It was never destined to be just another iPad app. Paper, by FiftyThree, was built from the psychological remnants of Microsoft’s beloved, canceled Courier project. Its watershed UI turned the iPad into a creative (rather than a consumptive) device for the first time. And the public loved it, downloading the app 8 million times.
Now, with newly announced $15 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz (including Highline Ventures, Thrive Capital, SV Angels, and Jack Dorsey), FiftyThree is going to expand beyond the app. The group’s hiring multidisciplinary talent to create what co-founder Georg Petschnigg calls "an essential suite of mobile creativity," including software, services, and even hardware.
"The creativity tools of the past were all made in the '80s and '90s. How we create hasn’t been rethought in a fundamental way," Petschnigg asks. "What are some of the challenges around creations on the go? With connectivity? With touch? How do we best capture ideas? How do we bring ideas together? Those are some of the core questions we’ll be answering in the next few years."
So they’re creating mobile Photoshop, Illustrator, and maybe some other Adobe product, I suggest.
"Those were tools designed for digital artists and content creators," Petschnigg corrects. "What we’re talking about is earlier on in the creative process—when ideas get developed."
"The next big question we’re trying to answer is, how do people really create together," continues co-founder Andrew Allen. "How do ideas come together and play back off one another? That, I think, is an area we haven’t seen solved very well yet online. And it’s frustrating, as you see social media do so well in terms of communications."
It’s what they call a mix of creativity and productivity software. The other piece of the puzzle is hardware—what’s been rumored to be a stylus created by FiftyThree. Personally, I think the actual, physical product they make next is probably less important than the larger idea they’re after: How can they revolutionize the way digital interfaces and analog implements work together? I try to imagine what Paper’s color tool could be like attached to a completely custom pen, because even Adobe’s relatively simple Project Mighty feels revolutionary, despite the fact that it’s basically a chunk of metal that your iPad can recognize as you.
It all sounds fairly exciting, so long as FiftyThree doesn’t go too meta, designing creative tools about creativity, rather than interfaces that manifest creativity. Because there really are so truly few companies doing good work in this space. And all of us would love the creative suite to do a whole day’s work from the beach.