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Adobe releases huge update to Creative Cloud, adds new hardware, mobile apps

Adobe has announced a significant upgrade to its Creative Cloud platform, which the company says it’s its largest software release since Creative Suite 6 (CS6). CC 2014 (Adobe has also instituted a new naming convention, based on the year of release) will include 14 new versions of its desktop software, which includes popular Adobe programs Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, and Premiere Pro; four mobile-specific apps that tie into desktop workflows; new services (including a permanent $10-a-month Photography Plan; and the official availability of Adobe’s new digital pen and ruler hardware. Adobe officially unveils its new and enhanced products at a presentation from New York City, which you can live-stream to watch the keynote and demonstrations, on June 18, 2014, at 1 p.m. (ET)/10 a.m. (PT).

If you haven’t heard, Adobe transitioned to a subscription model where users pay a monthly fee to use the software, as oppose to buying expensive boxed sets. The new software is also based around a cloud platform, which allows you to continue your workflow wherever you may be, since your files are stored on the cloud; start a project on your desktop at work, continue it on your iPad while on the road, and finish it when you get home. (You will need access to the Internet, however, but there are things you can download beforehand to work offline, and your files are synced back to the cloud when you’re back online.) There’s also a focus on non-destructive workflows, so that you can always go back to your original, regardless of what device you’re using, or where you’re using it.

There are various pricing levels, but for photographers Adobe is introducing the Photography Plan, which gives full access to Photoshop CC and Lightroom 5, regardless of skill level. Adobe had offered limited-time special pricing in the past, but this plan, which costs $10 a month, makes it permanent.

Adobe is also overhauling its Adobe.com website for a new experience. Besides finding out about all the apps, all in one place, and downloading the latest updates, you can now view your files stored on the cloud and do some basic management via the browser. You can also invite others to view files even if they don’t have access to the software you created them in, which is great for designers who are working on projects for clients. Think of it as a one-stop shop where, once logged in, you’ll have seamless access across all programs, as well as the creative community on Behance.net.

New desktop apps

Within the 14 new desktop apps, there are several highlight features. Most of these new features are geared toward designers and other creative professionals, but Photoshop contains some new useful tools that any user could benefit from.

  • Photoshop CC: Photoshop CC now has a Focus Mask tool, which automatically creates the first step of a mask by selecting the in-focus area of your image. The Focus Mask will work well with shallow depth-of-field images.The Path Blur and Spin Blur motion effects are two new additions to the Blur Gallery. These tools can be used to give a sense of motion to your images. Blur effects, using the Mercury Graphics Engine, have been enhanced to provide faster and improved performance with Adobe’s OpenCL.

    The Perspective Warp tool allows you to shift objects three-dimensionally on a two-dimensional surface easily and fluidly. Using created grids, each with different adjustment points, you can distort certain parts of your image without affecting that entire surrounding area.

    Photoshop CC has improved Content-Aware features that give your images more realism, and Windows 8.1 users will get improved stylus support and experimental features on the Surface Pro 3, such as new touch and gesture controls.

  • Illustrator: Illustrator now includes Live Shapes that quickly changes rectangles into complex shapes, and then back again to the original. Vector graphics have faster rendering when using GPU acceleration via a Windows machine with a Adobe-certified NVIDIA card. Among other Illustrator features, “layout artists can now select table rows and columns and use EPUB Fixed Layout to easily create digital books.” And, “Adobe Muse CC now includes 64-bit support, HiDPI display support for sharper-looking images, objects, and text, and the ability to preview and optimize desktop, smartphone, and tablet versions of your sites before live.
  • Premiere Pro CC: Adobe previewed some new features in Premiere Pro CC during the NAB 2014 show, and it’s now officially live with CC 2014. New features include Live Text Templates and Masking and Tracking, enhanced graphics performance, precise new keying effects in After Effects, enhanced audio tools, and other features for pro video editors.
  • Dreamweaver CC: For Web designers, there are new tools in Dreamweaver CC. Developers can “easily see, navigate, and modify the HTML structure of pages” with a new ability to look at the markup in Element Quick view. “CSS Designer improvements help apply CSS properties like gradients, box shadows, and borders, and then easily undo. SVG export in Flash Pro CC lets developers export any frame in Flash projects as an SVG file, while native HTML video support in Edge Animate CC allows the direct import of HTML 5-friendly video clips.

If you’re already a Creative Cloud subscriber, these new features are available now at no extra cost.

Adobe getting more mobile

Adobe is recognizing that computing today is more mobile and connected, and are finding that its users are working more and more on smartphones and tablets. While the desktop software continues to be important, Adobe is launching a set of mobile apps that allow users to continue their workflow, regardless of location or device. The company has already launched Lightroom for the iPad, but today’s announcement includes three new apps: Sketch (a “social sketching iPad app for free-form drawing”), Line (“world’s first iPad app for precision drawing and drafting”), and Photoshop Mix. While these apps are designed to be powerful enough for professionals, they’re also easy to use, enough that general consumers can pick up intuitively. That’s especially the case with Photoshop Mix, which puts many of Photoshop’s desktop tools onto the iPad, like masking and layers. Adobe says Mix is the “most precise app for compositing and masking on the iPad.” (This is not to be confused with Photoshop Express, which is more rudimentary photo-editing app that will remain available as a separate.) For Creative Cloud subscribers, the projects you start can be picked up on the desktop. For example, you can automatically mask an image (that is, to remove an object from a photo) on the iPad, and then fine-tune it manually via Photoshop CC on the desktop. The opposite is also true: Masks and layers created in Photoshop CC (as PSD files) are recognized by Photoshop Mix – something that isn’t possible with other image editing apps on the iPad.

As a follow-up to Lightroom on the iPad, you can now edit your photos via Lightroom for iPhone. While you don’t get the large screen size of the desktop or iPad versions, the new Lightroom app lets you continue your workflow while you’re on the road, while also giving you Lightroom’s pro-editing capabilities to your iPhone photos.

These apps are free downloads and can be used on their own, but if you want to tie them to a larger Creative Cloud workflow, you’ll need some sort of CC subscription.

The apps were created using a Adobe Creative Software Development Kit. Currently in beta, the idea is that Adobe will open the SDK available for third-party developers to incorporate into their apps. Adobe is inviting third-party developers to participate in a private beta, and will reveal more details later at its Adobe MAX conference.

In addition, Adobe is releasing a new Creative Cloud app for iPhone and iPad that lets you manage cloud-stored files from your mobile device.

The apps require iOS 7. Unfortunately, there are no Android versions. Adobe hasn’t ruled out developing Android versions in the future, but it will depend on user demand.

Adobe’s “Mighty” pen

While Adobe has always been known as a software company, it is getting into the hardware business for the first time with its new Ink and Slide accessories. These products aren’t a secret, but today marks their official availability and new names (Ink and Slide were previously called “Project Mighty” and “Project Napoleon,” respectively).

Ink is the ultimate iPad stylus for designers, a lightweight aluminum stylus that lets easily draw on the iPad, like a Wacom tablet. It’s connected to Creative Cloud, so it has access to your drawings, color palettes, photos, library of preset stamps (which includes a collection of Herman Miller chairs) and shapes, etc. The pen has a pressure-sensitive fine-tip that lets you draw perfect lines, curves, and concentric circles with incredible control. It knows exactly where you want your end-points to be. Multiple Inks can be used on a single iPad (for collaboration), and Adobe has developed an in-app system that easily pairs multiple styli (one at a time, but, using Bluetooth Low Energy, you simply hold the pen on the screen for a few seconds to recognize and pair the pen). Slide is a companion digital ruler that helps you draw straight lines, parallel lines, and other shapes, while using Ink. Geoff Dowd, the products’ designer, said it’s the “reinvention of the T-square and triangle,” referring to the tools draftsmen use. In fact, with their ability to draw guides and vanishing points, it’s great for 3D designers, architects, and other similar creatives.

Adobe-Ink-Slide

Ink and Slide are bundled together for $200, and they can be used with Sketch and Line. With the aforementioned SDK, third-party developers could one day add support for the accessories,  in the near future. To use the new hardware, however, you will need to run at least iOS7 on an iPad 4 or newer.

(Chase Melvin contributed to this article.)

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