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Photoshop on iPad Isn’t Complete, But Adobe Promises it Will Be — Do You Believe Them?


Adobe has launched Photoshop on the iPad, a fully rebuilt application on the real base of Photoshop that purportedly runs smoothly and efficiently despite being on the pseudo computer that is the Apple tablet. Normally, this achievement would be seen as a gigantic accomplishment, but multiple stories over the past year have put a damper on what would otherwise be a celebrated announcement.

Note: We have not independently tested Photoshop for iPad as of the publication of this article.

When it was first revealed in 2018, the words “full Photoshop” led many to believe the entire application would be available at launch, when in reality the word “full” was referring to the fact the application would be harnessing the power of the desktop Photoshop, building upon that code base, unlike prior apps that were built without using the full professional application as a starting point — apps such as Photoshop Mix, or the maligned and now-defunct Premiere Clip.

“I take some responsibility that everyone is expecting to compare feature lists.”

“We started to navigate the line of making it clear this is real Photoshop, the real base of Photoshop, and therefore you get the full functionality of the PSD. That was really important to us,” Scott Belsky, Adobe’s Chief Product Officer for Creative Cloud tells PetaPixel. “The Version One promise that we had to deliver on, which is why we are so confident in launching now, is two-fold. It is that professionals can have an augmented workflow with the desktop experience that gives them superior results so they can do some things as well or better on the iPad than they could on the desktop.

“And number two, we asked, is this a more inviting, intuitive, yet just as powerful experience for the person who doesn’t want to take years to master the product? And the answer to that is a resounding yes as well.”

When asked about the expectation of full Photoshop meaning the entire application, Belsky explained that internally, they firmly believed to do so would have been a bad idea.

“Thirty years of features dropped on our customers on day one is a recipe for failure,” he said.

“I like to say to my teams, we should only be shipping something that has a story only we can tell,” he went on. “What does that mean? Adobe has a legacy of file format compatibility, of certain level of performance. When you look at Photoshop, it’s supposed to be the world’s creativity application. You can just get so deep and geeky into any specific area you want to achieve, and it will let you do that.

“We spend a lot of time getting those foundations right. Now, did we ship every every single feature that will ever come onto that foundation on day one? No, I mean we couldn’t and it would take years to do so. But the foundation is there. So the sky is the limit on the modern Photoshop. You can built it into anything because it is the code base that has evolved over thirty years to enable anything.”

“Thirty years of features dropped on our customers on day one is a recipe for failure.”

Belsky explained that his team looked at the prospective use cases for the application on each surface, between desktop and iPad in this case, and did their best to look at the basic customer needs between the two. For Belsky, the iPad brings with it the challenge of balance.

“There will be a ton of people who always found Photoshop way too hard and complicated to learn,” he said.

Belsky believes that the entirely reimagined interface and simpler starting point will attract users who were initially overwhelmed by the full program on desktop. In that regard, he believes that in addition to serving existing users, it was important for Photoshop for iPad to attract new ones.

“I think there will be a lot of excitement, and people will have an easier time with this Photoshop,” he said.

Obviously, breaking focus away from existing users is bound to upset some. Belsky agreed, and said he was prepared to face two possible outcomes from professionals and seasoned Photoshop users. On one hand, he believes some will look at the application and see that it is perfect for certain tasks they need to complete, and that they’ll do a lot of work on the iPad and finish it on desktop.

“It opens a lot of possibilities,” he said optimistically. “And then there will be some pros who will say ‘well it’s missing this feature, and that feature’ and compare it feature by feature and those customers will hopefully recognize that it wasn’t our strategy for day one.”

As technologically impressive as Photoshop for iPad is, and it should be noted that it is indeed extremely impressive, the application will underserve photographers’ needs.

While it will launch with a robust list of features like layers, masks, blend modes, the Clone Stamp and Spot Healing Brush and Crop tools, it won’t include the Pen Tool, color spaces, or RAW photo editing. And while it will have gradients, saturation, black and white controls, the Paint Bucket, Eyedropper, and Color Picker, it won’t have smart objects or layer styles.

What’s more, Photoshop for iPad will not work in tandem with Lightroom CC, an app that has been available for the iPad for quite some time. So while it is possible to get a photo shot in RAW onto the iPad, actually editing that photo in a mix of Lightroom and Photoshop will be a roundabout and indirect process, and likely will involve a computer to act as a go-between the apps on the iPad.

Such a workaround almost defeats the purpose of having both Lightroom and Photoshop on the iPad at all, at least from the perspective of the working photographer.

“There are a few things we actually have to do on the Lightroom side to make that happen,” Belsky said, referencing the communication between the two applications. “This is stuff the team is actively working on. The team really wants to make this have all the interoperability that you expect on the desktop, and so that’s coming.

“But recognize these are not just limitations we are working through at Adobe. This is also something that’s part of iOS. We are pushing the boundaries of what these operating systems can do, and what the hardware can do on mobile. So this is a joint effort to make these devices professional-grade devices.”

What exactly is coming next for Photoshop for iPad directly after launch? Belsky assured that updates will be impactful, and frequent.

“We’re going to be very transparent with our roadmap,” he said. “This is a journey, we are on this together. And if there is a feature that is absolutely essential… that would be prioritized, frankly it probably already is. Because we have a good group of people who have been testing and playing with this product.”

Belsky and Adobe were a bit more vague in terms of specifics on what to expect, and when, from that roadmap. Though they were able to tell us that the features coming to the application first would be Refine Edge, Select Subject and Rotate Canvas in order to round out the compositing flow and also said that they would be adding workflows “over time” such as interoperability with Lightroom, they stopped short of giving exact timelines, or even going beyond those features and sharing precisely what we could expect, and gave no actual timelines for updates in the next three, six or even twelve months.

For those who tie their horse continually to promises from Adobe, these latest set may seem all too familiar, most recently with Premiere Rush. Rush launched with considerable fanfare in June of 2018, bringing with it expectations of expanded functionality.

Those expectations never materialized.

Over a year later, Rush has only seen one major feature update, speed ramping, while this year’s only Adobe MAX update was a button to allow users to directly share to the social network Tik Tok, and nothing else.

“Shame on us that we had to spend six to eight months on really nailing a lot of performance issues [with Adobe Rush].”

Though Adobe never made any firm promises to update Rush to the level they are today with Photoshop for iPad, they did give customers that impression. Belsky admitted that Rush hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves with regards to true feature updates.

“Shame on us that we had to spend six to eight months on really nailing a lot of performance issues that we learned about on cross platform issues,” he told us frankly.

Through its first year on the app store, Rush struggled with performance issues as users expected more out of the app than it was prepared to fulfill.

“Video products are a lot more performance intensive,” Belsky explained. “There were limitations on how people wanted to use it that we had to overcome. Bugs and a lot of these things were addressed, and then Speed was added in there. There is a robust roadmap for Rush, but I will say that we were careful not to promise much during the year about features coming to Rush until we got these things done.”

These struggles explain Rush’s situation, but do they forgive it? Further, it has to be asked whether the problems with Rush at launch are a thing of the past, isolated to that application? Or are they indicative of Adobe’s future with Photoshop on the iPad?

“We are promising these things on Photoshop, because we actually are already well along the way and we are doing such performance testing on this product because of what we learned to some extent with Rush,” Belsky told us.

Since the release of Rush, Adobe has shifted the way they build applications.

“Rush was shipped on a date – it was a date-driven release. We now have a ship-when-ready mentality,” Belsky says. “Now the whole product organization talks about what ship-when-ready means.”

Belsky says that Adobe is setting a bar for its products, a bar that they have to hit before the product goes public. “I think it’s a very important thing to not ship on a date, but when we pass a bar. And with Photoshop on iPad, we a number of times said ‘What’s the bar, and we are not going to ship until we are there.'”

Belsky admits that there was a part of him that wanted to get Photoshop on iPad out earlier in the year, “But it wasn’t ready yet.” He went on to explain the there is an evolution in how they are building their products at Adobe that will hopefully address the feedback that customers have shared with the tech giant.

“I am confident,” Belsky said, referring to the launch of Photoshop on iPad and the promise to continue to update it over time. “What I hope some people can discern from this is why we stuck to our guns. Why we didn’t just want to port the existing interface with the existing feature set onto this new surface.”

Belsky was passionate when explaining the changes they made to the platform for iPad, and why they mattered.

“There are entirely new gestures, there is progressive disclosure of menus. They are context-specific menus that are very empowering as opposed to navigating long menus with every single feature you have to comb through all the time to find what you need. This is such a better place to start this next generation of Photoshop.

“But I understand that some customers are going to be like, ‘Alright, where is this feature?’ And you know, that’s a partnership we will have to figure out.”

Speaking to the team’s goals, and the product they released, Belsky understands it was his words that painted the current landscape.

“I take some responsibility that everyone is expecting to compare feature lists and they’re not going to take the time to understand the strategy of what this product was. But I just couldn’t be more confident and excited as to where we are going now, and what we are going to do with people’s workflows.”