When Adobe Carousel was announced, back in September 2011, the initial responses were that it looked like an expensive cloud storage service. Adobe's ambitions for the system are much greater than this, though - we spoke to Chris Quek, Senior Product Marketing Manager, about what Carousel offers and where it might go next.

The basic idea of the service is to make it possible to view and edit all of your images on any of your devices. To achieve this, Carousel exists as a series of apps that are used to interact with the cloud-based storage that underpins the service.

'Tablets and smartphones are changing people's workflows - we wanted to create something that allows you to use these as part of your workflow and always have access to the images, whichever device you decide to use.'

'There are a lot of people with huge catalogues of images - maybe tens of thousands of photos, usually on their hard drive or some kind of backup. It's very hard to connect and get access to all of these on your tablet or smartphone. It's also really difficult to share a large library of images. And, when you get on to your mobile device, there's a very different user experience. That can be a real barrier to productivity and causes a lot of frustration.'

'We wanted to get away from the need to physically connect one device to another or consciously have to remember to sync your images.'

All your images, anywhere on any device

'We asked ourselves "what do people want?" and concluded that they wanted to be able to access their entire library on all devices. They wanted a common set of tools that let them do what they want to achieve. And they want to be able to share that catalogue. And we wanted to make all of this as easy-to-use as possible - simple to set up and easy to use. If it's difficult, most people won't do it at all.'

'But although we've tried to make it easy to use, we haven't dumbed-down the experience - we've taken our imaging processing technology for desktop computers and optimized it for mobile devices.' And he is insistent that corners haven't been cut to accommodate the less powerful processors used in mobile devices. 'It runs well, even on phones,' he says.

Initially the service will only be available on Mac desktop machines or recent Apple iOS devices but other versions are coming, Quek says: 'In 2012 there will be clients for Windows and Android. The key thing is that it feels like you're using the same app in each environment, because essentially you are.'

The main distinction between the devices is the way files are added to the 'photo carousel' - they use each device's native file picker. As such you select images from the camera or 'Camera Roll' of the iOS devices and use a standard OS X file dialogue or drag-and-drop on a Mac. 'Anything you can do on one machine, you can do anywhere - we want to turn every device into an equal participant.'

Once an image has been added to a photo carousel, each device can apply a series of edits. There are three tabs in the software - one that applies preset 'Looks,' a second 'Adjustments' tab and a Crop/Rotate tab. At present there are 17 Looks which can't be combined or modified, though this may be changed in later versions. The second two tabs will be more familiar to users of image manipulation software.

The interface looks essentially the same, regardless of the device you use it on. Large, simple sliders allow its use with touchscreen devices, such as the iPad, pictured here.

Like the first version of Adobe Lightroom, all the other edits affect the entire image, whether it be white balance adjustment, exposure correction (with highlight and shadow adjustment) or contrast adjustments. Both the Exposure and White Balance tabs have an 'auto-correct' option that shows what changes it's making. Opening an edited image on another device reveals the control sliders in exactly the position you left them when you made the last change. This gives you the option of beginning your edits on one device then moving to another to finish off - or hand over to someone else, with the knowledge you'll be able to see and undo any changes they've made, if you wanted.

'I wouldn't trust my images to the cloud'

Although Carousel is explicitly a cloud-based system, it recognizes that people don't want to just trust their images to a remote server they can't directly control. 'By default the Mac version of Carousel is set to copy all imported images on any computer you install Carousel on. It's very important for people to know they have the originals of their images. We want people to be in control, to know where thier images are.'

This, in turn, answers the question of what happens if you were to cancel your subscription to the service: 'The only thing that you'd risk losing are your edits. The user has all their original files but if they haven't exported the edited version, they could lose that. We store your edits for 60 days, so you wouldn't lose them just because you forgot to renew your membership or something like that.'

And, if you prefer, you can set up more than one machine to store your files, so Carousel can essentially make a backup on a second machine, every time it's connected to the web. Because all images are copied back to the primary computer, the amount of hard-drive space on your primary machine(s) defines the limit of your storage on Carousel.

Invite friends aboard the Carousel

As aspect of Adobe Carousel that wasn't highlighted at launch is the ability to give other users access to your catalogue of images. Each license allows the user to create up to five photo carousels, each of which can be shared with up to five people. Those friends then have the same level of access and control over the images as the 'host' - they can also upload their own images - the only thing they can't do is create new carousels or change who has access to the carousel being shared with them. They don't need their own license which means groups of people could club together to pay for Carousel access, so long as they designate one person to act as host/admin. This would allows participants on a photographic course or photo walk to easily share their images and propose image edits to one another's work.

Quek is keen to stress that Carousel isn't specifically designed for off-line working but it's clear that the intermittent nature of mobile connectivity has been considered in its design. 'The device you're working on will cache thumbnails of any image that has appeared in the track, and screen resolution (1440 x 900 pixel) proxy versions or any images you've looked at with the loupe. It will then pull down the full-size original version of any image you've edited.' These images remain cached until the devices' storage is needed for something else, whether that's newer images for Carousel or a movie downloaded from iTunes. This caching does mean you can continue to work on images while you're not connected to the internet. 'As you re-connect, it will re-sync all your updates.'

And there's more...

Although Quek is adamant that it isn't the case, it's hard not to get the impression that the level of functionality offered by Carousel has ended up defining Adobe's target audience (rather than the feature set being developed for with that particular audience in mind). In part this is because it seems pretty clear that Carousel will quickly grow beyond being a friends and family-friendly cross-platform sharing service. There are a couple of obvious features missing (such as the ability to specify aspect ratios when cropping), and other, more advanced ones that Quek says they hope to add: 'Raw is on our list of features for future versions. We're always thinking about how to balance accessibility and power - we don't want to make the experience too complicated.'

There will also be improved support for off-line working, he suggests: 'at the moment we don't show the user which full-sized images are available for editing from cache. We are looking to improve off-line support in further versions.'

The message seems to be that this is just the beginning: 'We're targeting mainstream consumers with our first version but we also want to give our more advanced users a glimpse of what can be done.'