UPDATE: I've received confirmation from Smith Micro that these UI changes will be part of the Manga Studio 5 updates scheduled to be released this fall.
The Clip Studio Paint 1.2.7 video we posted earlier this week does a fair job of demonstrating the design changes that vastly improve its suitability for the Surface Pro and other small screen Windows tablets.
Although we already have Manga Studio 5 EX in house, we just had to acquire the Japanese version in order to take a closer look at its strengths and weaknesses.
Clearly the developers at Celsys understand their clientele and they are rushing headlong to provide the best Windows 8 drawing and painting experience bar none. And they are achieving this by doing what few developers (including Microsoft) have attempted: cleverly blending the best design paradigms of desktop and Metro style interfaces.
I still haven't risked installing the Windows 8.1 preview build on the Surface Pro, but one of its enhancements is supposed to be better desktop scaling capability. By default in Windows 8, magnification is set to 150% but this only affects font size of desktop applications. As I've often complained about software like Photoshop CC, icons remain pitifully microscopic.
The improvements to CSP 1.2.7 vs. Manga Studio 5 EX are evident the moment the software is loaded on the Surface Pro. Not only is text magnified, but icons are also significantly larger.
All icons in the toolbar and along the command bar are doubled in size and very easy to target with either the stylus or fingertip. Brush settings and color palette are organized into a sub-menu next to the toolbar. Layer settings, scene information, actions and the materials pallet are all stacked neatly along the far right of the screen.
The new menu bar toggle button hides the title bar with the first tap.
A second tap hides the menu bar.
Tapping the new application menu button with the stylus reveals a menu dropdown that is much easier to navigate and tap with the pen.
In one of the cleverest innovations, Clip Studio Paint 1.2.7 is able to differentiate between a pen and finger touch. Tapping the same menu icon with the fingertip reveals an icon-based touch friendly menu screen.
Tapping the file menu reveals further menus that comply with Windows 8's Metro design standards.
The toggle pen & touch button determines how the software reacts to the multiple inputs. Although Manga Studio 5 has excellent palm rejection, it is still possible to make stray marks on the canvas. With CSP 1.2.7, I could not get the software to draw with my fingers no matter how I tried. Clearly this is possible, as seen in the video, but it must require a key combination or other modifier which I wasn't able to decipher.
The flyouts adjacent to numeric settings now result in a large touchpad for easy input: one less reason to reach for the bluetooth keyboard.
These are but a few of the UI improvements that I've been able to detect after a couple of hours playing with the software. Of course, it's not 100% perfect and a few rough spots could use ironing out.
The sub-tool flyouts (A) are still a bit too narrow. The scroll bars (B) are also too narrow to target reliably, even with the stylus. The information at the bottom of the screen (C), which I admit I don't understand, needs to be taller and should toggle on and off. One of the few innovations I'm not thrilled about are the anti-aliasing and stabilization settings (D) which are now represented as icons. Stabilization values can be set numerically, but it requires an additional tap to reveal a slider and numeric touchpad.
The last but certainly not least improvement in this new version is the ability to pan, zoom and rotate the canvas with your fingertips as you draw. It works so fluidly, you'll almost be convinced you're working with paper.
Without sacrificing one iota of the power and flexibility of its previous desktop versions, Celsys has managed to layer on tablet-centric design influences that set Clip Studio Paint well above its competition. We can only hope other developers follow suit quickly.
As I wrote Monday, "This release is the first product that I've experienced that fully harnesses the potential of full Windows compatibility with a touch-friendly interface." I believe this is the design paradigm that will not only give Windows 8 tablet computing the toehold it needs, but it may finally compel power users to forego Apple and iOS.