Everyone knows that tablets are going to kill desktops. If the iPad and the Xoom were to have their way, they’d take your tower unit into a dark alley at gunpoint today and pop two in the chest, one in the monitor. But as fantastic as tablets are, some things remain beyond them. The example everyone uses is Photoshop: who wants to twiddle pixels on a tiny screen without keyboard shortcuts or a laser mouse?
In fact, Adobe is so confident that desktops are the future of image editing that it has just invited tablets to give it their best shot. The software company has released three Photoshop Touch apps for the iPad that they reckon give your desk-bound digital designer a new lease of life. But are the apps a handy touchy feely upgrade to the increasingly cluttered Photoshop, or the virtual writing on the wall?
Adobe Nav (£1.19) is the cheapest and simplest of the three. Basically, it is just a touch-sensitive tool bar that lets you flip between images, swap brushes and choose selection tools for Photoshop (version 12.0.4 or higher) on your desktop. Pairing the devices takes just a few seconds, then you can navigate images easily without touching the keyboard.
It works quickly and efficiently, for sure, but anyone who has been working in Photoshop for more than a few hours probably has all the relevant keyboard shortcuts burned into their fingertips. And while it’s fun to toggle through screen modes on the iPad, the app feels underpowered. A single ‘actual pixels’ button, for instance, is a poor substitute for being able to zoom in and out of images with a swipe.
Adobe Colour Lava (£1.79) adds more actual functionality. This on-screen palette lets you channel Van Gogh and mix up chaotic swirls of paint with digital paint pots and a shimmering pool of water. You can also grab colours from photos on the iPad.
You can adjust each colour on your palette then mix them up into a ‘theme’ (five linked colours) of your choice. It’s easy to then send that theme straight to Photoshop or, if you’re out and about, email to yourself.
Colour Lava is great fun to use. It won’t drag serious Pantone purists away from their colour wheels but it’s a genuinely creative addition for anyone who enjoys mucking about with shades and tones (without getting their fingers dirty).
The most ambitious app is Adobe Eazel (£2.99). This standalone multi-touch drawing program lets you scrawl shapes, designs and (if your digits are very talented) whole pictures. Each finger gets a menu function: press all five down at once and you can control the brush’s colour with your index finger; size with your big finger; opacity with your ring finger; settings with your pinky; and navigation with your thumb.
If that sounds complex, it is. For the first ten minutes, I was constantly trying to change settings by sneaking my other hand onto the screen, like some weird desktop version of Twister. It eventually becomes a little easier but don’t expect to be cranking out masterpieces anytime soon – especially as there’s only a basic (one-step) undo and no layers or choice of brushes.
Naturally, you can save your creations to the Camera Roll or beam them to your desktop Photoshop, whereupon they get a high-res spruce-up. Again, as innovative as the interface is, it’s hard to see serious designers spending more than a moment or two on Adobe Eazel.
All three apps are definitely fun, creative and worth the few quid they cost to download (especially if you've already shelled out for Photoshop's steep price-tag). However, in the real world, these frothy apps would be more suited to consumers tinkering with Photoshop Elements than their po-faced, turtleneck-wearing Photoshop power users.