Buried in Adobe's news yesterday was an announcement that marks an important shift for the company. Adobe announced a major update to their Creative Cloud that spans their online apps, including Photoshop and Photoshop Lightroom, and also released a new iPad pen and ruler called Ink and Slide, respectively.
So this particular news was easy to miss: Adobe is releasing an SDK ("software development kit") for mobile devices, which will let third-party developers embed select Adobe technologies, such as Photoshop’s blur reduction or content aware fill, into their iOS apps. And all image processing will be handled by servers in the cloud rather than on your phone or tablet.
This update has the potential to spread Adobe's tools across the App Store and make Photoshop or Illustrator—once pieces of independently boxed software—part of the underlying infrastructure of countless other creative apps.
Imagine the possibilities: Instagram with Photoshop’s Magic Wand inside, or Vine with the key framing technologies inside After Effects. You'd of course need to have a paid membership to the Creative Cloud to access these features. And while the Instagrams of the world may simply not see the mainstream incentive to hop on board the SDK’s technologies, creatives who like working on tablets and even on mobile phones could be facing a Renaissance of digital tools. Instead of Adobe as gatekeeper of its technologies, any developer will be able to stick Adobe’s engines into their own app hot rods.
Admittedly, there’s not much to see yet. In fact, there’s nothing to see at all. Adobe is working with unannounced partners to build out the first wave of Adobe powered apps, which will be revealed in October. Three components from Photoshop will be made available to developers—Content Aware Fill, Camera Shake Reduction, and Automatic Upright perspective correction. The SDK will also grant apps access to a user's cloud-saved files, and give both users and developers the option to view PSD file layers. That's a pretty cool, open-source-y feature, because developers have generally been unable to open Photoshop files before.
So we asked Scott Belsky, vice president of Adobe's Creative Cloud and Adobe's portfolio platform Behance, whether even richer features—such as their After Effects video technologies—were on the table for future SDK releases. "We certainly have more planned," he responded coyly.
But along with all of this potential comes a huge design challenge. Adobe’s products traditionally have strict user interfaces—with the same buttons and drop-down menus that have a 20-year lineage. Getting third-party developers to adopt Adobe tech is an opportunity to push Adobe’s UIs forward in experimental and unforeseen ways. But is that progress usable for the average Adobe creative who is working on a deadline and needs to get this Photoshop fix to work on their iPad?
"There is a comfortable tension here that we talk about all the time and want to navigate carefully," Belsky tells Co.Design. "We do want consistency for certain creative actions across applications, but we also want to embrace developer feedback during the private beta and iterate accordingly," he said.
For the time being, Adobe appears to be tilting conservative and keeping standards tight. Into the future, we'll be curious to see how much Adobe loosens the reins and lets developers go wild. Because, when you look at the mass success of apps like Paper, built by companies who’ve come out of nowhere to rock the entire creative digital tools market, you come to realize that the next powerhouse app in graphic design might not be built by Adobe. But if Adobe plays their cards right, their toolkits may still be inside.