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.
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.
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.