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Mighty The Pen, Napoleon the Ruler Tweet This   Forward This

10 June 2013

Tools of the Trade. A carpenter's pencil, an adjustable triangle are overlaid on our print of the Palace of Fine Arts.

Do photographers draw? They do when they retouch their images. Removing a utility line, for example, from a sunset. Erasing blemishes from a portrait. And sometimes that drawing is helped with a pressure-sensitive stylus. It certainly isn't necessary, but it's nice.


Adobe Vice President of Product Experience Michael Grough, who trained as an architect, demonstrates Adobe's prototype stylus and ruler in a short video:

The devices are also profiled in an Engadget report, which includes a video with Adobe designer Geoff Dowd using the devices.

The Grough video shows a significant lag between the stylus movement and the line on the screen but that's due to the pen, according to Dowd, who moves his stylus rapidly over the screen. The line doesn't quite keep up but it's much closer.

Grough ends his video with the unfortunate line that these two devices "just scratch the surface." Let's hope not.


Grough's observation that we resort to paper and napkin when we doodle ourselves into creative mode and Dowd's point that it's pretty near impossible to draw parallel lines on a tablet are worth another cup of coffee around here this morning.

Mighty, Napoleon. The aluminum pen (left) and ruler.

We keep a trio of fountain pens primed for just creative tasks. And if by chance they go months without being used, they dry out. And if they're dried out, we are not too pleased with how we've been spending our time.

We also have a collection of drafting aids from our days as a graphic designer in the era before computers.

So we think it's commendable that Adobe tackled both aspects of the drawing issue at the same time: freeform and mechanical.

Napkins were never comfortable in coat pockets. And mechanical drawings were nothing if not awkward. Digitizing these drawings makes them both more convenient. And Grough insists he's been able to go a year using the new tools without resorting to the old ones.

When we use a tablet, we always use it with a stylus. It isn't pressure sensitive but it is more precise and keeps the screen clean. So we have nothing against a more useful stylus.


The usefulness of the Mighty, which is only a concept at this point, is extended significantly by its software. And that starts with how and to what it connects.

Unlike other tablet pens, the Mighty makes a Bluetooth connection to devices. With a capacitive rubber tip, it works like any other stylus on a capacitive touch screen but the Bluetooth connection adds a dimension.

It can pair with various devices, for example. We're not sure how that's an advantage since any stylus can be used on any device. But that may be how it is able to transfer more than coordinates.

Two Hands. No need to follow the edge of the Napoleon. It knows where you want to go.

Indeed, as Grough demonstrates, he can copy and paste an object between devices using the Mighty pen.

Then there's that connection to the Creative Cloud.

The Pen Tip menu can grab Kuler color schemes from the Cloud and store them in the pen, so as you go from one device to another, your swatches follow.

Adobe has also implemented a Cloud clipboard in the Pen Tip menu, so you can bring your clipboard along too.

All of which, as Dowd says, make the Might pen more personal than a stylus.


Some of the features, though, seem app-centric, like contact detection. The app senses whether the pen touched the screen or your finger. So you can draw with the pen, erase with a finger and undo with a tap, as Dowd shows. And using the pen to do that is less cumbersome than using the tablet's interface.


Napoleon is a straight-edge more than a ruler. What ruler could, for example, sync with a resizeable image for measuring objects?

But it's more than a straight-edge, as the icons on the top suggest (we detect circles, triangles, squares, angles, straight lines and curves). It's a drafting tool whose two capacitive feet allow you to draw guided, precise lines and curves of various types.

The type of line drawing is projected onto the image by the app, it appears. You use the Mighty or a finger to indicate inking. So you don't have to run the pen along the edge of the ruler, scratching the metal surfaces against each other. In fact, you don't have to align the pen to the projection. It's almost gesturally suggestive drawing.


The product design for both devices, plus a desktop charging dock, was handled by Ammunition, an industrial design firm..

"We partnered with Adobe on a variety of hardware explorations to create a holistic and thoughtfully designed product experience," said Ammunition founder/partner Robert Brunner.

"We all understand tools, and the pen and ruler are the most iconic instruments embedded in our idea of drawing and writing, but they haven't been effectively introduced into the digital world," he continued. "The form language, the feel, and the integration into Adobe's services and products had to be right while also creating an object of desire -- something beautiful and alluring."


There's more to these two projects than meets the eye. But already they answer designer needs not otherwise met. And they extend their usefulness as far as the cloud, tapping into color schemes and images without the usual storage limitations.

When Adobe brings Lightroom to a tablet these tools may have even more relevance to photographers than they do as a simple pressure-sensitive stylus alone.

Meanwhile it's worth keeping your eye on them. At least until you can get your hands on them.

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