Adobe gets creative: Touch Apps and the Creative Cloud

Adobe does it again, this time with a cool set of tools that begs for students to be creative (and learn a thing or two about pro design on the way).
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor on

Every time I write about Adobe software (which I use daily), I always feel compelled to preface my post with some justification of the cost. It's no secret that Adobe software, even with educational licensing deals, is not cheap, and much of this column focuses on high-value, low-cost technology that can have a real impact on students and teachers. Adobe always gets the high-value, high-impact part of the equation right, but not so much on the low cost. It's never enough to stop me from recommending it if you have the curriculum, hardware, and instructional expertise to use it well, but I still always cringe slightly as I write glowing reviews of pricey software, no matter how superb it might be.

Despite having just taken up a whole paragraph talking about it, I don't actually need such a caveat for Adobe's Touch Apps. At $10 a piece, these apps are an easy add-on to any Android 1:1 tablet deployment (iOS versions are on their way soon). Interestingly, the apps aren't meant to be mini-CS 5.5 knockoffs. While there is, in fact, a Photoshop Touch app, along with five other apps, these are designed from the ground up to be creative tools with a great touch interface.

More than that, while Adobe's Touch apps will no doubt find their way into the toolkits of artists and designers, they beg to be used in an instructional setting. Let's take a step back though and then I'll explain why these are so well suited to education.

The Touch Apps include the following:

  • Photoshop Touch - A photo editing, exploration, and touchup tool
  • Adobe Debut - A presentation tool for projects designed in the Apps or from the Creative Cloud (more on that later)
  • Proto - A rapid prototyping and wireframing tool for interactive websites
  • Collage - My favorite: A tool for creating "moodboards" the aggregate video, text, images, and drawings to convey an idea
  • Ideas - A vector drawing tool
  • Kuler - My second favorite: a tool for capturing, remixing, and creating color palettes from scratch or from existing photos

A few important things to note:

  1. Adobe has designed these from the ground up as touch applications. They're brilliant because of the very tactile, interactive nature of using them.
  2. Integration with Adobe's Creative Cloud, a relatively new offering, adds quite a bit of power to the apps as well as to other Adobe products. Color palettes created in Kuler, for example, can be imported into Photoshop. Similarly, proprietary Adobe file types stored in the Creative Cloud can be used directly in the apps (.psd Photoshop files, for instance).
  3. The Touch Apps can stand alone, but practically beg to be used with Creative Suite 5 or 5.5, letting users be creative in new ways with their tablets that aren't natural or possible with CS and then take these bits of creativity and use the heck out of them in pro-level software.
  4. The touch apps aren't for cheap tablets. These are processor-intensive and anything less than a dual-core need not apply.

So where does the educational component come in? Obviously, allowing tactile and visual learners to have new creative outlets is very compelling. For a very low cost, students can learn to express ideas in a variety of ways, whether in a formal artistic setting or across the curriculum.

From a career preparedness perspective, though, students have a very easy entry point into design concepts. Photoshop, for example, supports layering very well and makes it very simple to explore concepts like saturation and exposure. The key tools for manipulating images and adding design elements to a variety of projects are all there as well, so that software like CS 5.5, which has a fairly steep learning curve, will have familiar functions and actions if and when students want to step up to professional work.

If I had one complaint it would be that the Apps aren't sufficiently aware of each other. While they integrate brilliantly via the Creative Cloud and any digital assets you have stored on Facebook or Google, each requires you to log in separately to the services. It isn't a big deal, but it's a pain to log into your Creative Cloud account three times to first edit a photo, then pull a new color palette from it, then implement that pallet in a design.

That quibble aside, though, the Touch Apps would make a fine (and cost-effective) addition to any 1:1 tablet deployment and would be as useful in the 6th grade as they would be in a college-level art and design courses.

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