Update on February 10, 2015: Adobe announced that the smart Ink stylus and Slide ruler for iPad is available again on Adonit’s website, along with a new price of $125.
Steve Jobs famously mocked any competing smart device that still included a stylus. Indeed, the iPhone and iPad’s touch capabilities are so good, that finger gestures are highly accurate. But, try using a stylus in a drawing app on an iPad, and you’ll find that it’s actually not a pleasant experience. While suitable for free-form painting, sketching with any sort of precision on a tablet is difficult to achieve if you’re using a finger, especially if you want to draw straight lines. And it may be one reason why more designers aren’t using tablets for their work.
“A year ago we did a survey on how ‘creatives’ were using mobile – they weren’t,” David Wadhwani, Adobe’s senior VP and general manager of the Digital Media Business Unit, told us at the Behance 99U conference in May, referring to how those in the design community are using mobile devices in their workflow. “It’s the reason for making these products.”
“The stylus is dumb … there was a need to re-create the familiar pen.”
Of course, mobile consumption is through the roof, and with more and more people now creating content on their mobile devices, Adobe sees an opportunity to play a role – or even influence and dominate. Its move to a cloud-based platform, and its latest suite of Creative Cloud software, is all about giving users access to their workflow, assets, and files, across all devices – desktop and mobile. In addition to the mobile hardware, Adobe also launched new apps that complete the cloud ecosystem.
Pen-like styli for iPad aren’t a new concept, but the Ink was designed to be much smarter.
“The stylus is dumb,” said Geoff Dowd, Adobe’s principal designer, said about the functionality of most stylus products. In creating Ink, Dowd said he and his team had to address three things: It had to be lightweight, make a design statement, and be personal. The unique three-sided twisting shape was formed by blasting water through an aluminum tube. When Dowd demonstrated Ink for us during 99U, the pen is indeed very lightweight, but, more importantly, it feels comfortable and very natural when held; we dare say that it feels better and lighter than holding a conventional No. 2 or mechanical pencil.
With its fine-tip, pressure-sensitive point, the lightness lets the user exert greater control when drawing on the iPad – it writes and draws like a pen. (The Ink uses technology, called Pixelpoint, from Adonit, which also has its own stylus, called Jot; Adobe is working with Adonit to implement Creative Cloud compatibility into Jot.)
As for the third attribute, personal, that’s where the smart factor comes in. The Ink is actually connected to your Creative Cloud profile. That means, with the push of a button, you can bring up a menu that takes you to your files, assets, tips and brushes, color preferences and themes, sharing and saving options, and other features that are stored in your CC account – regardless of the iPad you’re using.
If, for example, a colleague asks you to collaborate on a project he/she is working on an iPad, you could pair your Ink with it, and pull up your preferences. Adobe created a simple, quick-pairing system (via Bluetooth Low Energy; it’s also how it detects pressure sensitivity) within the compatible app that lets you connect simply by holding the pen onto an area of the screen.
A status LED at the end of the pen shows the color you chose to use (these are the “delightful moments” that creative like, said Dowd, who started at Adobe as a graphic designer before transitioning to industrial design; Dowd, during the Creative Cloud event, said Ink was designed for designers, by designers). The Ink comes with a dedicated charger and carrying case.
Right now, Ink can only pair with an iPad one at a time, so you can’t collaborate with other Inks simultaneously. Dowd said that’s it possible and could be added down the line, but, at launch, Adobe wanted to focus on getting one thing right.
While Ink can be used on its own, there’s a companion accessory, Slide, that functions as a digital ruler. As implied, it’s used to help draw perfectly straight lines, but also perfect concentric circles, parallel lines, French curves, and other non-freeform shapes – must like using a T-square or triangle. “It’s the reinvention of drafting,” Dowd said. Lines have an imperfect look to them, and Dowd said that was done on purpose to mimic reality.
You can save your work on an iPad, or copy it to the Cloud Clipboard, where your work is stored and can be accessed from whatever machines you access Creative Cloud with. Smart guides appear to help you draw those lines. Vector workflows you create on the iPad could be sent to Adobe Illustrator for further refinement.
Using both tools, it was effortless to draw on the iPad. As a child, this writer enjoyed drawing architecture with straight lines, and the ability to do this on the iPad reignited this childhood passion. If anyone has been scared of drawing on an iPad before, Ink and Slide will change that perception.
To draw these lines and shapes, you’ll need Adobe Line and Adobe Sketch – two newly announced free apps for the iPad. As for now, these are the only compatible apps that’ll recognize Ink and Slide. However, since the apps are based on a new Adobe SDK, we could see more apps (Adobe and third-party) adding Ink and Slide support.
It’s clear that these powerful tools were designed for designers, although, at $125, it’s affordable enough for any user who feels inspired to doodle on their iPad. There’s no support for Android, and Adobe has not firmly commit to whether there will be one anytime soon. Also, both tools support only fourth-gen iPad, iPad Air, iPad Mini, or higher. But Ink is not an indication that Adobe is entering the hardware business. Rather, Adobe saw a need that it wanted to fulfill. There’s no reason why Adobe couldn’t churn out more hardware, but it will do so only if designers demand it.
“What business do we have to make hardware after 30 years (of making software),” Dowd said. But as more creative professionals are starting to use mobile devices for their work, “there was a need to re-create the familiar pen.”
Click here to learn more about how Ink and Slide work with an iPad, and how it’s used with the Line and Sketch apps.
(This article was originally published on June 19, 2014.)