Adobe enters hardware realm with tablet pen, digital ruler

The way David Macy, principal incubator at Adobe’s XD team, sess it, the company’s first hardware product would never been built if they gave into the pushback.

The challenges mainly had to do with funding and the mindset that Adobe is a software company, according to Macy, who is project manager for the design software maker’s first foray into hardware manufacturing.

“We were literally passing the hat from department to department in order to get funding each month,” the California based Macy told CDN during a recent visit to Toronto. “The turning point was when David Wadhwani (senior vice-president and general manager of Adobe’s digital media business) went out in public, even before we had a working prototype, to show a model of the product and announce it as a thought experiment.”

in story Slide and Ink adobe

Macy was in Toronto to speak at the Design Thinkers 2014 event. The Adobe Ink, a digital pen and Adobe Slide, its accompanying digital ruler, are available in the United States and on for US$ 199.99. The gadgets work with the iPad 4, iPad Air, iPad Mini and iPad Mini with Retina.

(To see video, click here)

It took about two years for Ink and Slide to move from concept to the market. Unfortunately, designers in Canada will have to wait a bit longer for Adobe to start selling the products in the country.

Adobe refers to Ink as a “cloud pen” and it works in conjunction with the slide which the company calls a digital ruler. The idea to create the gadgets, according to Macy, came about when he and some engineers and designers at Adobe realized that while Apple’s iPad was growing in popularity among designer types, there were not exceptional design accessories in the market for the tablet.

Since Macy’s team was working for a software company that even recently had shifted away from boxed software sales to a cloud subscription model, they had to collaborate with outside groups such as design company, Ammunition Design Group and product development firm Mindtribe of San Francisco in creating product mock ups, prototypes and final product.

Ink is a triangular barrel of hydroformed aluminum which connects to the iPad via Bluetooth. It comes with its own charging case (one hour of charging time allows the unit to work for eight hours). Unlike other stylus devices for tablets that cram multiple sensors into a large rubberized nub in order to simulate pressure sensitivity on the iOS device display, Ink has a relatively fine 2mm point. Users use Ink just like a pen to draw lines and images on the iPad screen.

As sort of a nod to traditional drawing and design process, the team also developed Slide. Macy described it as “a straight ruler that you can morphed into a circular or French curve” to help create various shapes and figures on the tablet. The device actually simulates a user’s two-finger contact with a tablet screen. It helps call up functions and controls for apps that are being used.

The new tools work with apps such as Autodesk SketchBook Mobile X, TopHatch and ArtRage iPad, but Macy said users should also bone up on Adobe Color Creative Cloud (CC), Adobe Shape CC and Adobe Brush CC.

in story ink and slide adobe

Does this mean Adobe is moving into the hardware space for good?

Software will remain the core of Adobe’s business. However if Ink and Slide prove to be really popular, Macy foresees the gadgets playing the role of additional channels to bring people into Adobe’s Creative Cloud, the company’s software-as-a-service offering that provides subscribers access to Adobe’s collection of graphic design, Web development, video editing and photography softwware.

“In fact we want other manufacturers to come up with their own devices that can connect to Creative Cloud,” said Macy.


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Nestor Arellano
Nestor Arellano
Toronto-based journalist specializing in technology and business news. Blogs and tweets on the latest tech trends and gadgets.

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