Adobe Project Mighty and Project Napoleon: Hands-on with the smart pen and ruler for iPad

For many years Adobe has remained a strong and proud purveyor of creativity software. It has been linked with hardware in the past but has always steered clear, instead making the tools people use to design hardware rather than make any itself.

However, with the news that Project Mighty and Project Napoleon is moving from the concept phase to full production the technology firm is about to enter a new era. It will make its own hardware after all.

In partnership with stylus manufacturer Adonit, Adobe will release two new devices: a smart pen for tablets and a smart ruler are both planned for 2014 release. Pocket-lint met Michael Gough, vice-president of Experience Design, in London to have a play with them and to find out for ourselves what they offer that other creativity accessories currently do not.

Project Mighty is the smart pen of the pair and sadly the version we photographed was not a working sample. Instead, Gough had a working prototype with a different body design that we couldn't take pictures of. In essence, it worked exactly like Mighty will on launch - in that the tip structure and flow will be the same - but the full consumer release will have many additional features.

The non-working model did give us an idea of the weight and feel of the pen and we can safely say that this will be a premium product. It is solid and beautifully designed with ergonomics very much in mind. There's just one button on the shaft that will no doubt engage other options or work in-app features and the very end has an LED light that clearly shows you it is on as you are drawing, not when you peer at its side - something few other options on the market offer. It will also come with a tiny dock and carrying sheath that will also have a ring of light to show you it is charging.

The tip of the Mighty is tiny, not dissimilar to the S Pen that comes with Samsung Note devices. In fact, it might even be more pen-like still. It feels solid in contact with the tablet screen and about as close to a genuine writing implement as you can probably get for use on a capacitive touchscreen.

The former design of the Adobe device had a typical round nib, like on many a non-powered stylus. We're glad that route was left behind.

Perhaps the less conventional accessory of the two is Project Napoleon - so called because it is a "short ruler". It is lighter than we expected and a touch smaller, but its potential is far greater than we imagined on originally hearing about it.

Demonstrated using Project Parallel, an iPad app that Adobe is developing with Napoleon very much in mind, the smart ruler interacts with the screen in such a way as to make drawing straight lines more intuitive and closer to the methods used by draftsmen and architects.

It works like a ruler in that you can draw a line, but is far more than that. There are two pads underneath and it doesn't require any power as it draws the minor electric current needed to interact with the capacitive touchscreen from your fingers. The software then knows exactly where the two pads are touching so knows the position of the Napoleon and allows you to draw a line at that point.

The clever stuff is that the Project Parallel app also locks to horizontal or vertical positions, or to perspective points. And currently, if you press the button at the top of the device, it can lock the line you draw to points, such as the ends of other lines.

For a professional architect like Gough, this allows him to create designs in a more natural way, just as he has on paper over the years. The Project Parallel app even allows for pencil like drawings, so really apes the old process.

The one thing we did take a little while to get used to is that we didn't have to actually draw along the Napoleon like a real ruler. The Napoleon sits at the area you want to draw, but you can actually use the Mighty anywhere on the screen - the line will still appear where you want it.

It will be interesting to see how other applications will find uses for the Napoleon, but it's one of those ideas that you wonder why it's never been exploited before.

We didn't even get to touch on the other features for both device, such as Project Mighty's integration with the Creative Cloud and ability to carry around your digital assets, but they will become more apparent as the products near release. An exact date beyond 2014 is yet to be set.

As for price, Gough told us that "they'll cost between a loaf of bread and a Lamborghini". But he did let on that they'll be placed in the more premium bracket.

Gough also revealed that there will be other devices in the range, especially in the smart pen line-up. And Adobe will be releasing the SDK so that Wacom and other manufacturers can make their own versions at whatever price points they want to operate within.

At launch, Adobe is focusing on iOS for both devices, but will explore Android at a later date.



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