Adobe says iPad Pro can't replace a laptop for creative work, and it's okay
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Laptops needed

Despite Tim Cook's most valiant efforts to get you to believe that the only laptop you'll need in the future is the iPad Pro with its optional folio keyboard accessory, Apple partner Adobe thinks that creatives will want to carry more than just a tablet to complete their projects.

We had a chance to sit down and chat with David Macy, Director of User Experience Design at Adobe Systems, Inc., to talk about the iPad Pro, Microsoft's Surface Pro 4 and Adobe's app strategy with Apple's biggest tablet to date.

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Some of Macy's answers will surprise you, but Adobe is bullish on the mobile market, claiming that these mobile devices will drive "the greatest revolution in the creative process since desktop publishing in the 1980s."

Not a desktop replacement

During a launch interview with UK publication Telegraph, Apple CEO Tim Cook hyped the company's large format tablet as a productivity powerhouse, saying that it's a suitable laptop alternative for many users.

"I think if you're looking at a PC, why would you buy a PC anymore? No really, why would you buy one?" said Cook."Yes, the iPad Pro is a replacement for a notebook or a desktop for many, many people. They will start using it and conclude they no longer need to use anything else, other than their phones."

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Cook noted that he travels with just his iPhone and his iPad Pro, opting to leave behind his MacBook at home.

While the iPad Pro can be a great system for productivity for many users, creative professionals may still need to rely on a powerful desktop at work.

"You can do a tremendous amount of design and concepting work on the iPad Pro by itself, but I don't think that most people are ready to move their entire production workflow to the iPad," Macy said. "And that's why integration with the desktop is very, very important."

In an example, Macy said he may be working on a layout for a website, where he can use the iPad Pro for retouch imagery and typography. "But most likely, at some point, I am going to hand the layout to somebody else on the team who is going to put it into a larger architecture for the overall website, or I am going to hand this off to a developer who is going to start coding it. And that's where the connection to the desktop is going to come in."

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When asked directly about Cook's comments and if the iPad Pro can effectively replace a Mac or PC for creatives, Macy said, "I think that it will be possible for a large portion of many people's workflows, but not for everybody and not all the time. I don't think that's because of limitations in the device itself, but because of the way people work. And sometimes, it takes time to change."

Macy compared the iPad Pro to when smartphones initially launched. Some people could do everything on their smartphones, but others still had to use a desktop to accomplish some tasks.

"We'll see the same progression over the next couple years as all kinds of companies and industries look at tablet devices as an important tool to support."

Surprisingly, it's not just the iPad Pro that requires a desktop companion as part of a project workflow. Even as the competing Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is capable of running the full version of Photoshop and Adobe's Creative Suite, creative professionals are still going to have to rely on a desktop at some point during their workflow.

"The same thing is going to happen with the Surface Pro," Macy said. "The difference here is with collaborating with other people, not necessarily about the difference in the OS" that will drive projects back to the desktop.

Macy said that a lot of Adobe's customers are now using on average at least three devices each, two of which are desktops or laptops, one at work and one at home. The third device is a smartphone, Macy said, and that could be either an iPhone or an Android.

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"We're starting to see more pickup of people using tablets, like the iPad, and that's where the iPad Pro comes in," Macy said. "With previous iPad models, a lot of creative people thought they were going to use them as tools for creativity, but they didn't have the functionality they needed."

Some of the features lacking on older iPad releases include small displays, low resolution screens, lack of performance and apps that are not capable enough. The biggest key, however, in the early failure of early tablets for creatives, is the lack of a well-built, integrated stylus, according to Macy.

Adobe's design philosophy

Because the Surface Pro runs Windows, it runs the full desktop version of Photoshop and the rest of the programs available in Adobe's Creative Suite, Macy said, bringing 25 to 30 years of Adobe heritage.

"It's not practical to bring the Mac version of Photoshop [to the iPad Pro]," Macy added.

Developing Photoshop for the iPad

On iOS, Adobe took a different approach. Apps are more focused, and they don't have the full functionality of the version designed for the desktop operating system.

"So, what we've been doing instead is reimagining the functionality in our applications, and figuring out how we can strip down some of the 25 to 30 years of features and use cases into building blocks as individual applications, and how we can connect the apps back to our desktop [programs] so users can build a better workflow.

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For Photoshop, Adobe unveiled three iOS apps that mimic three distinct use cases offered on the desktop app. Photoshop Fix, Photoshop Mix and Photoshop Sketch were introduced to replicate three different ways that users interacted with Photoshop on the desktop.

With Fix, Adobe brings some of the photo retouching tools from its desktop app to the mobile workflow, while Sketch brought in some of the drawing functionality when used with the Apple Pencil stylus. Photoshop Mix is used for compositing.

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"We realize that creative professionals often need to create their own workflows by stitching together different features from different apps," Macy said. "So what we're doing with these apps is connecting them all together with a feature called Creative Sync."

Creative Sync allows people to work on a project across Adobe's suite of apps. For users on multiple devices, it also enables projects to synchronize between an iPad Pro and a desktop, and this brings added flexibility on which device to use for the type of creative work that needs to be done.

Working with the limitations

"One of the creative limitations on iOS for years was the camera roll," Macy said. Creative professionals would work with images and files, and the common denominator for sharing the finished product is the camera roll, but iOS would only recognize JPEG and PNG files.

This means that layers and editable elements within a project file would be lost once the final product is exported for sharing with the camera roll.

To overcome this OS-level limitation, Adobe introduced Creative Cloud so creatives could save their work to the cloud and have access to them in other apps on iOS as well as on the desktop.

Tech tools for creatives

In the future, tablets like the iPad Pro and the Surface Pro 4 have the potential to replace dedicated artist tablets, like Wacom's Cintiq line.

"But I don't think that's happening quite yet because the technology hasn't been quite there yet," Macy mused about this future. He does think that these new slates will create a convergence of devices for creatives, and that this will happen once people begin to experience the Apple Pencil and iPad Pro and understand the technology's capabilities.

"The solution is much more mobile than the combination of a desktop or laptop computer and a Cintiq, and it's beautifully integrated," Macy said.

As Director of User Experience, Macy had access to the tablet pre-launch through Adobe's relationship with Apple, but he is still waiting for his personal device to arrive. "I'm very encouraged by the access that I've had," Macy said of the slate, adding that he looks forward to receiving his personal tablet and using it as his "primary computer."

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Macy also hinted that Adobe is examining bringing other parts of its Creative Suite to iOS, including the possibility of bringing a video editing workflow to mobile devices that would integrate with Adobe Premiere Pro.

Users are also finding new ways of doing things on a mobile device that may not completely replace what they've done in the past. Hollywood may not use the iPad Pro to edit video, but a cinematographer could use the slate to plan scenes, and then pass the project to someone in the studio to continue the editing.

"We're constantly in communication with Apple to figure out what's possible and what's not possible in the future, and giving our input on that."

iPad Pro versus Surface Pro 4

There has been a lot of comparison between Apple's and Microsoft's flagship tablets. Both offer the pen integration that's integral to creative workflows, and both slates come with large, high-resolution screens that addressed the shortcomings of early tablets for artists. So what device would Macy recommend you get? It all depends.

"To me, they're both great devices in different ways," Macy said. "A lot of that decision will be in the preference of OS. For people who use Windows, those are the ones that will steer towards the Surface Pro 4. A lot of creatives don't use Windows in their work at all. They use Mac OS, and they tend to have iPhones, and they're the types of people who will gravitate towards the iPad Pro."

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