The headline items from the iPad segment of today’s Apple Special Event were hardware: the company announced a new, integrated keyboard, the first ever Apple-sanctioned stylus, and of course the long-rumored, ginormous iPad Pro. Alongside the impending iPad-specific software improvements coming in iOS 9, we now have what basically constitutes Apple’s response to the downward trajectory of iPad sales.
Will it be enough? I certainly hope so, but what’s also interesting is the extent to which Apple is leaning on its developer community to help sort out the iPad’s near term future via software innovation. Both Microsoft and Adobe made central appearances during this morning’s iPad segment. A few people have remarked how old school it seems to have two icons of the old wave of computing trying to map out the future of what Tim Cook described on stage today as Apple’s “clearest expression of our vision of personal computing.”
Microsoft spent its time showing off how well its mobile version of Office works with the new hardware, which seemed fine to me. Of course, as of three weeks ago, I’m now naturally biased towards Adobe’s contribution to the event. The company is doing some really significant work in bringing viable creativity solutions to mobile devices, and that was on display in a vivid way today when my colleague Eric Snowden, who leads design for Adobe’s mobile apps, took the stage.
Eric demonstrated a key piece of technology that has been cooking at Adobe for some time: round-trip capability for the company’s burgeoning suite of mobile software—we call it “360º workflows.” In his demo, Eric used Adobe Comp CC, the layout app that I created with Adobe (before I joined the company), to quickly mock up a layout with text and images. Comp CC is a useful hub of sorts in these workflows because it deals in assets of many different kinds. With a few taps, he placed a photo into Comp CC, then “sent” that photo to the newly announced Photoshop Fix app, made some edits, and then had those changes instantly reflected back in the original layout. It’s now significantly easier than ever before to work with assets that need to be handled by multiple mobile apps.
What’s even more interesting is that Apple is allowing Adobe to create its own foundation for this inter-operability; though it takes advantage of iOS 9’s split screen features, the round-tripping itself is based on an infrastructure that is deeply integrated with Adobe’s Creative Cloud ecosystem. Right now this feature is available primarily to Adobe’s first-party apps, but the hope is that soon many more developers will be working with Adobe’s Creative SDK and thereby benefiting from these innovations.
All told, we now have iPad-specific features in the operating system, new iPad-only hardware peripherals, a new, significantly larger iPad and, with Adobe’s software, a very adroit integration of all of the above into a robust workflow. For my money, it all makes for a pretty compelling argument for the iPad as a work device. It may not convince everyone just yet that an iPad Pro can satisfactorily replace a MacBook—that’s still a steep hill that will require lots more work to surmount—but the potential is there, and clearly within reach.