You know Adobe, right?
This is the company that makes extremely complex software for professionals. This is the company whose flagship product, Photoshop, has more than 500 menu commands. This is the company that earned the world’s fury when it decided to stop selling its software — and offer it only as a monthly subscription. This is also the company behind the handy, but once potentially dangerous, PDF format for documents.
So what does Adobe go and do this morning? It releases one of the simplest, most creative, most joyous apps ever written — and gives it away free.
It’s called Adobe Voice. It’s for the iPad only right now; click here to get it. Adobe says it will bring it to other gadgets if the app is successful. And it will be.
Trying to describe Adobe Voice is tricky, both for Adobe and for me, because there’s never been anything quite like it. You truly don’t get it until you try it.
But if you had to force words around this app, you could say it’s an effortless way to make explainer videos.
You’ve seen them, even if you never knew what they were called. They’re a cross between videos and slideshows. There’s a happy little soundtrack—often ukulele or pizzicato (plucked) strings. There are charming little drawings, quivering or animating. And there’s an unseen narrator.
You see these videos all the time online: describing a new website or service, unveiling a Kickstarter project, walking you through a point of science or math, calling you to action for some cause.
Adobe Voice was born to make explainer videos. But because it’s a heady brew of drawings, photos, typography, music, and voice, it swings wide the doors to all kinds of other projects. School reports (kids will be all over this app). Business reports. News updates. Invitations. Storytelling. Instructions. Slideshows. Apologies. Congratulations. Business proposals. Wedding proposals.
When you open the app, you name your new project and then choose a template for the kind of video you want to make. The choices include Promote an Idea, Share an Invitation, Tell a Story, Teach a Lesson, and so on.
The app presents you with a storyboard at the bottom of the screen, which serves as a sort of outline for your video. You can ignore it and just add a “slide” at a time, if you prefer.
For the first slide (or, rather, the first screen of the storyboard), tap the + button. You’re offered a set of three buttons: Icon, Picture, and Text. These are the visuals for this page. They’re quite amazing:
• Text. You can type in some text (in addition to a graphic or an icon, if you like).
• Icon. You type in what you want: “Teardrop.” “Umbrella.” “Happiness.” “House.” Whatever. The app displays dozens or hundreds of professionally drawn icons that match your search. (Adobe says “tens of thousands” of these icons are available.)
These icons are livelier than they appear at first. In the final video, they’ll move, twist, and glide, as though you spent hours animating them in Adobe After Effects. (In fact, somebody at Adobe has already done exactly that.) You can put one on a slide, or two side by side.
• Picture. If you want a photo, you can choose from what’s on your iPad, in your Dropbox, on Facebook, in your Adobe online account — or you can take a photo on the spot with your iPad.
By far the most exciting option, though, is the Find Photos command. It searches the Web for photos that match your search term and presents a scrolling palette of photo thumbnails to incorporate into your project.
Well, yeah, Google Images can do that. But Adobe Voice shows you only the pictures that you have the rights to use, for free. (The photographers have placed these works under the Creative Commons license.) And at the end of your presentation, The app automatically inserts a tasteful Credits screen, so those photographers get credit.
Admit it — that’s kind of brilliant.
Adding narration is a similar joy. You hold down the microphone button and talk. The app automatically uses professional audio “sweetening” to make your voice sound as professional and sound-boothy as possible. You can hold down the button again and rerecord the narration for the “slide” as many times as necessary until you quit messing up.
(Tip: The narration controls the timing of each slide. If you want to linger on a photo a bit after the narration stops, leave your finger down a couple of seconds after you finish speaking.)
At the top of the screen, three more controls await. One lets you choose a layout for the current “slide” (one visual element, two side by side, and so on). One lets you choose among the 35 pieces of music that come with the app — your ukulele, your pizzicato strings, and so on. (In version 1.1, due shortly, you’ll be able to incorporate your own music files.)
And a third lets you choose a “theme” — a look and feel for your movie. Each theme includes choices of font, background, and animation.
Once you’re satisfied with your masterpiece, you can post it on Facebook or Twitter, or it send by email or text message. You can make it public or private. There is, alas, no way to save it as a file on your computer — it’s online only. That’s really my only nit to pick.
Adobe Voice may be an incredibly simple tool, but it can generate an incredibly wide variety of results. In that way, it’s like the great creative tools of old: HyperCard, say, or Lego before that, or colored chalk before that.
In a week, I’ve already found a couple of uses for it. For example, Voice let me whip together a spectacularly professional, joyful 12th-birthday slideshow for my niece in another state. She never needs to know it took only 15 minutes to create (unless she happens to spot this).
And, of course, I used Voice to make the introduction to the video that accompanies this review.
If you have an iPad and a single creative bone in your body, you should download and explore Adobe Voice. It’s free, it’s creative, it’s incredibly easy to use, it’s a blast — and it’s the last thing you’d expect from a company that makes complex, pricey software.