After Some Misses, Adobe Says Its Found its Mobile Mark

David Wadhwani, senior vice president of digital media for Adobe Systems Inc.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The last few years have seen Adobe launch and scrap waves of applications as the company tried to find its place in a world gone mobile.

Even for the apps that were well received, professional users complained they weren't robust enough, nor were they tied closely enough to Adobe's desktop apps.

On Monday, though, Adobe hopes to satisfy the critics with eight new and updated mobile apps–all tied closely to the company's core products–Photoshop, Illustrator and Premiere.

"It takes some exploration, it takes some wrong turns and some dead ends," Adobe's David Wadhwani said in an exclusive interview ahead of the company's MAX conference which kicks off today in Los Angeles. "All of that pays off when you find your final path. I feel like we are on that path now."

At the event, Adobe is announcing a slew of updates to its existing products in addition to the mobile apps, as well as new cloud based services, including one for storing font and brush preferences and another to help companies recruit developer talent.

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As for the mobile apps, they are part of a bet that the physical and digital worlds are merging and that Adobe can help as those worlds collide. One of the apps, Adobe Shape, lets creative types take any thing they see in the real world and turn it into the lines and vectors used in illustrator. Another app, Adobe Brush, turns physical strokes into digital brushes for use in Illustrator or Photoshop.

The mobile apps are all free and are slated to be in Apple's store later on Monday, while updates to Adobe's Creative Suite apps will be made available to subscribers. Wadhwani credits the shift to a subscription model for allowing such a big update only four months after its last update. Both the June and October releases are among the most significant updates made in recent years, Wadhwani said, acknowledging that all companies say that about every release.

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For all Adobe is doing in its own apps, one of the biggest moves it is making is opening up its tops for use in third-party mobile apps. The company is releasing the first version of its software developer kit for iOS and plans to expand the effort with the just-announced acquisition of Aviary.

At the show, Adobe will announce that among the early partners for the developer kit are notebook maker Moleskin, artsy T-shirt company Threadless and Fifty-Three, makers of the popular app Paper.

"We've got great technology and we can't possibly solve all of the use cases," Wadhwani said.

While all of the new mobile apps and the developer kit are for iOS right now, Wadhwani said the company is actively exploring which of the tools should be brought to Android and even Windows phones and tablets. An Android version of the software development kit is in early testing as well, Wadhwani said.

Wadhwani said Adobe is not done experimenting. For example, just last week the company announced it would start offering some educational institutions the ability to stream Photoshop to Chromebooks. It's a bet on the future, Wadhwani said.

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Adobe is also starting to invest in new Microsoft initiatives for the first time in a long time. In addition to future support for Windows on mobile devices, an updated version of Illustrator supports the touch interface of the Surface Pro and other Windows 8 devices.

The touch version of Illustrator is the kind of thing Wadhwani said to expect more of on the desktop–offering more approachable, scaled back interfaces even in full apps, with an option a click away to access the full complement of tools.

"It becomes a lot more fun and possible to approach this stuff," he said.

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