What it is: Project Rigel is Adobe’s code name for a new version of Photoshop optimized for the iPhone and iPad.
In the photo editing world, Adobe Photoshop reigns supreme. While there are plenty of competitors, Photoshop remains the standard that all other photo editing programs are compared against. The biggest problem with Photoshop is that it’s limited solely to Windows and OS X computers. While the rest of the world shifts to mobile computing, Adobe tried to offer a Photoshop Touch app, but that proved far less popular to the point where Adobe has decided to create a new, touch optimized app called Project Rigel.
The importance of Project Rigel highlights two crucial trends. First, mobile computing is important so if Adobe wants to avoid being stuck as a PC/Macintosh software publisher, they need to make sure they have photo editing apps available for smartphones and tablets. That’s why Adobe rushed Photoshop Touch out (and subsequently cancelled it) because without mobile, Photoshop risks being abandoned by users who might get accustomed to other photo editing software running on smartphones and tablets.
Second, Adobe’s desire to create a touch-optimized version of Photoshop essentially drives a stake through the idea of Microsoft’s Universal Windows apps. The idea behind Microsoft’s plan is that developers can write a program once that can run on PCs, smartphones, and tablets equally well. Yet as Adobe discovered, an iPad app needs to be optimized for touch gestures. Just making a user interface designed for a keyboard and a mouse accessible through touch gestures means creating a less than optimal user interface for mobile users.
Adobe isn’t trying to make their iPad version of Photoshop identical to their PC/Mac version of Photoshop except with touch support. Instead, Adobe is trying to design a photo editing app designed to have both the power of Photoshop and the optimization of the touch gesture for iOS. Why isn’t Adobe taking the easy way out and just converting their OS X version of Photoshop into an iPad app? Because then they’ll be left with a clumsy photo editing app not optimized for touch gestures.
That right there shows the futility of Microsoft’s Universal Windows app initiative. To create the best software, you need to design that software specifically for the correct device. A program designed for PCs will be clumsy to use on a tablet just as a tablet app will feel weak and underpowered running on a PC. Universal Windows apps solves the problem of getting apps on to Windows mobile devices in a hurry, but completely ignores the sorry user experience that people must confront. Universal Windows apps are a mythical goal that will never work like the search for a perpetual motion machine.
So Adobe’s announcement of Project Rigel highlights the importance of software publishers to stake a claim in the mobile computing market and design their apps specifically for the mobile market. If Adobe can see how this makes sense, perhaps Microsoft will come to their senses and stop trying to peddle Universal Windows apps as the solution for developers. Adobe plans to create a version of Photoshop (Project Rigel) for iOS first and later for Android. No word yet on when (or if) Project Rigel will make it to the mobile version of Windows 10. All we know for certain is that Adobe most likely won’t try to cram their current PC version of Photoshop to run on tablets using Windows 10. That makes as much sense as trying to build a car that works equally well as both a horse carriage and a motor vehicle. It can’t be done just like Universal Windows apps can’t be optimized for both keyboards/mice and touch screens.
Adobe can clearly see the future for developers. Smart developers will follow Adobe’s approach. Delusional ones will believe Microsoft’s unproven Universal Windows apps idea and face frustration and complexity while churning out mediocre apps as a result. As a developer, which choice do you want to make?