Designed by Ammunition, the pen is an aluminum stylus that can replace your finger on the iPad screen.

The pen has a pressure-sensitive tip, a button to reveal onscreen menus and a glowing tip to convey modal information (designating if you’re drawing with any particular settings), and that’s it.

The three standard colors.

"We took the triangular shape--this classic shape that’s easier to grip--and twisted it," Ammution’s Robert Brunner says. "So the point at which your fingers hold it, the pen is at its best.”

“When [Adobe’s VP of experience] first said he had this idea for a digital ruler, to be honest, I was like, 'I don’t know,'” Brunner admits. “As we actually started to work on it and play with it, we realized that it was very smart. You can certainly set up software to draw straight lines and snap to angles, but the simple addition of this other physical thing gives you so much more confidence.”

Of course, the greater promise is a series of tools that constantly connect and sync to the cloud.

Physical objects that login and transfer files from screen to screen, seamlessly.

When you consider that vision, it almost makes sense that Adobe wants its users using their cloud-integrated products as soon as possible.

As of today, the hardware is only in conceptual prototype stage.

But Adobe should release this good idea soon, lest someone else beat them to the punch.

Co.Design

How Adobe Reinvented The Pen To Draw On The Internet

What is the future of the cloud-connected interface? How about a simple pen and ruler?

This week, Adobe announced that the Creative Suite was becoming the subscription-based Creative Cloud. It didn’t go so well. But amidst the bad news, we may have lost sight of Adobe’s rationale for pushing the cloud beyond profits. And you can see that rationale hiding inside Project Mighty.

On one hand, it’s just an aluminum stylus that can replace your finger on the iPad screen. On the other, it’s a cloud-connected pen--or humanity’s single-greatest, simplest creative apparatus, married to the entire world of digital tools and information. Today, Project Mighty allows you to draw an image on your iPad screen, then seamlessly continue drawing that same image on your iPhone screen. Tomorrow, such a tool could draw anywhere--screen or table--while constantly syncing with your creative depository in the cloud.

Now you have to admit, that’s at least a little bit intriguing.

How It Came Together

Project Mighty, along with an accompanying “short ruler” codenamed Napoleon, were both designed by Ammunition (and engineered by Mindtribe). Ammunition has been working on various concepts with Adobe for the past five years. These are the first two designs to be made public.

“One of the goals of this was just to make a beautiful, sweet object,” Ammunition Founder Robert Brunner tells Co.Design. "The pen in particular is one of those simple, beautiful forms. But it actually has a purpose. We took the triangular shape--this classic shape that’s easier to grip--and twisted it. So the point at which your fingers hold it, the pen is at its best.”

The pen has a pressure-sensitive tip, a button to reveal onscreen menus and a glowing tip to convey modal information (designating if you’re drawing with any particular settings), and that’s it. The accompanying ruler is similarly sparse. Six shapes appear on the surface (it’s unclear if these will be actual buttons), a plastic back slides easily on a glass touch screen, and a few capacitive points convey its position to software.

“When [Adobe’s VP of experience] first said he had this idea for a digital ruler, to be honest, I was like, 'I don’t know,'” Brunner admits. “As we actually started to work on it and play with it, we realized that it was very smart. You can certainly set up software to draw straight lines and snap to angles, but the simple addition of this other physical thing gives you so much more confidence.”

Even still, why did the team pursue a pen and ruler at all? In the digital world, there are no physical bounds dictating a tip of a pen needs to be connected to a long channel of ink. Couldn’t Project Mighty look like an ergonomic swirly straw, or a creative pair of brass knuckles--any dream device that could reimagine the very core idea of what drawing can be, rather than the old default pen and ruler?

“It’s simply because they’re extremely familiar,” Brunner says. “That’s the thing. You can come up with something entirely unique, but the fact is, these two devices, or shapes, are incredibly embedded in our understanding of drawing and creating.”

The Power Of Illusion

Adobe frames Project Mighty as a high-tech, borderline magical device that stores your identity and your projects. In reality, the hardware itself is fairly dumb, but its implementation is ingenious.

The pen is just a Bluetooth stick in the simplest of senses. Software spots its unique Bluetooth identifier. That code is associated with you. And you’re associated with the files/settings you’ve stored in the Adobe cloud. In other words, Project Mighty is really just beaming software an alphanumeric string, which logs into your accounts very quickly so you don’t have to. Finding myself fairly proud of piecing this together, I ask Brunner about it.

“You’re right, it’s an illusion per se,” he says. "All the pen is doing is IDing you and the app you’re in, and contextually allowing you to do things. But that’s an important idea! Using objects as a conduit to data is a powerful and interesting possibility. But for some reason, in the world of development, there seems to be a hard line between hardware and software.”

This hard line is exactly what Project Mighty is working to erase. It’s a peek into the most basic and powerful interactions that smart design can drive as we approach the Internet of things. This pen doesn’t need to gyroscopically record your movements, save them onto some flash drive, beam them back to the computer, then beam them to the cloud every moment. It just has to be a stick with a button that’s ready to be identified by software.

In other words, there’s nothing inside the hardware that demands the pen remain proprietary. Project Mighty could become popularized for apps living in the walls of Adobe’s own products. With a little modification (maybe an optional real pen tip?) Project Mighty could become the tactile, connective tissue between you and any surface on which you’d like to draw. This semi-smart pen could become the ubiquitous way we interact creatively with the world around us.

“Something I noticed: I used to always carry a pen,” Brunner says. "I don’t anymore, whereas my iPhone is always in my pocket. Maybe this thing can bring back the idea that the pen is always with you.”

Project Mighty and Napoleon are currently in developmental prototype stage.

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12 Comments

  • deepshade

    Knowing Adobe - you'll have to pay them every month to keep the thing working.

  • ASHPoD

    And what if, by chance, someone steals my pen? I'm going to log onto my account and find the documents--giant phalluses everywhere, as I don't know what else a high schooler would "graffiti." Then again, it does look like an innocuous pen or stylus. 

  • Macron

    I really like the integration of hardware to software for Adobe's migration to a cloud based model. I also love seeing all the innovative workarounds people come up with to address what is really a market/hardware issue on Apple's part when it comes to input other than your fingers.  I know Job's was against the stylus, but I also gave up finger painting back in kindergarten.   

     I've used some version of Wacom technology including Cintiq's for the better part of the past 13 years and it truly has been the gold standard for emulating the way we naturally draw and paint as far as input devices are concerned. 

    When I got my IPad I was super excited about having a portable Cintiq like device.
    I've  tried 4 different styli for the IPad including a few
    "pressure sensitive" ones as well as a host of art creation apps with
    those styli, and have been disappointed each time.  Compared to Wacom tech drawing on the IPad is like running a marathon with a small pebble in your shoe.  You can do it but it's unnecessarily painful.  I like my Ipad for everything else though (mail, movies, music, games, etc.)

    Maybe, and that's a big maybe, this new Adobe product will finally get it right but I am skeptical. I don't think it's any fault of Adobe, Ammunition, or Mindtribe.  You'd have to go all the way back to Apple to truly do this right.

  • Tommy

    "But Adobe should release this good idea soon, lest someone else beat them to the punch."

    Ummm, y'mean like Samsung already did? I traded in my iPad for a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 and couldn't be happier. It has over 1000 pts of pressure sensitivity and was made for Samsung by the experts in pressure sensitive tablets Wacom.

  • Ocourtneyo

    Tommy, what drawing app(s) do you use with galaxy? I'm thinking of making the switch...

  • Jason-

    The ruler is a little ridiculous, but tablets have needed a way to draw in a pressure sensitive way for some time. TGerring is right though, that lag makes it unusable for all intents and purposes. I sketch on a Cintiq and the response is instant- new products need to be at least as good as the competition.

  • Tgerring

    Looks promising, but the tip is too big and there is a ton of lag between the movement of the pen and line drawing on screen. Needs to be really responsive to be completely useful.

  • Paul Muston

    I scoffed at the idea of the ruler before I saw the video. Boy was I wrong!

  • Heracles Papatheodorou

    A pen with a tip the size of my pinky? Interesting, but just not there yet.