Adobe Wants To Kill Your Desktop

This year, Adobe will launch multitasking tools on mobile that might enable you to work faster than you would on a desktop.

If you use Photoshop or Illustrator for a living, you probably live at your desk, tethered to your standard-issue computer. But Scott Belsky, known best for founding the creative site Behance, wants to change that in his new role leading mobile products at Adobe. Over the next year, he has big plans to turn Adobe’s apps for your smartphone and tablet from a creative gimmick into powerful multitasking tools with workflows that are on par or even faster than what you can do on your desktop.


The entire experience will all be centered around a free iPad app Adobe is launching today called Adobe Comp, a fast and capable layout tool for mocking up typefaces, graphics, and user interfaces.


Adobe Comp’s Interface
Out of the gate, Adobe Comp is the most impressive piece of mobile software Adobe has released. At its heart, it is all about creating mockups. You start with any number of preset canvas sizes–like an iPhone screen, a business card, or an HD-resolution website–and then, through a series of pinches and taps, you can create highly accurate gridded shapes, images, and text.

“We’re marketing this as the first-mile app for all of the desktop products,” Belsky tells me. “When you open a new project in either Photoshop or Illustrator, it’s a blank page. It’s so freaking intimidating. Instead, you open Adobe Comp, and just start.”


Truth be told, Comp gives you a blank page, too, but Belsky’s point is well-taken. Using Comp’s touchscreen controls is both intuitive and tactile–and it comes with an immediate gratification that you just don’t get with a mouse. Drawing a crude circle automatically rounds out to a perfect one. Tap it, and stretch the circle as you see fit. Draw three lines next it to the circle, and you’ve got a placeholder for small text.

Prefer real lorem ipsum? Tap the text tool, then choose if you want it headline, subhead, or paragraph size. It just appears, and resizing it is as easy as stretching the bounding box. (Oh, and by the way, you can use any Typekit font you want on that text–Comp is the first mobile app to allow that.) And as you move things around, guiding lines pop up as in Illustrator to convey that images and text are centered or line up.


Other great features? A three-finger swipe takes you back through the entire history of your composition. (You can export any and all stages of this comp to Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign.) A slider allows you to cruise through layers, rather than the more complicated outline format you’ve seen on desktops.


And within the app, they’ve not only integrated access to all of your files in your Creative Cloud Drive, but something called the Creative Cloud Market. The Market has all sorts of commonly needed graphics–like iOS navigation UI–that you can suck into your compositions, allowing you to grab necessary media quickly without Googling. (For now, the Market is free to use, though that may change in the future.)

Without getting into too much interface detail, I’d say that what FiftyThree’s Paper has done for intuitive drawing on tablets, Comp is doing for building a more general layout on a tablet. It’s fast and capable enough that, if you beat a client to a coffee shop by 15 to 20 minutes, you could mock up a website or app homepage before the client got there.

Its Secret Is Connectivity
However, while the UI is very good, it’s the deeper connectivity that makes Comp such a usable tool. Within the next year, Comp will be updated to do something new to both mobile apps and desktop ones: The team calls it a 360-Degree Workflow, and it’s a way that you’ll be able to seamlessly toss a piece of media from app to app, always using the right tool for the job.


To build Comp, Adobe invested in backend engineering. It created a new file type called the Compound Document Format (CFD). It doesn’t have all the raw data you’ll find in a big PSD, but it’s a lightweight, universal language that Adobe’s mobile and desktop apps can share.

Because of the CFD, you can export anything you build in Comp right to desktop Photoshop or Illustrator, and it will come through as a vector file, complete with its layers intact and 1:1 pixel accuracy.

It also means that you can easily import files in any third-party-supported Creative Cloud app. The most ready example is FiftyThree’s Paper. When you log in to Paper via your Adobe ID, you can save those files to be opened in Comp.


How It All Comes Together
In the next year, Belsky will be working to integrate this CFD sharing into the interface of the tools themselves. The idea is called 360-Degree Workflow, and it will use deep links within the editing interface to link several creative apps as one cohesive suite.

In 360-Degree Workflow, if you tapped on an image that you were playing with in Comp, alongside the software’s stock sizing options, you’d have the option to open it in something like the third party app Photo Editor by Aviary (I choose this example only because it’s a photo app that supports the Creative Cloud login). With a tap, the photo would load into Photo Editor, allowing deep color correction and filter application. Then with another tap, that edited image would shoot right back into Comp.

We’ve seen Facebook use deep links for advertising, and Google Maps use them to connect users to Uber. But for Adobe, deep linking will enable multitasking for the app era without making its interface overly bloated.


“There have never been any great creative apps on mobile that worked together,” Belsky admits. “In some ways, the Camera Roll [as a central depository for your mobile media] is the worst thing for creativity. We’re killing the reliance on Camera Roll.”

Think about it: The full Photoshop interface–designed for big monitors and precise mouse movements–just doesn’t translate to an iPad’s finger-driven touchscreen. There will always be too many buttons and drop-down menus to make that possible. But by using deep linking, Adobe doesn’t have to build all of the capabilities of Photoshop or Illustrator into one app. An unlimited number of apps could each serve as the best custom tool for a job.

Furthermore, this app multitasking solves Adobe’s plug-in problem on mobile. In their desktop apps, third-party plug-ins are the bread and butter for a lot of creatives. A single great batch of Photoshop filters can make all the difference to someone’s workflow, but negotiating plug-ins within the mobile OS infrastructure is a complicated proposition. In 360-Degree Workflow, these plug-ins can just become their own apps, each optimized for its niche use case.


“I think what eventually will happen is, third-party apps will want to be part of [Adobe’s] professional creative workflow on mobile,” Belsky says. “And as a result, they’ll integrate with [us], and they’ll be challenged to build products that complement our mobile and desktop workflows.

“[Then] we include them in deep linking,” he continues. “That to me is what our strategy should be, so third parties know areas of innovation where we’re not going to be competitive, we’re just going to be helpful.”

Adobe will have more announcements regarding 360-Degree Workflow in the coming year. Until then, if you have an iPad, you can download Adobe Comp to try it out.


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach


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