Adobe has previously been a software-focused company, providing software for the creative industry since as far back as the 80s. Now, though, Adobe's business is changing, and a key part of that change is Mighty and Napoleon, the company's first hardware venture.
We caught up with the company's Vice President of Experience Design, Michael Gough, who previously worked as Chief Creative Officer at Macromedia and Vice President of Brand Design at Nike, to find out more about Adobe's new direction.
Mighty is a cloud-connected stylus that works with the iPad. At first glance, it's similar to other styluses out there. It looks like a pen, it works like a pen, and it pairs with apps to offer a way to create digital artwork, which had us wondering: How will Adobe sell this in a market with hot competition from the likes of Wacom?
But, Michael told us that Adobe's not aiming to make money out of hardware. What Adobe does well is make software, and Mighty and Napoleon are a way to make that software work seamlessly with creative tools. He says that he hopes Mighty and Napoleon will push companies like Wacom to employ some of the technology that Adobe comes up with in its own products, connecting users to the Creative Cloud and Adobe's software, too.
“It's not our job to make tons of hardware but to make sure that tons of hardware gets made,” Michael said.
That said, Mighty is still a rather impressive piece of kit that we can imagine rivalling some of Wacom's offerings. What we love about Mighty, and one of the ways it differs from other styluses, is its design. It's so comfortable to hold, with a three-sided, twisted design that sits nicely between your thumb and your finger to allow a natural drawing experience. It's visually appealing and the build quality is exceptional. Michael told us that Adobe is “very, very proud” of the industrial design of Mighty and we say rightly so.
Another nice touch that adds to the appeal of the Mighty is the LED light at the top. Michael told us that, as a software company, Adobe has noticed that hardware is “cold and lifeless” but software talks to you when you're working. That's where the light comes in. It changes colour depending on what you're doing. Say, for example, you're using a particular tool, the colour can change to reflect that. It can also tell you when the pen needs charging and more.
The version of Mighty that we got our hands on was a design prototype, so we had to use a different pen to try out the actual drawing side of things such as the tip and the technology it uses.
Originally, Adobe used a fat tip on the Mighty like the tip found many other styluses, but the new version we saw this week had a small, much more precise tip. Adobe partnered with stylus maker Adonit on the new tip. It's pretty accurate, but still not quite as accurate a real pen would be.
If it's straight lines and shapes you're after, though, then accuracy won't matter. Pair Mighty with Napoleon and you can draw as many straight lines and accurate shapes as you want to.
Napoleon – named after the "short ruler" himself – is just that. It's a little ruler that works with the iPad and a new Adobe app called Project Parallel, to enable users to draw straight lines and shapes with ease.
There's just one button on Napoleon, which you'll need to double click to bring up a menu, and from there you can choose shapes or lines. You always need to have your hand on Napoleon when you want to draw, as it uses the electric current from your fingers to work.
Napoleon is powered by the electrical current from your fingers, so you'll always need to have your hand on the ruler to use it, but means you'll never need to charge it up.
It can be a little fiddly to press the button on Napoleon, which, when double clicked, brings up a menu that lets you choose different shapes or lines.
When we saw Napoleon at Adobe Max, these lines and shapes were chosen by pressing actual buttons on the top of the ruler, but Adobe decided to remove these in favour of making the ability to choose them built in to the software after receiving feedback from designers. “One of the things we found when we actually started making hardware and we had it in our hands to play with was that it changed the way we thought about what we should be building in the software,” Michael explained.
You can then use the Mighty, or a finger, to draw the lines or shapes on your iPad. You can draw anywhere on the iPad and the line or shape will show up exactly where it's being projected by Napoleon, so accuracy on your part is completely unnecessary. With shapes, double tapping will draw the entire thing for you, or you can draw just a part of the shape if you choose.
But why did Adobe decide to make Mighty and Napoleon as its first foray into hardware?
For a start, Michael Gough's background is in architectural design, and Napoleon and Project Parallels app are absolutely ideal for architects to use to sketch ideas and create quite accurate architectural drawings. Michael said the tools let him draw the way he likes to. "So it's really my app," he joked.
People who do digital work live and breathe in our tools but leave our tools when they have to think. They design something in Photoshop, but when they need to think, they switch to pen and paper,” Michael told us. “What we wanted to do is design digital tools that are as natural as pen and paper.”
But, perhaps more importantly, Adobe wants more people to join Creative Cloud, and Mighty and Napoleon are a perfect way to do that. This is because, although we didn't get to test this feature during our time with the products, both Mighty and Napoleon are cloud-connected. “We wanted to take advantage of the face that we're starting to create these new services,”said Michael, referring to Creative Cloud.
Back at Adobe Max, the company showed off how the hardware could work with the cloud, enabling users to pull up Kuler colour themes stored in the cloud for example. Further still users can be paste elements stored in your Creative Cloud clipboard onto the iPad using Mighty's cloud features.
The 'copy' feature we were shown at Adobe Max is also pretty cool. It lets you draw an element onto the iPad and then use the button on Mighty to copy it and paste it wherever you want to and as many times as you choose. Even cooler, is that you don’t have to paste it on the same device. Why not share it with the person next to you by pasting it onto their iPad.
Plus, a new development for Napoleon that Michael told us about is what's described as "Kuler for shapes," but is codenamed Project Contour. Using the app, designers can create their own shapes and “Shape Packs” that can then be shared and downloaded by other Napoleon users. These shapes can be created by a cloud-based service that lets you take a photo that is automatically traced like in Illustrator. Users can then tweak and correct that outline to turn it into a shape.
“These apps that extend other applications – we could do that in everything,” says Michael. “So if you were using a motion app you could share motion paths or transitions. We are going to try to build a whole series of small tool creation apps.”
Michael told us that Adobe hopes to work with companies such as Wacom. “We've certainly talked with them about the work we are doing,” he said. “We want to open up the APIs to everybody so we are hopeful that Wacom would choose to do a cloud connected stylus at some point.”
How much will Mighty and Napoleon cost?
When we asked Michael about how much we can expect Mighty and Napoleon to cost, he was very vague, to say the least. He joked that the price point would be between a loaf of bread and a Lamborghini.
He did say, though, that initially, they'll be a high-end product. “The object you lust for,” he said. But, he also noted that Adobe will work with partners to make sure the products hit every possible market. “We want to make sure that everyone can get one, so there will be a different range of price points.”
What's next for Adobe hardware?
Drawing on his past as Vice President of Brand Design at Nike, Michael explained that the sportswear company aimed to convince consumers “if you have a body you're an athlete,” and that's what Adobe hopes to do with Mighty and Napoleon. “We'd like to convince people that if you have a mind you're creative,” he said.
“If this wasn't a formal meeting and I was as bad at keeping secrets as I am, I would show you a whole portfolio of things we're working on.”
Michael hinted that, in the future, Adobe would like to work with other software companies too, such as Autodesk, for example. “Imagine if Autodesk had a whole suite of applications that worked with our creative hardware and worked with the Creative Cloud.”
Michael said that, once Mighty and Napoleon are successful on iOS, Adobe would consider making an Android version, too.