By Sally & Daniel Grotta
Adobe announces today the availability of Apple iOS device support for Carousel, an emerging cloud product/service for storing, editing and sharing photos. At the PhotoPlus Expo this week, we had a chance to do some preliminary "kicking of the tires" on Carousel, discovering interesting features such as photo catalogs, "Looks," and "Adjustments" which we think will be popular with consumers. In the first half of next year, Carousel is expected to be available for Windows PCs and Android OS phones and tablets.
Adobe calls Carousel “an ecosystem for your photo library.” Essentially, it will let you access your entire photo library and edit and share pictures from wherever you are through a tablet, smartphone or PC. The current version will work only on iPad 1 and 2, iPhone 3Gs and 4, iPod Touch 4G, and and Mac/Lion computers. Also, Carousel works only when you are connected to the Internet through WiFi or 3G/4G.
“The interface is similar on the desktop, iPad, iPod and iPhone, within the limits of each device’s native technology," said Chris Quek, Adobe's senior product manager for Carousel, speaking with us this week. We found the transition among devices to be seamless. Once we understood how to use Carousel on our iPad, we had no difficulty understanding how it works on the desktop and phone.
Photo sharing with Carousel
You start by uploading your photo library to Carousel. Carousel then creates full resolution copies on the server. Your file manager can have up to five “carousels” or catalogs. You can share a carousel with up to five friends or family members. (Those five individuals don’t have to buy into Adobe Carousel, but they are part of your account as long as you continue to share with them.)
Each carousel can hold as many pictures as you wish. On a shared carousel, all six users (yourself and your friends) can upload pictures, collaborate on photo edits, indicate favorites and share pictures. Sharing is done through email, Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr.
Unfortunately, at present, the catalogs can be organized only by date with no keywording or other tags. However, Adobe assured us that all picture "metadata" is retained, such as GPS location, camera data and any tags you might have applied previously to the files. Adobe plans to be able to use that photo info in future releases.
In order to work within the memory constraints of mobile devices, Carousel will display lower resolution versions in the file browser. However, it will deliver full resolution on an as needed basis for editing. So, you can expect a small time lag when first opening up a picture in the Develop module, which is where you will edit your photos.
Syncing among your devices (and your friends' devices)
At the core of Carousel is how it syncs among your devices and on your friends’ systems. For instance, when an edit is applied to a photo on the iPad, the thumbnail on your desktop’s Carousel library reflects those changes within seconds. The edits are non-destructive, so that you can revert to the original at any time, on any of the connected devices.
We have an image in our minds of a family collaborating on a picture, with Mother insisting that it would be best with such and such settings, but Brother wanting something entirely different. It is feasible that such a family disagreement could result in a photo being changed back and forth in real time. But at least that wouldn't affect the quality of the photo, given the non-destructive nature of Carousel editing. Of course, a family could also save alternative versions to keep everyone happy… unless one person decided to delete the picture from Carousel, which can’t be undone.
Carousel is primarily a consumer product. However, since it is based on Adobe Lightroom technology, we imagine that some of its functionality might eventually migrate to Adobe products for the pro and serious photography market.
Editing photos in the 'Develop' module
Carousel's Develop module is divided into three sections for editing photos: Looks, Adjustments and Crop & Rotate. Looks are a series of predefined special effect filters, such as Silvered, Sepia, Superpunch, Misty, etc. You can apply only one effect to a picture, rather than layer them on top of each other, and there are no controls over the effect. The current library of effects is appealing, although limited. Don't be surprised if Adobe adds new ones as the product matures.
The Adjustments are presented on two levels. At the very basic level are three sliders for White Balance, Exposure and Contrast, with Auto options on White Balance and Exposure. When you drill down, White Balance may be controlled with sliders for Temperature and Tint. Exposure also has sliders to adjust Highlights and Shadows. Contrast offers controls for Clarity and Vibrance.
Going for a “clean” look, Adobe eschewed labels or indicators. So the sliders have no indication of where the zero point is or what effect moving them to the right or left will produce. For instance, in White Balance, you need to push the slider to the right or left to determine where the warmer or cooler colors are located.
Crop and Rotate is a new version of this popular command for Adobe and a more intelligent one that we expect to see in their other products. You can move the picture within the selection rectangle without affecting the non-obscuring crop box. The auto rotate fills in corners.
Adobe hits all the right buttons for Carousel to become a very popular service, although the price might give many users pause. In addition, with all those high resolution images being sent through your connections, some users' data plans might quickly reach their limits. This could make the total cost of using Carousel an important consideration for many people. On the other hand, mobile phone companies would be smart to offer Adobe Carousel at a discount or even free to their subscribers, given the payback the companies could expect on increased phone bills.
You can download a trial version of Carousel for a 30-day complimentary subscription.
Until January, 2011, Adobe is offering an introductory price of $59.99/year or $5.99/month. An account includes unlimited numbers of photos, five photo carousels, and the ability to install Carousel on as many of your devices as you wish. If you subscribe at the introductory price, Adobe promises that you’ll be able to renew at that same price for two years. Also, subscribers receive automatic updates.
After the introductory period is over, the full price will be $99.99/year or $9.99/month.
Adobe assured us that when the Windows and Android versions become available in early 2012, a similar introductory price should be offered again.