To help us provide you with free impartial advice, we may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site. Learn more

Adobe Project Mighty – Hands on and interview

We take a look at Adobe's iPad-compatible stylus and ruler

Adobe has always been the king of creative software. Its Creative Suite, which includes Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Premiere and Dreamweaver, represents the industry standard for media professionals, and technologies such as Flash and Acrobat Reader have practically infiltrated every part of our daily computing experience.

But now Adobe is about to enter uncharted waters by going into the hardware business. Recently announced at the company’s MAX creativity conference in Los Angeles, Project Mighty and Project Napoleon are a smart stylus and smart ruler designed to change not just how creative professionals approach their work, but also how Adobe itself sees its own software in an age where touch and tablet devices are starting to rival the traditional desktop-based way of working.

Adobe Project Mighty & Napoleon
Project Mighty (above) and Project Napoleon (below) mark Adobe’s first foray into the hardware business.

“We’re not doing hardware because we want to be a hardware company,” Michael Gough, VP of Adobe’s Experience Design, told Expert Reviews. “We want to be a software company that’s pushing new interaction methods, especially natural interaction methods, and we felt like the only way to do that was to push the hardware industry a little bit.”


On the outside, Project Mighty is a beautifully crafted stylus. In our hands-on demo, its smooth, triangular twist felt natural in our hand and its weight made it very comfortable to hold. It works with any capacitive touchscreen and the fine-tip of the pen nib was incredibly accurate and responsive as we sketched out a doodle on one of Adobe’s prototype iPad apps. But it’s what’s going on inside the pen that makes Project Mighty particularly special.

Adobe Project Mighty
Previous prototypes of Project Mighty had a much larger, rounder pen nib

With its small amount of onboard memory, Project Mighty will be able to access Adobe’s Creative Cloud service where you’ll find all your favourite brushes, Kuler colour themes and even drawings you made earlier so you can drop them onto any device you have to hand. It’s your entire creative tool set right in the palm of your hand and all you have to do is click the button on the side to access the menu onscreen. You’ll even be able to cut and paste your drawings from one tablet to another provided they both have the same Adobe app and save multiple layers in an image, although Gough told us the latter function would be on an app by app basis.

“The memory that we need in the pen is enough to send ideas back and forth,” says Gough. “It has to do identity management – it’s your pen and your application’s going to know that. The other thing it has to do is pass information about assets back and forth, so if you pick an asset here, it’s not storing a multi-megabyte image in the pen, it’s saying this asset is located in this location in the cloud, so the memory requirements are relatively small.”

There’s also an LED in the back which will flash and change colour depending on whether it’s charging or cutting and pasting, and you’ll be able to customise the colours to your own unique colour set. Gough wasn’t able to tell us how long the battery would last, but he assured us that it would at least last longer than an iPad.


Project Mighty isn’t the only piece of hardware Adobe’s launching, though, as it will also be joined by Project Napoleon, the so-called “short ruler” in the first half of 2014. Following the smooth curves and minimalist silver design of Project Mighty, this smart ruler can create straight lines and different stencil shapes when you place two fingers on its surface.

“Your fingers create the electrical contact for the capacitive touch, so if you don’t touch it you don’t get the line,” explains Gough. With two fingers on the ruler it creates a pair of grey guidelines parallel to the edges of the ruler (one above and one below). You can then draw or write on, or nearby, these lines and whatever you draw will be positioned precisely along them.

Adobe Project Napoleon
Project Napoleon used to have multiple buttons for different shapes. Now they’re all contained in a single button

It’s not just straight lines either and changing shapes is easy. Just double click its single circular button and an onscreen menu will appear with other shape categories. In our demo, these included French Curves, People, Landscaping, and other basic shapes like circles and triangles, but Gough told us it would also support perspective grids. Another double click will draw the entire shape for you, or you can simply trace the parts of the shape you want like a stencil. You needn’t spend lots of time lining up your lines either, as Project Napoleon will be able to snap to each line point automatically if you want more precise shapes. Pinch-zooming can make the shapes bigger and smaller and a two finger swipe will erase them.

Adobe Project Napoleon
Drawing different shapes with Project Napoleon was remarkably similar to using a normal ruler on a sheet of paper

It’s a very clever device, but just like Project Mighty, Napoleon’s true strengths are hidden away in the ether. “The idea behind the shapes, and this would be true of all our applications in the future,” says Gough, “is that these shapes would be available to anybody. We would make an attendant application – right now we call it Contour – so you can take a picture and then it will auto trace that picture in the cloud and you can share those assets so everyone can make shapes, share the shapes and create a community around them. It’s very similar to how users currently share Kuler colour themes and colour palettes. It’s the same general idea, and we might do it for all kinds of other things in the future.”


This hints toward another of Adobe’s underlying goals in launching Project Mighty and Napoleon, and that’s to galvanise the entire creative industry into re-evaluating how tools and software alike need to evolve in order to compete in an increasingly touch-orientated world.

“We noticed that people who spend eight or ten hours a day in our software will often only leave it if they need to eat or take a bathroom break,” says Gough. “But there’s one other time they leave it, and that’s when they need to think. They switch to pen and paper to think about what they’re going to make and that doesn’t make any sense. We should be able to build the tools you need to come up with ideas as well and we think it’s around this being natural enough and it being comfortable enough, and that’s what these tools should provide. You should be able to go in and come up with new digital ideas so they’ll already be available to put into [Adobe] Illustrator and to share with your friends immediately.

“We’re only doing it as a catalyst to the market,” Gough continues. “We’ll make these things and then hopefully lots of other people will make more. It’s also a catalyst for us. We make these things and then say, ‘What can I do with that in software and how does software change with these new interaction methods?'”

It’s a huge undertaking, but perhaps the most extraordinary thing about Adobe’s creative vision is just how outward focused it is.

“If we’re really trying to build a platform for creativity, all of these things that surround the platform and support it are less interesting [to Adobe] as opportunities to monetise and more interesting as opportunities to support a bigger platform and get more people in the ecosystem. So not only would we not need to rely on [our hardware] as revenue sources, we wouldn’t even need to do it ourselves. We don’t care who makes the pen as long as it’s cloud-connected. In fact, we’ll do everything we can to support the proliferation of pens and other devices. If there are people who are obsessed with making apps and tools for consumers, our APIs and SDKs will be available. We’re going to publish the hooks you need to create software for a broad audience and make them available to everybody.”

This is true even of Project Mighty and Napoleon, as Adobe has chosen Adonit, creators of the Jot Touch stylus, to bring these two devices to market. Adobe isn’t going to stop at a pen and a ruler, though, as Gough says the company has several more ideas up its sleeve, both in terms of hardware and accompanying Adobe apps.

“You have to start with one device fits all because there’s a certain amount of overhead in creating devices, but it’s exactly parallel to applications. We don’t believe that eventually one application will fit all users. There will be more and more purpose-built applications, and the teams that are working on the apps are being pushed to think differently about their apps because they have the pen. This demo application is primarily a straight line sketching app, but there are lots of different ways to draw, so there have to be lots of different hardware and software to support that. Project Mighty is reasonably high end, but there will be pens in all major price points.”

At the moment, Project Mighty and Napoleon and their respective apps are currently aimed at iPad users, but Gough says Adobe hopes to follow up with other platforms, including Android, Mac and PC, shortly after launch. The devices themselves will still work with any capacitive touchscreen, though, so you don’t need an iPad or be a Creative Cloud subscriber to be able to use it.

“Tools define generations,” says Gough. “There was a Photoshop generation. Some people have called this the Instagram generation.” Whether the next will be the Mighty generation as Gough hopes remains to be seen, but we’re certainly keen to see whether Adobe can make good on its promise to shake up the entire creative industry with just its first few steps into the hardware business.

Read more