Microsoft Surface Pro 3's Adobe Touch Workspace
Already five years old, Apple's innovative iPad is often dismissed as a device more focused on consumption than creation, despite the wide variety of apps available for photographers, designers, musicians, writers and other creative types.
For all the things iPad may be capable of, the tablet isn't running a robust, desktop-class operating system like Mac OS X or Windows, meaning developers are often forced to reinvent the wheel when existing software launches on the device.
That gives Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 a major advantage for those who prefer fewer compromises, since it's already running a full version of Windows 8.1 powered by the same fourth-generation Intel Core processors found inside desktop and notebook computers – but with the convenience and all-day battery life of a tablet.
However, what works great with a keyboard and mouse doesn't always necessarily translate to the best experience on a tablet, which is why Adobe recently introduced touch-friendly updates for two of its classic design applications, offering designers the best of both worlds in a single hardware package.
Touch me, babe
Adobe calls this initiative Touch Workspace, available now free of charge to existing Creative Cloud subscribers and Surface Pro 3 owners with the latest versions of Adobe Illustrator CC 2014 and Adobe Photoshop CC 2014 installed. (Adobe also offers a free 30-day trial prior to committing to a monthly or annual subscription.)
Designed for multi-touch gestures and pressure-sensitive stylus pen input alike, Touch Workspace streamlines the design user interface, making it more responsive to fingertips, while optimizing a number of new or existing software tools with touch interaction in mind.
Adobe has also implemented support for touch gestures already familiar on other tablet devices. Using two fingers, artists can pinch and zoom or pan around the digital canvas, rotating or scaling objects without a mouse or touchpad; one or more elements can be selected simply by dragging a finger around them.
For now, Adobe offers a more fully immersive Touch Workspace experience on Illustrator CC 2014, merely dipping their toes into the touch waters with Photoshop CC 2014, as well as recent updates to motion graphics and video editing solutions After Effects CC 2014 and Premiere Pro CC 2014.
Born to draw
To activate Touch Workspace on Illustrator CC 2014, tap the icon at the top of the screen, or select Window > Workspace > Touch. The user is presented with a streamlined UI that doesn't stray too far from the application's familiar look and feel, but pushes lesser-used tools out of sight to keep the focus on drawing and editing.
An exit button in the upper right corner switches back to the classic UI, while the adjacent Touch pull-down menu can be used to jump directly into any of Illustrator's other full-featured workspaces.
Longtime iPad users will want to remember to use two fingers (instead of just one) while panning around the artboard – in Adobe's new workspace, a single finger gesture is used for drawing and selection tools, which takes a little getting used to at first.
Despite Adobe's best intentions, some traditional tools lend themselves to pen input rather than touch, which lacks the precision of a stylus. But in general, Touch Workspace does a good job of making Illustrator more finger-friendly.
Surface Pro 3 with Adobe: tools and retooling
The right tools
Among the new drawing tools Adobe introduced for Illustrator CC 2014 is Curvature, which allows artists to create smooth curves by tapping once, or corner points and straight lines with two taps instead. (The same trick can also be used on Windows or Mac desktop systems.)
Likewise, the new Join tool makes it insanely easy to connect paths that failed to intersect or overlap while drawing. In addition to adding the necessary connections, Join is also capable of removing overlapping segments as well – tasks that previously required more advanced skills on the desktop.
Adobe also incorporated a couple of new features that first debuted on the company's iPad apps, and they're quite cool. Using the Shapes Ruler and Stencil tool, artists can make short work of straight and parallel lines, angles or even complex French curves by controlling a virtual ruler on-screen with two fingers.
Going one step further, the Shape Builder tool allows artists to combine or remove shapes from an object with ease, turning a cluster of seemingly random lines into a much cooler lightning bolt, for example.
By comparison to Adobe Illustrator CC 2014, legendary image editor Photoshop CC 2014 takes a somewhat smaller step into the future. Rather than introducing a dedicated Touch Workspace for the legacy application, Adobe has instead introduced little enhancements all over the existing UI, making it easier to use on touch or pen-equipped devices like Surface Pro 3.
One of the bigger improvements involved increasing the size of icons and touch targets by 200 percent over the previous version, which makes tools and buttons far easier to tap on. Drawing lines or strokes with a pen is also more accurate and natural, thanks to a combination of higher frequency sampling on hardware and software alike.
Of course, the biggest advantage of the Touch Workspace and Surface Pro 3 combo is the ability to place a crisp, colorful 12-inch display right into your hands or lap. Designers are no longer chained to the desktop or encumbered by a notebook keyboard and trackpad separating them from the work.
A few caveats
Unfortunately, the Touch Workspace experience hasn't been totally streamlined with this initial release. For starters, opening an existing Illustrator document throws the user straight back into the Desktop's trusty old open and save dialog box, rather than the more Modern (formerly "Metro") environment found on Windows 8.
Other niceties like Save As are also missing from Illustrator CC's Touch Workspace mode, so artists will need to temporarily switch back to the classic user interface whenever they want to save alternate versions of the currently open document.
Despite these few UI nitpicks, Touch Workspace makes for a compelling addition to Adobe Creative Cloud, and makes Surface Pro 3 a must-have for anyone who spends time drawing or painting with Illustrator CC. (For the moment, Photoshop CC users have less reason to cheer, but the additional features do make the application easier to use while disengaged from a keyboard and mouse.)