It’s an awfully exciting time to be a creative, as the tools we use are becoming more portable, more powerful, and more connected. Fstoppers sat down with Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, and Scott Belsky, Adobe’s Chief Product Officer and Executive Vice President of Creative Cloud, to discuss how new tools are empowering creatives and where the future will take us.
I recently attended Apple’s launch event for the new MacBook Air, Mac Mini, and iPad Pro, and there was one moment that was particularly memorable for me. Apple brought the new iPad Pro on stage and opened a massive 3 GB, 157-layer .PSB (that’s right, not .PSD) file on the iPad Pro in the full version of Photoshop. I watched as the device absolutely flew through the file, making adjustments and moving objects without the slightest stutter. A quick double tap on the Apple Pencil toggled between zooming completely out and down to the pixel level. You could draw adjustments right on the document.
Watching the demonstration certainly got my imagination going. We’ve seen tablet devices running Photoshop before, but to see one handling such a complex and massive file with complete ease was something different. Apple is known for not necessarily being the first to market with features and functionality, choosing rather to bring a capability to consumers when it’s polished and powerful. And it seems with these new devices and the imminent release of the full version of Photoshop for iPad that we’re on the cusp of a paradigm shift.
I’ve always been someone who appreciates technology for the sake of technology — a definite first adopter. That means a lot of the time, things don’t work that well, but that’s the price of being on the bleeding edge. So, when it comes to creative work, I didn’t really get that serious on mobile devices until recently. Lightroom Mobile on the iPhone allowed me to start syncing collections and culling on the go whenever I had a few spare minutes. I was a big fan of last year’s iPad Pro in my review, and its powerful hardware, portability, battery life, and gorgeous screen have made it my favorite device for Lightroom edits. Now, we’ve taken another step forward, and I say this is a paradigm shift because we’re at a point where the desktop or laptop is optional now.
If you want to be a photographer and just take an iPad with you and do all your shooting, bring your photos on there, and fly through them, edit them, and share them with clients, we want you to be able to do that all on an iPad. If you want to do that on a notebook, we want a powerful notebook that’s thin and light with all-day battery life so that you can do that. Both ideas are going to be explored as far as they can.
From the moment I sit down with Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, it’s clear he’s someone who’s highly passionate about his work. His eyes light up when I tell him I’m a musician and how I feel we’re in an age where cross-media collaborations are becoming more and more possible and geographic boundaries are falling:
The bounds of collaboration and workflow are just all thrown to the wind; you don’t have to assume anything. You can have somebody shooting footage in Iceland and someone else mixing something in Europe, and you put it together and you may actually never come together at the same time. They find ways to share and create. Our job is to support that through the tools… to make that even more seamless. Ultimately, I think, as every creative tells us, the most important thing about technology is that it gets out of the way, that it becomes transparent to the process of the work you’re doing. The boundaries that the technology might create get pushed to the point of not influencing the work.
Scott Belsky, Adobe’s Chief Product Officer and Executive Vice President of Creative Cloud, agrees, calling it a “responsibility” that Adobe provides interoperability between creative fields and how Adobe encourages its different teams working on different products to always think about the “edges that may become the center” and about ways their products may potentially overlap. He continues, mentioning that as collaborations grow more complex and creatives work across more varied fields, some just emerging, he feels it’s wrong to expect creatives to spend large amounts of time and effort learning new tools and paradigms, saying it’s Adobe’s responsibility to help them “make the leap in the least painful way possible.” This is especially difficult, as it requires hardware companies and developers to understand not only current paradigms, but where creative fields are evolving toward and workflows are headed many years into the future. He mentions that this sort of anticipation of future paradigms was part of the impetus for Adobe to move to the cloud when it did, saying they realized the future of collaboration and connectivity and wanted to be ready for it.
Technology that doesn’t influence the work is a philosophy that has become increasingly important to me as I’ve grown as an artist and pushed the boundaries of collaboration and technological capabilities. There have been countless times when I’ve been limited by a piece of technology or had to employ a workaround or troubleshoot a problem; it’s just a fact of life for a lot of us. But when you devote cognitive resources to these things, when you interrupt the fragile creative process, you’re not giving yourself the chance to fully realize your potential. And so, a philosophy that’s centered on creating tools that just work and continue to work no matter how far you push them is something that can have powerful consequences for those using the tools.Belsky underscores that when I mention the difficulties in designing products that have the power to do whatever asked but still provide the user friendliness beginners need and pro users appreciate. He says he constantly reiterates to his teams a philosophy of “products powerful enough for professionals but accessible enough for anyone.” He continues: “I just don’t think that the complexity of a product and spending many years it takes to learn it is any longer a badge of honor.” He emphasizes a philosophy of “progressive disclosure,” one that increases the complexity of the user interface only as those tools are needed, which can be seen in the new version of Photoshop for the iPad. And as Schiller emphasizes the importance of tools that “get out of the way,” so too does Belsky: “I think a big part of what we need to do is make [our creative customers] more productive, as opposed to always focusing on new and cool features.”
In bringing the full version of Photoshop to the iPad, Belsky notes that it was a difficult process. He mentions that Adobe learned quite a bit along in making applications like Photoshop Mix and Express, which brought certain Photoshop capabilities to devices but were missing a lot of the core functionality. He mentions that creatives are really looking for the “unlimited use cases.” This brought Adobe to the decision that bringing Photoshop to the iPad meant “ultimately using the same engine” but reprogramming the user interface to match the paradigm of touch input. He emphasizes that Photoshop on the iPad is “the same Photoshop at its core” and that this ensures a continuity across devices: updates will be available across all instances of the application, ensuring continuity of user experience and capabilities.
Schiller sees the importance of unlimited capabilities too, saying: “With iPad Pro, we see the ability to push what’s possible with this technology beyond what people were expecting.” The tablet is an especially interesting device. Whereas desktops and laptops have decades of head starts, tablets have the advantage of being much more naturally suited to a lot of creative endeavors, and as they become as powerful as their desktop and laptop counterparts (and more so in a lot of cases), that’s enabling new methods of working, Schiller says. Belsky reinforces this, noting that Adobe’s aim is figuring out how “not just to extend the brand, but to take the real engines themselves,” referring to bringing full Photoshop to the iPad.I’m just old enough that I can appreciate when such technology (right down to the Internet itself) was not ubiquitous or seemingly omnipotent. And in that way, I consider myself lucky to have been witness to the numerous technological revolutions of the past few decades. But at the same time, I can’t help but imagine what it would like to be born right about now, to grow up in a time where the tools are unlikely to ever limit your creativity. A lack of boundaries is a powerful thing. Schiller mentioned that he thinks in a similar vein, hoping that these new tools can help the next generation of creatives to feel only empowered, to be unaware of boundaries.
Naturally, this got the teacher in me thinking. I mentioned to Schiller that I teach calculus and that one of the most difficult things for me to teach students is three-dimensional graphs. They’re impossibly difficult to draw by hand, and while I can put computer-generated versions on a projector, there always seems to be a bit of a gap in understanding when I introduce them. During this summer’s class, I brought my iPad Pro, pulled up a graph, and handed it off to them, letting them tactilely manipulate it. It was clear they built a much better intuitive understanding by being able to explore the abstract concepts this way.
I mention this experience to Schiller and how I believe technology is transforming the classroom, and he lights up again, enthusiastically saying, “we’re big believers of that!” He goes on: “the students that learn best are the ones that are most actively engaged in the process, and technology has a role to play. It doesn’t replace the process; it has a role in it to help engage the student to discover and learn in new ways. When you do that, they’re more successful.” Belsky agrees, noting he’s frustrated with the state of creative education and the general lack thereof. He mentions that he wants to be able to offer educational products where any teacher can “rotate the dial from K through 12” to ensure comprehensive and successively staggered creative education. Adobe also works to provide heavy educational discounts to make inroads with schools and shaping curriculum, offering educational versions of Creative Suite for $5 per student per year and in some cases, offering them for free. He further emphasizes that Adobe’s philosophy of user experience has evolved, with a strong focus on the “first mile” experience empowering users. Beyond that, he mentions the power of artificial intelligence lying not in taking creativity out of the hands of the user, but rather in automating “repetitive, mundane tasks,” such as creating layer masks, thereby giving the user more time and energy to focus on the actual creative process.
Similarly, it’s clear that while Schiller is passionate about creating the best possible products, he’s not satisfied with just that. He wants to create a culture in which creativity is unlimited by tools and thus, both the arts and sciences can advance at a faster pace with deeper exploration. To hear him speak of his own experiences makes this clear. He also sees this as extending beyond Apple and into their relationships with developers such as Adobe, noting:
When we talk about creativity, we talk about musicians, photographers, but developers are increasingly one of our largest creative customers, and so, we want to help developers, whether it’s an individual student getting started all the way up to the biggest corporations.
It’s clear that all three of us are quite excited about the time we’re living in. Belsky says:
I’m really excited about creativity no longer being chained to the desktop. I think that’s a big deal… We know creativity hits you on its own terms... Having products where you can pick up where you left off and anything can start or finish anywhere: the implications of that are very far reaching.
Schiller feels similarly:
I think we’re in the most amazing time with photography and videography, because they’re obviously intertwined and the pace of change is picking up again. There were many years where people would say: ‘well, cameras are getting better and better, but there’s not a lot happening that’s opening eyes up to completely new ways to approach imagery.’ Now, that’s happening again, and that’s why I’m so excited…
The future seems quite bright for creatives, as new tools and programs aim to put the focus entirely back on creativity, free from technological bounds, empowering today’s generation of artists, developers, photographers, filmmakers, and more, and creating a world where such boundaries never existed for the next generation.
Great article. I enjoyed reading it. Thanks for writing, Alex. I own this year’s version of the iPad Pro 12.9 and love it, so I can’t wait to get the new one.
If only there was a cheaper way to store and transfer files, I’d sell my Mac and never look back.
I have been an Apple user for over 20 years. Usually love their stuff and their updating process and I prefer my Mac to the PC by far. Lately, not so much. The last 4 years of Apple product announcements leave me totally unimpressed.
" And as Schiller emphasizes the importance of tools that “get out of the way,” so too does Belsky: “I think a big part of what we need to do is make [our creative customers] more productive, as opposed to always focusing on new and cool features.”
Here are some direct contradictions to this quote by Apple and Adobe.
1: Dropping computer ports for no good reason forcing me to buy even more new cords and connectors. 2: Lightroom running slower than molasses & not being improved. It is a BIG Problem for productivity. Read the forums and get a clue Adobe. 3: Less & less internal storage for Mac Mini, MacBook and Pro. WTH??? That makes my life harder, not easier 4: Macs going up in price and not adding productivity features to actually compete with PC's. Hello Mac, are you actually pushing us to the Evil Empire???. 5: What happened to the 17 inch MacBook?? I need real estate not prettier screens. 6: I am STILL PISSED about paying every single month for an Adobe product FOREVER!!!! The new updates do not come close to making up for that fact.
Need I go on??? I am really tired of the corporate speak in this article. Read the forums Apple and Adobe!!! Fix the basic user issues. Fix the speed problems. We don't need or want skinnier laptops and definetly DO NOT NEED smaller desktop units. Give us fire breathing, speedy Ferrari machines full of storage at PC prices. Then we can salute you again.
Alex, ask harder questions. Make them work during your interviews. Read the user forums BEFORE you meet with these corporate shills. I am tired of puff pieces and design over productivity in my Apple and Adobe products.
I hope it works well when released, the iPad Pro 10.5 I have has been a great video editing tool with lumafusion, real photoshop is the next step and hopefully we can batch adjust or maybe a full Lightroom version.
Dear Adobe (and Luma touch, for that matter), please incorporate Blending Modes into Rush and Lumafusion, even if it needs an iPad Pro level to enable it.
Good article! As an apple customer for many years I tried mobile photo postproduction workflows on the iPad (beginning with the very first iPad up to the 2018 Pro which I hope to receive today).
While the hardware is now certainly ready for such a job and applications like Adobe's, Affinity's and countless others are well up to the tasks too, IOS and its extremely limited import options (exclusively through the Photos app) and generally limited file handling slow me down or downright block me at every step.
I love the simplicity of IOS. Finally an OS I don't have to invest any maintenance work at all. But import/export functions and general access to the (or "a") filesystem needs to be improved a long way before this gets truly elegant.
I don't want my RAWs in the photos app. I won't process them there. Compressed RAWs from my Fujis aren't even supported in Photos. Why on this green earth do I have to push them through Photos to get them to LR or PS.
With all the good intentions cited in the article, this is a workflow that is certainly not "getting out of the way" or becoming "transparent" to the "creative". This needs to change !