When Adobe unveiled its first attempt at building hardware tools — a stylus called Project Mighty and a digital ruler called Project Napoleon — last April, the company was careful to describe the devices as prototypes, dancing around whether we'd ever be able to, you know, buy them. But today, Mighty and Napoleon are real: Adobe has announced that both devices will likely ship in early 2014.
At a briefing today, design lead Geoff Dowd described the process of refining the devices with help from Ammunition, the San Francisco product design studio founded by early Apple designer Robert Brunner. "We're looking at developing a standard around creative hardware," he says. "For us, it's an opportunity to push these kinds of new tools forward."
Mighty is the same device we saw unveiled at the Adobe Max conference three months ago. The three-sided pressure-sensitive stylus includes a white hybrid case that both protects and charges the device, thanks to a USB port in its backside. It's a brilliant detail that kills two hardware devices with one sleek hydro-moulded aluminium stone. Another interesting detail behind the stylus' design is the origin of its triangular profile. Though it was chosen based on ergonomics, the three-sided shape is also a nod to the first pencils — which, as Dowd told me, were three-sided until manufacturers realised they get more pencils out of a single piece of wood with an octogonal shape.
Mighty will feel familiar to most stylus users, but Napoleon — a "digital ruler" — is an entirely new kind of device. The three-inch-long device is designed to sit on top of your tablet, guiding your hand by allowing you to toggle through a number of shapes, starting with straight lines and ending with triangles and circles. It's meant to function in unison with Adobe's Project Parallel software, a sketching app geared towards designers and architects.
You'll also be able to download custom shape libraries — like a French Curve collection — to use the same way. One nice detail? You don't actually need to move Napoleon to draw a shape in a specific area of your screen. It simply allows you to choose what type of line or shape you're about to draw. So, in a way, "ruler" is something of a misnomer. It's more of a secondary stylus — a hybrid of mouse, fingertip and digital guide.
Napoleon has huge potential for designers — and it's leading Adobe to develop software custom-built to these new capabilities, all based on its cloud-centric new approach. In addition to Kuler integration, the team is developing an app called Project Contour. It will let you snap a picture of an object on your phone — an Eames chair, let's say — and then drop its profile into your drawing on your tablet. In essence, it's a simple mobile version of the Live Trace tool in Illustrator — and according to Michael Gough, Adobe's VP of Experience Design, Adobe will eventually open up other tools from the Creative Suite to developers who want to design apps based on specific features.
"The idea that designers are using a single, monolithic tool to design is going away," says Gough. It's the dawn of a new era for Adobe — and it's possible that Mighty and Napoleon are only the first of the company's future as a maker of creative hardware. "We're not prepared to announce anything yet," he adds. "But we're a little bit addicted." Both tools are expected to ship within the first half of 2014 — more information is here.