Last year, Adobe took its first foray into the hardware world with two cutely named digital drawing devices, projects Mighty and Napoleon. The software giant is now ready to launch the fully formed duo under new monikers. Meet Ink and Slide. They're (mostly) pretty great.
The idea behind Ink and Slide is to give designers a tablet drawing experience that goes beyond the simple stylus. While Ink is in fact a stylus, a very sleek one made from a three-sided aluminium shell, Slide is a digital ruler of sorts, allowing the quick plotting of straight lines and pre-made shapes.
Together, the pair is supposed to provide more precision and versatility to sketchers, product designers, architects, and all manner of doodle-crazed iPad owners. Adobe has created two new apps to utilise the hardware.
The first is called Line, and it encompasses everything you can do with the Ink and Slide devices: sketch freehand with a number of customisable pen and brush types, create straight lines and shapes, import photos to trace and export drawings to your Creative Cloud storage. The second app is called Sketch, and it does almost the same things, except the drawing tools aren't customisable and you can organise your drawings into Project categories. Adobe is marketing Line as being for more precise straight-line drawing, while Sketch is more for sharing quick ideas.
We got a chance to play around with Ink and Slide for a few days, and we were at times impressed and at other times left scratching our heads. It should be noted that we had a pre-production version, so any hiccups could possibly have been ironed out in the final version.
As styluses go, Ink is certainly beautiful and comfortable to hold. It's ultra light and ultra rigid thanks to the unique three-sided shape. Abobe partnered with Adonit to manufacture the stylus, which has a pen-like tip, not like the broad rubber cushion of most styluses. It features pressure sensitivity and palm rejection, though the palm rejection is just a workaround by way of disabling gestures in the app. This feature is common in styluses, usually working pretty badly. Adobe's implementation is no exception.
Slide, meanwhile, is a joy to use. Most drawing apps lack a really user-friendly straight line method, and Slide fills that gap perfectly. Creating lines and shapes is super intuitive and fast. The added feature of a movable perspective grid only adds to the possibilities. If you find the hardware too cumbersome, you can dispense with Slide and use a two finger gesture on-screen to simulate the ruler, with all the same functionality intact.
You don't actually need the Slide hardware to access the ruler functions.
The design of Adobe's apps are terrific, but are still very basic in their first iterations. There aren't many drawing tools to choose from. But you can customise their size and opacity, the lack of which makes popular apps like Paper by FiftyThree Design frustrating to work with. A stellar integration is Adobe Kuler, the colour picking app and web interface that will gives you access to tons of great colour schemes from within Line and Sketch. Sharing your creation to your camera roll or to Creative Cloud is easy and yields a decent sized PNG file.
What remains most confusing about Adobe's offerings is the separation of the Line and Sketch app. There doesn't seem to be a clear reason for it. The functionality is mostly the same, with features either added or absent from each. Line lets you adjust the size and opacity of your strokes, while Sketch does not. Sketch allows you to sort drawings into projects, while Line does not. It seems arbitrary, and one single fully-featured app would have done the trick.
But surely Adobe's apps will evolve and become even better. And the hardware is already in a very good spot, although it's pretty pricey for what you're getting. Ink and Slide are available as a package for $US200 from Adobe.com. (Adobe plans to bring it to Australia later this year.) That's a mighty steep price-tag for this kind of tool. What makes the hardware a tougher ask is that you don't even really need Slide to access its functionality. It's really the tactility of holding the object that makes it attractive. As for the stylus, there is plenty of competition offering their own apps and unique features, like Pencil, the Adonit Jot Script and Wacom Creative Stylus.
Ink and Slide are a lot of fun. Whether designers find them useful and inspiring enough to cough up the cash is another story. However sales turn out for Adobe, it's really cool seeing it dip its feet into the hardware game. It will be interesting to see if Ink and Slide represent a one-off experiment or a new category of unique content-creation tools.