Adobe’s Hardware Experiments Are More Than Just Hobbies: Hands-On With Project Context

Posted: May 7, 2013 in Adobe, Technology
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20130507-092954.jpg. At its MAX conference in Los Angeles today, Adobe
showed quite a few products that will soon be
available to its customers, but it also highlighted a
number of hardware experiments, including Project
Context, a totally re-imagined way for creating
magazine layouts, as well as an advanced stylus and a ruler for touchscreens. After the keynote this morning, I had a chance to sit
back with Adobe’s David Macy to talk about both the
newly announced Mighty pen and Napoleon ruler for
touchscreens, as well as Project Context. All of these
projects are definitely more than just hobbies for
Adobe, something Macy acknowledged when I asked him about the company’s plans for these tools. While Macy obviously wouldn’t talk about when (or
even if) Adobe plans to turn these prototypes into
products, my feeling was that the company is clearly
thinking about it. It’s also clear that the Adobe XD
team, which is behind all of these projects, has the
backing to explore these ideas. The idea for the Mighty Pen, for example, was born about a year and
a half ago and the team has been iterating on the idea
ever since. Out of the three projects, Project Context is clearly
the one that is the most “out there” right now. It’s
easy to imagine Adobe selling pens and rulers, but
when it comes to giant touchscreens, that’s not
exactly the company’s core focus. Right now Context
is focused solely on magazine design, but because it runs on OS X (and actually uses two Macs for each
screen), the system could be adapted for other uses
as well (and Macy wouldn’t say if Wired or Conde
Nast have any plans to use it in their actual
production process). As Wired’s design director Claudia de Almeida noted
when she demoed the project on stage today, layouts
in newsrooms today are often still created physically
with paper, scissors and boards where designers
arrange their layouts. “The wonderful thing about
Project Context,” she said, “is that it takes the best of what we do in the analog world and recreates it
digitally.” That, of course, is also true of Adobe’s
other two hardware projects. The Context system uses two 1080p high-def screens
with a frame around it for picking up touch signals, as
well as another screen set up as a Surface-like table
in front of the other two screens. Because the
screens are so large, you can actually see the
individual pixels, but Macy hopes that once 4k screen become more affordable, that won’t be an issue. There is also something about having these huge
touchscreens that gets people energized, he said. It’s
a great tool for team collaboration, Adobe believes,
and the prototype currently supports up to 30 touch
points. Hands-On With Project Context I had a chance to play with Project Context behind
the MAX stage and it’s indeed a very cool
experience. The layout is, for the most part, the
interface. Assets are available in a horizontally
scrolling bar at the top of the page and to add them to
the layout. Swiping left and right with multiple fingers allows you to scroll, touching an image with one finger
allows you to move it around on the page (or between
pages) and you can obviously resize images, pages
and perform other actions. The prototype also
includes a web browser, though it was deactivated for
the demo today. In addition to the two-screen system, Adobe uses the
Surface table-like setup that users can send
individual images to. Users can put a keyboard on it
and start writing notes onto the image or just start
drawing on it with their finger. Once you’re done, you
just swipe it back in the direction of the main screens and it’ll show up there again. Adobe’s first idea, by the way, was to build a room
that could be outfitted with Kinect-like sensors, Wii-
like remotes and similar technologies. Adobe actually
ended up building this room, but in the end, however,
Macy said, “making gestures in the air just felt silly.”
Once you have a touchscreen, touching just becomes the natural way to work with the software. The next
project for the team, then, was to build a touchscreen-
based drawing table (the team’s leader is a former
architect). Using virtual rulers and similar tools just
didn’t make all that much sense in this context,
though, so the idea of Might and Napoleon was born – and some of those influences can obviously also be
seen in Project Context. As for the future of this project, as well as Mighty and
Napoleon, it’s not clear where Adobe is going to go,
but Macy believes that it does point toward a future
and that Adobe needs to experiment with interface
like Context to stay ahead of the game.

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