Creative Cloud: the best way to buy Creative Suite?
It’s nice to have it in writing that Adobe promises not to destroy your data files if you leave, but not all that reassuring; what good are the files if you no longer have the applications? If you’re an existing CS user you can always fall back on your last standalone copy, but what happens if you’ve been making heavy use of some of the more recent features? More to the point, what happens if you’ve been taking advantage of the online support services such as Business Catalyst hosting, the Digital Publishing Platform and PhoneGap Build? Suddenly, all your published websites and apps will disappear.
No wonder Adobe calls this an “ongoing membership”, because as soon as it stops then, in the words of Anne Robinson, “you leave with nothing”. With lock-in so integral to the whole system, the Creative Cloud suddenly looks a lot darker.
The view is far brighter from Adobe’s perspective. When the unstoppable rise of Apple’s iPad led to the apparently catastrophic demise of Flash, Adobe desperately needed something to keep its customers happy.
A subscription to Creative Cloud is an offer that most Adobe users can’t afford to refuse
The sheer power and value for money offered by Creative Cloud achieves this brilliantly, as the first user responses show. Unlimited app creation should satisfy disgruntled users still further, effectively replacing Flash as Adobe’s universal delivery mechanism and moving the mobile platform centre stage. Creative Cloud membership restores universal delivery to Adobe users, but in a completely new way.
Under the old Flash-based publishing model, once they’d bought the tools CS developers were free to create as many projects as they wanted and deliver them directly to end users. In short, they no longer needed Adobe. In business terms, Adobe was selling the family silver – actually, with the open source Flex platform it was giving it away for free – but the Creative Cloud’s “ongoing membership” model ties users’ long-term business interest into Adobe. Previously, Adobe had to hope that every CS release had enough new features to persuade users to upgrade, but with Creative Cloud, their annual upgrade purchase is almost guaranteed.
Let’s get cynical. Many CS users were bewildered and frustrated by the feeble response Adobe put up when Apple first banned Flash and Flash-derived native apps from its iOS devices back in 2010. Where was its mobilisation of public opinion; where was the court case for anticompetitive practices? The company meekly agreed to kill off Flash in the browser merely in return for access to the App Store. At the time, the benefits for Apple were obvious, but for Adobe – forced to abandon Flash, the centrepiece of its rich design strategy – it looked like a complete disaster. However, moving away from Flash in the browser to native apps via Creative Cloud is actually very good business for Adobe, enabling it to push users into a completely new subscription model.
I believe this cynical reading probably isn’t too far from the truth and that this is a silver cloud with a dark lining, but what can users do about it? Many will recognise Creative Cloud for what it is – an Apple-style walled garden – and run for the hills of open web standards and CMS. Others will reach different conclusions. Code-phobic designers may find Adobe’s support for pain-free, professional, “HTML-free” web design via Muse and Business Catalyst quite attractive, while hands-on developers who want to produce the richest online experiences via HTML5 may find Edge the best code-based Flash replacement. Ultimately, professional web design requires tools, and Adobe is good at providing them.
More to the point, with Creative Cloud Adobe is enabling its users to move on from the old world of traditional page-based print and website creation to deliver next-generation interactive apps for the new medium that defines the future of content consumption – the handheld mobile device. This booming mobile market is central to the future of rich design, and by including unlimited app creation in an affordable monthly package, Creative Cloud promises to give its members a huge commercial edge.
Producing work as native apps for handheld devices has the potential to be both creatively and financially rewarding in a way that largely eluded Flash applications. And in the long term, there really isn’t any alternative for professional designers, as customers will simply demand mobile delivery. A subscription to Creative Cloud is an offer that most Adobe users can’t afford to refuse.
Overall, I have mixed feelings about what Adobe is doing with this shift away from Flash and into the new Creative Cloud. Like many Adobe users, I’m angry and disappointed about the death of Flash and Flex in the browser, and the simple SWF-based solution that made it possible for content producers to deliver rich app-style experiences directly to consumers over the universal web. And I’m not exactly thrilled that Adobe’s way forward is so clearly based on Apple’s walled-garden model, complete with user lock-in.
On another level, though, I’m pleasantly surprised. When Apple first announced the iPad and its ban on Flash, Adobe seemed clueless about what to do next. With the Creative Cloud and the new focus on HTML5 and native apps, Adobe has created an impressive alternative route that ensures its users can continue to deliver the richest possible experience to a universal audience. Crucially, its mobile delivery is turning into the creative platform’s greatest strength. Adobe’s plan makes good business sense for the company and its users.
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