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Summary:

Adobe today unveiled Photoshop Touch, a new SDK that will allow Adobe and third-party mobile apps to interact with the desktop version of Photoshop CS5 in real time. It looks poised to shake up how we think about the relationship between tablets and computers.

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Adobe Monday unveiled a new SDK for Photoshop that re-imagines how tablets and desktop computers interact. Photoshop Touch will allow Adobe and third-party mobile apps to supplement and interact with the desktop version of Photoshop CS5 in real time.

Tablets and other mobile devices acting as unique, flexible control surfaces that can act with or without direct connection to their parent programs is an area that so far has only been lightly explored. Perhaps that’s because much of the focus so far has been on whether or not post-PC devices can truly operate independently of traditional computers. In our haste to prove they can, we may have overlooked the fact that sometimes, hardware codependence is a beautiful thing. Other software companies should take a close at what Adobe is doing here and see if something similar wouldn’t benefit their own products. Even Apple’s Final Cut video editing software cut definitely benefit from something similar.

Photoshop Touch will first be implemented in three official Adobe apps scheduled for May release, called Eazel, Color Lava and Nav. Each app essentially transforms your iPad into an additional control device or surface for your desktop-based installation of Adobe Photoshop. Adobe certainly isn’t the first to attempt this (there are apps that act as control surfaces for video and audio editing software, too, and even apps that work as game controllers), but it is probably the largest and most influential company to do so, and it has also gone a step further and made these tools available to third-party developers for use with its software.

The apps Adobe showed off work in a couple different ways. Nav allows you to create a custom tool palette, and also use a color picker and zoom controls. You can flip through open Photoshop files, and open files directly from your iPad in your desktop Photoshop installation. Nav is pure companion app, and doesn’t exist independently of Photoshop on the desktop.

Eazel and Color Lava, on the other hand, can work both with or without Photoshop itself being open. Eazel is an independent iPad painting app that very accurately simulates physical paint media (if the demos are any indication). It works independently, but allows you to transfer your paintings to Photoshop at any resolution, which means you can resize for print without any loss of quality. Color Lava, as its name suggests, is all about creating color palettes and swatches. These can later be synchronized with your desktop Photoshop, or it can be used in real-time with Photoshop open.

There’s also a video demo (see below) of one third-party Photoshop Touch app by Shawn Welch making the rounds (via MacRumors). It looks to act as a high-level management tool for all Photoshop installations on a given network. For example, you can open images simultaneously on all connected computers, and you also have very granular control over every individual running instance of Photoshop. Looks like a very handy tool for design studio art directors.

The apps previewed by Adobe show the company has been thinking carefully about how to extend interfaces to mobile devices in a way that makes sense. Each of the apps seems to work particularly well with a touch interface, and they do much more than treat the iPad as just another keyboard or mouse. These apps may leave some design professionals wishing the iPad had pressure-sensitive input (I know I was thinking wistfully of the Wacom-penabled Axiotron Modbook), but to dismiss them because of those kinds of hardware limitations is a mistake.

Adobe announced the Photoshop Touch apps and SDK alongside its CS5.5 paid mid-cycle upgrade, but according to the company’s official press materials, Touch apps will work with existing installations of Adobe Photoshop CS5 thanks to a free patch available May 3, 2011. I’m happy Adobe isn’t limiting the availability of these new features to CS5.5 customers, and I can’t wait to see how they work in an actual photo-editing workflow. Does anyone else think Adobe’s on the right track here?

  1. Fascinating. I hope it’s not too pricy because I would love to try this. Also I wonder how useful it will be for vector files (probably showing my ignorance here)…

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  2. I think that I described this collaborative exercise last week, but am nonetheless surprised to see it in reality.

    If only Adobe would get that Flash is really at the end of its shelf life. They have so many real strengths!

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  3. Considering it’s a “post-PC” device, the iPad seems to shine as a supplement to the personal computer. Figure that out.

    For what it’s worth, real-world IT budgets barely have $500 per seat for primary systems, never mind a companion.

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