Creative Cloud Edges Forward

When Adobe moved away from the traditional shrink-wrap software model with Creative Cloud, one of the promises was that updates—incremental and otherwise—would be more frequent. The frustrating wait for the next version release, and the speculation about whether desired features would be added or not, would be replaced by a more benign, less hype-filled process.

Today’s announcement has confirmed that trend. Creative Cloud subscribers—all 1.4 million of them by Adobe’s count—will receive some significant feature updates, along with relatively minor improvements that, taken as a whole, continue to improve the design and production experience. (Caveat: The announcement also marks Adobe’s entry into 3D printing, but this review will focus primarily on issues of interest to publishers.)

To be sure, Adobe has had to weather the revenue transition—away from selling disc-based Creative Suite packages and towards a subscription model.* However, as I predicted over a decade ago in The Seybold Report, the service-based model is infinitely more sustainable, and better for the graphic arts community as a whole.

According to Adobe, there have been around 50 “feature-bearing” updates since Creative Cloud’s inception, comprising about 500 new features. While some of these have been relatively minor, others certainly have not, including the single edition DPS license for creating iPad apps.

Feature Overview

For magazine and business publishers, today’s update contains some cost-saving new features. Muse, Adobe’s highly-intuitive Web design environment, now directly supports HTML animations created in Adobe Edge. These animations can now be stored and re-used—and even shared with other users via a free online exchange. (There is currently no way to sell these resources, or even obtain customer information as part of the download.) Muse has also automated social links, letting website creators simply drag-and-drop a widget to specify a Facebook page or a Twitter feed to be used on the site.

Improvements to Photoshop are mainly for designers, but production workers will appreciate the addition of linked smart objects—items copied from Illustrator or Photoshop that can be used multiple times and changed globally. (This has been standard fare for InDesign, using the links feature, for some time.)

Illustrator received some long-awaited new features aimed at designers, including “live corners” (the ability to easily specify the roundness of any object corner) and a much improved pencil tool. Also in the time-saving category is Illustrator’s new ability to customize the toolbox—a godsend for a complex, mega-multi-tool program. Customized toolboxes can be made part of a custom workspace and, presumably, shared with other users.

Both Illustrator and InDesign are now tightly integrated with Typekit, which offers over 900 fonts as part of a Creative Cloud license. Users can search for Typekit fonts from within the program, rather than switch to a browser. Selected fonts are downloaded as desktop and/or Web fonts, and can be used in non-Adobe applications.

InDesign itself has been improved in one very important aspect—at least for publishers of interactive content. Hyperlink creation, once a source of extreme frustration, is now remarkably easy. Users can create URLs automatically from selected text, and can easily re-use those hyperlinks elsewhere in the publication. Hyperlink tracking is not only more intuitive, it is also “live,” so long as the InDesign user is connected to the Internet. If a created hyperlink does not resolve to a valid URL, a red warning icon appears. This warning is regrettably not part of InDesign’s live preflight, but it is still a welcome respite for those creating interactive PDFs, tablet apps, or e-books.

On the subject of e-books, InDesign CC now supports EPUB3’s pop-up footnote convention which, alas, is not supported universally by all e-reading devices. It also supports right-to-left languages like Japanese and Hebrew.

The Bottom Line

Those who create and publish content in a multimedia environment will appreciate many of the changes announced today. The thrill of waiting for “the next big release” may be diminished, but so is the stress of worrying if a particular feature will make the cut. This is a solid, albeit not earth-shattering improvement.

Only time will tell whether Adobe’s new model will remain an agile one—adding publishing-essential features incrementally but with shorter wait times. However, since publishers today are less likely to be among Geoffrey Moore’s 16% group of early adopters and innovators, the steady, more predictable subscription model is the right one.


*  Technically, Creative Cloud is not a true cloud service, like Google Docs, but a members-only online download, installation, and periodic verification process for traditional computer software. Adobe applications are simply too large and complex to be used in a client-server fashion.

Irony Alert

As I develop my class curriculum for the upcoming PRINT 13 event on creating tablet apps, I realized I needed to become an Apple developer. This was not an unreasonable requirement, since my class involved teaching people how to create content apps for Apple iPad using Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) and Quark’s AppStudio.

For the cost of only $99 a year, I thought, “why not? What could possibly go wrong?” So I dutifully went to the Adobe-recommended page (http://bit.ly/Rjz90j) and, with a shiny new Apple ID and a credit card, prepared myself to enter the Holy of Holies.

To my dismay, the vast majority of sites I needed were down for “overhaul.” Check it out:

Apple developer status screen, as of July 26, 2013.
With only two out of 15 servers online, it made me wonder how Apple, with all its marketing panache, can survive over the long haul. Yes, developers will continue to gather at the “cool kids’ table” for bragging rights on the latest gadgets. However, sooner or later, if companies treat developers with disdain, then even the most sycophantic will start to look elsewhere.

InDesign CC and 2D Barcodes

I’ve been reviewing, using, and talking about InDesign since version 1.0. With each new incarnation, I marvel that Adobe continues to add new functionality. After all, it’s page design software; how many new things can there be?

With the latest Creative Cloud-deliverable version, users can now auto-generate QR Codes—those ubiquitous 2D barcodes that, when scanned by one of many smartphone apps, point users to a mobile experience of some kind.

The InDesign feature itself seems to be well implemented. The QR Codes are vector-based, with transparent backgrounds, which means they can be scaled without degradation, and even brought into Illustrator for enhancement. (I’ll explore the issues with that in a future blog.)

What really concerns me is that InDesign’s new feature will put a dubious power in the hands of designers who do not understand the nature of the mobile experience. Everyone I know has had the disappointing experience of scanning a QR Code only to be directed to a non-mobile-optimized website. Worse, there is seldom a viable mobile call to action to be found in many QR-Code-related campaigns. (For examples of how it SHOULD be done, check out www.print2d.com.)

QR Codes are already in disrepute, thanks to ill-advised campaigns and over-use of free QR Code generators on the Web. The new InDesign feature is a logical, potentially practical innovation, but dangerous in the wrong hands.

What Is “Interactive” Anyway? (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this blog, I lamented the lack of consensus on what constitutes effective interactivity for digital magazines. Since then, I had the opportunity to ask more questions during my Gilbane Boston panel session on Mobile App development “from the trenches.” The panelists represented both business and consumer titles.

The real question, it turns out, is less about embedded multimedia than it is about personalization, relevance and immediacy of content. For magazines, interactivity has always been about connection with the story; digital media has merely made that connection more complex, raising new technical and economic challenges for publishers.

The Gilbane panelists each discussed the pros and cons of developing interactive content. They praised the new, tablet-friendly design tools from Adobe (Digital Publishing Suite), Zinio, WoodWing and others — recently augmented by the QuarkXPress 9 announcement. They also expressed concern over rising costs (designing for multiple screen layouts, video production, etc.) vs. the unknown circulation and advertising benefits on a new, untried platform. Beyond that, however, they each expressed the notion that embedded media alone was not the answer.

Geoff Shaw of The Sporting News discussed their recent tablet app, The Sporting News Daily. Video and photo gallery embedding are standard fare, although user-generated content is limited by NFL and other content policies. Social media tie-ins are also prevalent. (Commenting has had to be curtailed to avoid endless “Yankees suck! No, Red Sox suck!” exchanges.) Beyond that, however, what has proven more successful is the delivery of time-sensitive, magazine-quality content to readers. Readers want the depth of storytelling that magazines offer, but they also want immediate gratification. While RSS and Web feeds can provide the latest scores, Shaw feels that a digital magazine edition can provide such data in a more satisfying, engaging manner — quality as well as quantity.

The next stage, according to Shaw, is to customize content still further — according to individual user preferences for particular sports, teams or players. Interactivity at that level would mirror the Daily Me concept theorized years ago by the MIT Media Lab. Difficulties still abound, not the least of which are privacy concerns and the reluctance of readers to even create such profiles. Nevertheless, Shaw feels that the model holds promise for truly interactive magazines.

Automation and XML were cited as cornerstones of cost-effective interactivity. Shaw envisioned a data-to-template workflow that would be essential as more tablets with differing screen sizes are introduced. Another panelist described the use of a centralized XML repository of content, from which users could customize their own content, whether viewed on a device or even printed on demand. Needless to say, publishers will need to get creative with content licensing before this model can extend beyond a single title.

Paul Michelman of the Harvard Business Review summarized the interactivity dilemma nicely. While rich media and customization can certainly boost reader engagement, through “nonlinear storytelling,” the idea of an enhanced magazine is too often constrained by arcane circulation rules and publishing norms — not to mention unproven revenue models. While social media tie-ins are intriguing, there are no guarantees that their use will create the same lasting engagement that good writing and design has done in the past. To make things worse, technology is outpacing consumers’ ability to use it well — or predictably.

In short, true interactivity in a digital magazine is hard. However, as Michelman noted, we need to do it anyway.

John Parsons (blog originally published in
Publishing Executive
; re-posted with permission)

Adobe Creative Suite 5 to Break Apple’s Anti-Flash Blockade (Sort Of)

Adobe’s upcoming launch of Creative Suite 5 will be of particular interest to content creators within multiple publishing disciplines. I’ll explain what I mean in detail — when the wraps come off on April 12. However, I’m not breaking my NDA by discussing one fascinating tidbit: Flash Professional CS5 will let you create iPhone and iPad content. While it’s not the breakthrough that Flash addicts were hoping for, it’s a start.

In brief, Flash Pro CS5 will include a “Packager” application that will allow the user to publish ActionScript 3 projects to run as native iPhone and iPad applications — delivered solely via the Apple App Store. These can be monetized through in-application ads (handled via Adobe’s mobile ad network partner Greystripe) or by selling the app itself it through Apple. Neither prospect will be thrilling to publishers or advertisers, but at least in the short term, iPad fever may overcome the constrained revenue models.

For new Flash projects, Packager will be a laborsaving godsend. For the vast ocean of existing Flash content, not so much. SWF files and other runtime code cannot be loaded by the new Packager apps, nor can the iPhone/iPad browser handle Flash content in existing Web sites. So, for the most part, Apple’s quixotic campaign to exclude the popular format is still in force.

Apple’s defense of a not-so-Flashy iPad is twofold. From a purely PR standpoint, the company is working overtime to point out how many digital publications are “iPad ready.” Most of these are high-profile titles that have decided to concede to Apple’s dicta, in the hope that iPad mania will reverse their declines in paid circulation. From a long-term technical standpoint, Apple is betting on the superiority of HTML5 over Flash — despite the fact that the former is still a work in progress.

Both arguments provide cover for an unsustainable economic position: that a “gated community” approach is a much better means of capturing revenue (for Apple) than would be possible if more common Web paradigms were allowed.

The theory behind the iPad and its engaging applications is a positive one for publishers. The iPad itself may not be, especially if Apple ignores or exploits publishers in the process. Interactive engagement is the key to the success of both digital editions and their advertisers, and Flash — like it or not — makes such engagement possible. This is not lost on Apple’s rivals. Google Android and other smartphone/smartpad systems will undoubtedly use Flash to steal Apple’s thunder.

Adobe has made a sensible, albeit limited move to accommodate Apple’s alluring gadgets. In response — and in its own long-term interests — Apple should respond in kind. In addition to leveraging vast quantities of existing content, a Flashy iPad would meet the needs of a greater number of publishers and advertisers — drawing their support away from the competition.

Granting Flash full citizenship in the iPhone/iPad nation is a more sustainable choice for Apple, even if HTML5 is the better solution down the road.

John Parsons (originally published in Publishing Executive,
http://bit.ly/9kZkYh; re-posted with permission)