe has bought TypeKit and made the web font service a part of their Adobe Creative Cloud’s services. Jeffrey Veen came on stage and talked about the challenges of fonts on the web but showed how some websites are achieving very professional typography now through Adobe technology. I’ll agree to that—I use TypeKit on my own websites, and it’s easy to deploy and works across all browsers.

Jeffrey also said almost 60 foundries contribute to TypeKit. This includes Adobe, but they don’t offer the entire 2,300-font Adobe Type Library. Maybe that will come later. Jeffrey demoed some new features of the TypeKit website, such as rendering previews to show how fonts will look in different browsers and easier search tools.

I wonder what will happen to current TypeKit customers. Will they have to buy the Adobe Creative Cloud to maintain their websites’ fonts? I hope not, and I don’t think that would be practical for TypeKit’s users.

Adobe also announced the acquisition of Nitobi Software, which produces the popular PhoneGap platform for building mobile apps for multiple platforms including Android and iOS. PhoneGap leverages HTML5 and JavaScript, so I expect this would be rolled into Dreamweaver, Adobe’s HTML-editing software.

WoodWing Moves Users to Adobe Digital Publishing Suite

This announcement might have surprised me the most today. WoodWing Software, whose editorial workflow products allow for digital publishing to tablets and devices, has entered an agreement with Adobe to incorporate their Digital Publishing Suite with WoodWing’s Enterprise Publishing System. The Digital Publishing Suite will now be the only option for WoodWing customers to publish to tablets.

It sounds like WoodWing’s editorial and designer workflow will remain pretty much the same: users will use their Content Station and InDesign plugin to build the digital editions. At that point, .folio files will be created and uploaded to Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite platform for packaging, distribution, monetization and analytics. WoodWing’s Reader Application and Content Delivery Service are ended effective immediately. Customers will transition to the Digital Publishing Suite by November 2012.

Digital Publishing Suite Now Available In Single Editions

If you’ve wanted to publish a one-shot digital publication or a book, you’ll be happy to know Adobe today announced the Single Edition in the Digital Publishing Suite. The service, which takes interactive InDesign documents to the iPad, has until now been an enterprise-priced service for large companies and big periodical publications. Now companies can pay for just a single publication and get all of the Digital Publishing Suite’s features, including distribution through the Apple App Store, monetization and analytics.

It will cost $395 per publication, which immediately establishes it as a business product. Single Edition is not for people wanting to publish a family memento or maybe a church cookbook—but niche publications could very well benefit from its features.