Adobe Photoshop for tablets looms nearer

You can't download Photoshop for your iPad yet, but the technology is getting close enough for Adobe Systems to begin showing what it's got in mind.

John Nack, the Adobe Systems program manager leading the effort, revealed some ideas of how Adobe envisions marrying its flagship image-editing software to tablet computers.

Adobe displayed two broad possibilities in mock-ups and a presentation at the Adobe Max conference: first, a direct editing application for tablets that's operated with a multi-touch user interface, and second, a companion application that would let a mobile device augment Photoshop running on an ordinary computer.

"We're trying some different design directions, making stand-alone imaging tools for tablets, as well as companions to Creative Suite apps" such as Photoshop, Nack said in a blog post.

Photoshop on a tablet

Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch demonstrates an iPad-based colour palette app used to mix, select and paint colours. It's attached to a separate computer running Photoshop. (Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET)

Galaxy Tab and iPad demos

Adobe chief technology officer Kevin Lynch demonstrated some ideas last week at Adobe's Max conference using first an Android-based Samsung Galaxy Tab and then an Apple iPad.

In the first demonstration, he showed Photoshop's content-aware fill technology that can add some smarts to the deletion of phone lines, ex-boyfriends or other elements of an image. He used his finger to paint over an image of a grouse against a green field. After a few seconds of processing, the application filled in the area with more green grass.

In the second demonstration, he used an iPad application to mix colours with a virtual palette, then select them, then finger-paint on an image actually hosted on a copy of Photoshop running on a linked conventional computer.

"Back in the old days, people used to mix colours on a palette — a physical palette. We're looking at whether we can bring that same type of experience to a tablet environment," Lynch said. "What we're working on is connecting your mobile devices to your personal computer over a network so that they can work in conjunction with each other," Lynch said.

Content aware fill

This demonstration showed an advanced Photoshop editing feature, content-aware fill, running on an Android-powered Samsung Galaxy Tab. (Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET)

Upgrading Adobe

The expansion to tablets and smartphones is one of several measures under way to modernise Adobe, a software company firmly rooted in the era of personal computers. Among the signs of the new age dawning at Adobe are:

  • Changes to its Flash Player software: Adobe, with help from Google and some other non-Apple allies, is trying to spread it to mobile devices.
  • Retooled publishing tools to let magazine makers reach the iPad and other tablets.
  • Photoshop Express for the iPhone, iPad and Android devices, and Photoshop Express, the web-based editing tool and photo gallery. They're pale reflections so far of the full-fledged program, but they're under development.
  • The embrace of HTML5 and associated web technologies — even to the point of contributing code to the WebKit browser engine project. The move hedges Adobe's Flash bet.

Many of those efforts have yet to prove their financial worth. Photoshop and the rest of Adobe's Creative Suite, though, is a cash cow, and it makes sense to extend it to the new era of computing devices. The mock-ups showed several ideas that extended beyond Lynch's demos.

Photoshop mobile ideas

Many experts use Photoshop with dual monitors — one for the images being edited and one for the profusion of control panels. As shown in Adobe's designs, the Photoshop companion application would be a different sort of extension, connected to the main Photoshop application through a wireless network connection.

iPad Photoshop

This Adobe mock-up shows an iPad companion application that could be used to control Photoshop on a conventional computer connected via a wireless network. (Credit: Adobe Systems)

On a phone, the application could serve as a touch-operated control panel. It could be used to select and configure tools, for example, picking the Photoshop brush and then adjusting the brush size. The companion tool could be configured for different styles of work — design, painting or photography, for example.

Another way to use the companion would be to show tutorials without cluttering the main Photoshop display. Here again, tapping on a relevant portion of the tutorial could control the Photoshop on the computer.

The possibilities get much richer with a tablet, of course.

Here, Adobe's mock-ups showed an extended version of the control panel idea, with many more tools on display. But more significant is using a tablet as a direct editing extension, with the image itself being shown on the tablet.

In one example, a person could paint — with multi-touch fingerpaints — directly on the image, with changes being reflected on the computer screen. Multi-touch also could be useful for distorting an image — in the mock-ups, expanding a model's nose to an unflattering bulbous shape.

It's telling that so many of the mock-ups were of companion applications rather than stand-alone, full-fledged editing applications. It's tough to do advanced editing on a small device controlled with blunt fingers, and it's no surprise that many smartphone and tablet applications today are better at selecting a variety of preset adjustments than at free-form controls like Photoshop proper.

But it's clear that the tablet and smartphone era is just beginning, too. Adobe's early steps show just how seriously the new computing categories should be taken.


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