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First Look: Adobe Slate, a New App for Creating on iPad

Adobe's latest app for creatives lets users build photo essays and other visual stories on the iPad.

Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

For a lot of people, Adobe software has a certain connotation. Apps like Photoshop or Premiere are heavy and meant for pros. Something like Flash, which serves streaming video and interactive media on websites, has undoubtedly annoyed you at some point with its constant update requirements.

But in recent years, Adobe has introduced more lightweight — and free — software that makes it easy for users to create multimedia projects on mobile devices. Of course, Adobe is also hoping this approach lures more people, beyond just professional photographers or video editors, into its Creative Cloud.

Adobe’s new app, Slate, is the latest example of this.

Slate, which launches today on iPad, is a follow-up to last year’s Adobe Voice app, which made animated videos on iPad. Slate is structurally similar to Voice. It allows users to pull in photos from different cloud services and offers predesigned “themes” to choose from.

But rather than making animated videos, Slate uses a combination of your still photos and original text to create things like photo essays, newsletters, educational projects and digital invitations.

After using Slate for just a couple days, my early impression is that it’s similar to Storehouse, another creative layout app (for lack of a better term) that I’ve reviewed. Other competing apps include Microsoft’s Office Sway and FlowVella. All of these are free to download, so there’s almost no downside to giving them a whirl.

Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

Still, I see some limitations with Slate right off the bat. For one, Slate is iPad-only, while Sway and Storehouse offer iPhone apps (like many people these days, I snap the majority of my pictures on a smartphone).

Storehouse and FlowVella also let you import videos into your projects. Slate does not.

It’s obviously early days for the Slate app, and Adobe says more features will be added.

“We’re creating a family of tools,” said Brian Nemhauser, Adobe’s director of product management. “Slate and Voice are just the start. And Adobe has a proven track record of knowing what people need for their communication.”

When you first fire up Slate on the iPad, you have the option to explore some examples for inspiration or launch right into creating your own. This means importing one photo at a time, from either the iPad’s camera roll, Adobe’s Creative Cloud or Lightroom software, or Dropbox. I prefer the batch-import feature of Storehouse, where you preselect a bunch of the photos and video clips you want to use and it pulls all of them into the project timeline at once.

The first photo you bring into your Slate project becomes the cover photo, with templates for a title and a subtitle. Below that, you can add a series of photos, text, audio soundbites or even a Web link.

This “Add a link” feature is one that sets Slate apart. I created a fake invitation for my upcoming 21st birthday party and linked to a local wine bar within the invite. You could also use this to create a buy or donate option within a digital flier.

In the upper-right-hand corner of each project, there are three icons: One for choosing a theme (there are only 11), which will add some pizzazz and change the fonts in your story; another is a project preview button, and the last is the share button. I’ll get to sharing in a bit.

So, what can you do with the photos you import into a Slate project? First off, you can’t really edit them, so you’ll have to slap your filters on or adjust the exposure before you import the photo into Slate.

Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

The photo options in this app are more about where you want them to appear in the story. I created another story about a day trip to Half Moon Bay, Calif. I could place a photo squarely within a section of the narrative, have it take up the whole width of the page, or create a cool “window” that moved the photo into view as I scrolled up and down the page. I also threw a few photos into a collage format, which Slate terms a photo “grid.”

Slate is somewhat limited when it comes to rearranging things by dragging and dropping, which at this point seems a natural gesture for touchscreen devices. You can adjust the focal point of each image with your finger, by tapping a small crosshair icon on the bottom right; certain text elements can also be dragged into place. But in order to move most stuff around, you have to tap on an image or text entry and from there tap your placement selection.

When you’re finished with your Slate story, it’s saved to Adobe’s servers and can be shared from there. If you send a Web link to friends, family or colleagues, they don’t have to be using the Slate app in order to view whatever you’re sending them.

You can also share directly to Facebook and Twitter, or generate an embed code to add to a blog post (plus-one for Slate — some other multimedia apps don’t generate an embed code).

I just started using Slate, but I feel about it the same way I feel about Adobe Voice. Both are super-simple iPad apps that can help even the most uncreative or nontechnical people put together visually interesting digital narratives — a deviation from Adobe’s legacy software. But they’re so simple that there isn’t a ton of room to stretch your creative legs. Hopefully some of these lightweight apps will start to hit the sweet spot in between.

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