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.


PRINT 13: Back from the Brink?

As I recover from my annual trek to Chicago, my thoughts about “the printing industry” are all astir. The GASC-sponsored event this year was the quadrennial PRINT show — replacing the smaller-profile Graph Expo event. Frankly, it was hard to tell the difference.

In terms of floor space at McCormick, PRINT 13 was roughly the same size as any recent Graph Expo. If anything, it seemed a bit smaller, occupying only the South Hall. The mega-vendors of past shows, notably Heidelberg and Screen, were absent, while others like Manroland had greatly reduced booth sizes. Kodak — which apparently signed on at the last minute — had only about 300 square feet at the extreme south end of South Hall. While this year’s event was a few days longer than a Graph Expo show, it was hard to find the same enthusiasm I had witnessed at previous PRINT shows.

I did find more optimism in the conference sessions. (Full disclosure: I was invited to speak this year, so I am biased.) Hal Hinderliter’s excellent seminar, “Making Print Come Alive,” is a case in point. His provocative session included multiple examples of out-of-box thinking when it comes to print — all of which resonated with the audience. Clearly there are many in the industry who want to leverage print as PART of a total media experience — not a doomed “either-print-OR-digital” philosophy.

The devil, however, is most definitely in the details. Traditional thinking was still very evident throughout the show, with the same print and equipment salespeople targeting a zero-sum, commodity-oriented market. To me, it spoke of an industry that would like things to change (perhaps by going back in time?) but are unwilling to actually change themselves. Printers and their suppliers have heard that they need to become collaborative partners, with a full repertoire of media expertise. However, making that ideal a reality is a lot harder than finding ways to cut costs and sell commodities.

Some printers have mastered the supply chain aspect of this business: supplying other businesses with printed materials at the highest quality, in the shortest possible time, and at greatly reduced costs and inventory overhead. The bad news is that there’s a limited demand for efficient print-only deliverables. The survivors in that market will be only a few large providers.

It will be the breakout companies — the oddballs — that pull the printing industry back from the brink, and towards a forward-thinking, innovative path. The companies themselves may not even think of themselves as printers, but they’ll certainly carry forward the notion that images and words on a substrate — in concert with MANY other media — are a powerful way to tell a story.