November 04, 2010

Feedback, please: A Photoshop iPad companion

In August I asked for ideas on tablet-based companions for Photoshop, and last week at MAX we demoed a paint-mixing prototype. Now the designers have taken a crack at mocking up some companion features that could run on a phone or tablet.

In a nutshell, you get:

  • groups of task-based tools & commands (e.g. all your photography/retouching tools & buttons on one page, or all your painting ones, 3D ones, etc.)
  • interactive, task-based tutorials that drive Photoshop, helping you get things done

The idea is to let you work faster–offering more organized access to tools & knowledge. What do you think? What would you pay for this?

Posted by John Nack at 2:51 PM on November 04, 2010


  • Thomas Rostowski — 3:05 PM on November 04, 2010

    Right now I shoot tethered into Canon’s DPP or Lightroom. If I could shoot to cards and use an iPad just as a way to have big previews and possibly basic cropping tools, I would easily pay $50 for this functionality.

    [I appreciate that, but it’s not what I’m asking about here. (See previous.) –J.]

    • KC — 8:38 AM on November 08, 2010

      I second this request.

      Concentrate on what the photographers are using for management, and 70%+ of their darkroom work.

      An iPad app that is just a control surface is silly (especially if I have to pay for it). This would just be another throw-back to the old days of application-specific keyboards with the color-coding and shortcuts written all over the keyboard.

      In all seriousness, why would someone have any use for this? Most people have either very large monitors, or multiple monitors to work in Photoshop (and the rest of the Creative Suite).

  • Jim Pogozelski — 3:13 PM on November 04, 2010

    So is this an app where you could sit back in your chair with your iPhone/iPad and draw (etc) from that to the monitor in front of you?

    [No–the idea is that you’d use the tablet surface to send commands to Photoshop, rather than creating stuff wholly on the tablet. –J.]

    The only thing missing is that pesky physical pen as opposed to fingers-only.

    But these are pretty good looking mockups… I had assumed I’d never pay for something like this. This looks usable though.

  • Daniel Sofer — 3:24 PM on November 04, 2010

    Not really excited about these John, but if they were free I would try them out.

    I can see the value in this approach, but I’m not a “dual monitor” person – I much prefer a single larger monitor – so I’m not sure I would use these on a regular basis. I love Apple’s Remote app, especially for iPad, but I never use it within 20 feet of my computer.

    So, lukewarm, then.


  • Attila Acs — 3:40 PM on November 04, 2010

    I think having complex panels like the brush panel available on an iPad/iPhone could actually speed things up a little bit. However, I think tool selection is much quicker using the traditional shortcuts on the keyboard since you don’t have to look, read, aim & click on a touchscreen.

    I think this should be bundled with any Creative Suite purchase for people to try out..

    • thinsoldier — 2:15 PM on November 05, 2010

      I assume we’d be able to use the keypad on the device if desired? (some people will forever hunt and peck whether software or hardware keys)

      My productivity takes a nose dive whenever I have to use my wacom. It’s uncomfortable to juggle the mouse, keyboard, and tablet on my desk at once so I just sit back with the wacom and do everything by click on the UI. Photoshop ui is so not tablet friendly (could learn something from sketchbook pro).

      But I could definitely see using wacom tablet + iphone like this.
      Still won’t be fast as a keyboard but will be much much nicer than just using the wacom. I can finally hit TAB and not have to see photoshop’s UI.

      I didn’t see any widgets for layers and blending modes or filters.

      Any chance Adobe and Wacom will team up for a proper pressure sensitive ipad rival?

  • BJN — 3:55 PM on November 04, 2010


    Big monitor, Wacom tablet. Don’t need diddly duplicate tool controls.

    Tutorials might be a nice app, but considering how poorly the cloud-enhanced “help” really works, I doubt Adobe could pull it off very well. Adobe does applications well. Documentation and content, not so much.

    • Jaddie Dodd — 4:48 PM on November 04, 2010

      Dear BJN

      I have a 30″ Cinema Display but it’s not big enough for how I like to work.

      The PS Companion app would get rid of my toolbox and panels and maybe the toolbar, too.

      I wonder if display developers are working on curved panels, so that 40″ and larger would be practical.


      • Chris — 8:48 PM on November 04, 2010

        And why can’t you do this with a secondary display? I use a Wacom Cintiq along with my Apple HD 30″ –which I bought back in 2005.

  • Jaddie Dodd — 4:45 PM on November 04, 2010

    Dear John & Friends

    I’d definitely want to be able to access my Actions panel in button mode on the Companion app.

    I would pay something for this, but probably not a whole lot. I don’t think my neck of the woods is out of the recession yet, and I just spent a lot of money on CS5 Design Premium. I’m always trying to figure out a way to make better use of my Wacom tablet’s Express Keys, so I’ve got some help along these lines.

    By the way, I hope everyone here tunes into Corey Barker’s stellar tip on a recent episode of Photoshop TV to see how he set up his Wacom tablet to cycle through layer blend modes. Awesome stuff! Shift-+/- is great if you don’t have a tablet, though.

    Please don’t mistake this comment as a lack of enthusiasm for Adobe’s iOS development efforts. I support Adobe.


  • David — 5:06 PM on November 04, 2010

    I like to keep my eyes on the monitor, one hand on the Wacom, and one hand on the keyboard. Tactile keyboard feedback means I can press buttons by touch without looking to jump from one tool or another. I’d have to continuously look away from the screen to see what I’m doing on a glass screen. I suspect I would not use this more than once.

  • MikeW — 5:21 PM on November 04, 2010

    I think the PS interface is getting a little long in the tooth for all the functionality that’s there. I would prefer you look at some major interface refinements rather than this. This feels like you are running out of room with a less-than-optimal interface so you are dumping excess tools onto whatever other screen you have available. I would not work in PS this way – it seems like it would be too finicky.

    At one time unifying the interfaces across the suite seemed to make sense. Now it’s starting to feel like you are forced to make interface decisions you might not have made if you didn’t have to be a “team player”. Sorry I know that’s a bit off topic…

    The educational app is cool. But I probably wouldn’t pay for it. I already have Lynda and Kelby accounts.

    Sorry – I don’t want to come across as negative, but I just don’t see this being useful. I think there are other things you could spend the resources on. Tablet Lightroom being the primary one. Muffin!

    • Greg Geisler — 8:06 AM on November 06, 2010

      I’m in agreement with Mike W on this. I saw the MAX demo and the app is very well done but my immediate internal response was that this makes things more complicated not more efficient. I can mix colors right on my photoshop document, maybe not as elegantly and without the cool ink well thingie.

      Maybe I am just old but I feel like the more progressive approach to applications is simplicity and adding another hardware/screen/input to the mix doesn’t achieve this. I don’t even use those buttons on the Wacom tablet as I can perform the same things in Photoshop with my fingers and without having to look away from the screen to do it.

      I know that Adobe is investing heavily in the mobile device/tool arena but I personally feel that things like this are a bit “forced”. It certainly has a WOW factor and is very well executed but I don’t think it would be efficient in most workflows.

      Sorry to diss! You know I am your and Adobe’s biggest fan!

    • DM Cook — 4:58 PM on November 06, 2010

      Absolutely agree. The Photoshop interface and its insistence on rows of tools and menus/windows/sliders — basically scaling the original 1984 Mac to unforeseen heights — is a bad move. This is one of the KEY reasons why tablets are so important. When done right, they herald a totally task-centered way of working that doesn’t clutter the view with endless tools. Look at what Microsoft played with on the Courier. It’s tragic that we never saw real development on that, but it was BRILLIANT.

      So, John, am I excited about these prototypes? In the sense that it’s nice to see Adobe look at tablets, yes. But Photoshop sorely needs a re-thinking, and tablets can help make that happen.

      I’m envisioning an extension of the color mixer (which is a great idea) into something of a “shaper” control surface. You sit with your hands on the mouse and keyboard, but use a tablet to perform secondary functions that would require tedious reselect/deselect/menu navigation. One example would be having Free Transform available on the tablet in front of you whenever you select a layer (and regardless of what else you do with it). Or a visual font selector (for those of us with too many fonts). Or a zoomed-out or zoomed-in secondary monitor, but let’s not get too into the “multiple screens” idea. Essentially, to rebuild Photoshop from the ground up means scrapping the way it’s constructed. How about– as just a very basic, interesting shift– using the tablet as a display of your open PS documents?

      The tablet’s about controlling things directly. Let it do that.

      And get working on that iPad Lightroom. Please. Even if it’s basic at first, it is SORELY NEEDED!

  • MikeW — 5:25 PM on November 04, 2010

    How about push comps to the cloud. I can mark up comments on my iPad while I am away from office and collaborate with other team members. Or I could mark up artwork along with a client in their office.

    Cloud storage/markup/collaboration all from mobile devices.

  • Andrew Phang — 6:20 PM on November 04, 2010

    Great ideas. If I get where this is really heading, I see some very exciting opportunities:

    1. Carry my entire personal workflow on an iOS device, that can be synced to any computer I work on, anywhere. From Colour management to toolsets (ideally include even custom brush tips) to actions, filters and swatch libraries etc. The whole nine yards. There should be enough storage on iOS devices for this. It’s just a matter of licensing.

    2. Ability to publish and share all of the above to other users. Pro users and hobbyists alike can contribute. This would apply for the tutorials as well.

    3. Monetize all the above via in-app purchasing. ie: browse and buy toolsets and tools, created by the community or Adobe or third-party publishers. Adobe would own the distribution model and earn on commission, just like iTunes. This might actually open up a whole new business and licensing model for some plugin and filter publishers; imagine being able to purchase single filters or specific little functions/enhancements, and using them on any computer you sync to.

    4. Open this model up to all CS apps.

    Of course all this might need some modification of existing software to work, but I see it as technically and economically feasible.

  • Eric — 7:00 PM on November 04, 2010

    I do use dual monitors at work. And I still don’t have enough room for my panels. (Running about 15 apps at the same time, I need at least eight monitors!)

    This is sweet. I will buy the iPad version the second it’s available.

  • Aaron Spence — 2:17 AM on November 05, 2010

    I bought Air Display (iPad app) for about Aud$13. It essentially makes the iPad into a 2nd monitor.

    I’ve used it a little with Lightroom3 and PSCS5. I have 4 monitors at my main workstation, so this usage is only when I’m travelling on a shoot using the laptop. It basically gives me a mobile multi-monitor setup.

    A dedicated Adobe app (not just for PS) would be better though, as it would allow the saving of views, settings etc, where an occasional 2nd monitor requires a bit of setup each time.

    So in a nutshell, I like the direction you’re heading, and I would pay money for it, as I already have with Air Display.

  • Hhhhh — 2:21 AM on November 05, 2010

    All this sounds terrible, if you have to think so hard for a reason to make an iPad app then you probably shouldn’t make one in the first place

  • connectionfailure — 3:52 AM on November 05, 2010

    John, years ago I remember reading an interview with Kai Krause about how there are more variables in graphics software than we have limbs to control. He mentioned something about a footpedal in the near term and 3D motion detection in the longer term. The iPad is in between those in that it is multitouch. You could make an open-ended app that lets the user assign tool variables to different areas of the iPad screen. Say, X-axis is brush width while Y-axis is brush hardness for example.

    • thinsoldier — 3:10 PM on November 05, 2010

      Indeed. I had suggested they could add special hot-spots that modified how the app worked depending on which corner was currently pressed.

      For example, instead of having to navigate to the brush size widget, if you held down the south west corner of the device any x-axis input would adjust size and any y-axis input would adjust softness.

  • Michael Wypasek — 5:59 AM on November 05, 2010

    Speaking as a dual-monitor guy, I like it. Especially on the iPad. I understand why Adobe made the effort to “clean up” the interface in the last few CS versions, but I still prefer to see all my settings at a glance. I don’t have to go hunting.

    And I agree with the comments about extending this across all the Suite apps. Makes it all the more a valuable tool.

  • CGilmore — 6:24 AM on November 05, 2010

    Like Aaron, I use the AirDisplay app with PS all the time. I can definitely see a use in an a actual iPad app like this. My only restraint would be what I saw as the layers panel. I’m assuming that you can change the views of it, like within PS, where you don’t have large thumbnails? I would hate to hare to scroll so much through a layer intensive project, otherwise.

    Other than that, I’m a fan. I can see a benefit with this.

  • Arnon Moscona — 9:44 AM on November 05, 2010

    I think that configurator does a decent job (though not 100% reliable) of giving me decent tool shortcuts without taking an inordinate amount of screen real estate. Where an iPad app would really help is keeping relatively large panels open without competing with the on-screen image.

    I really liked the color selection panel (especially since photoshop surprisingly has relatively poor on-screen color selection tools (something like Painter’s color selector would be nive, but costly in real estate).

    Color selection is really frequently used. I could even use something whare a large color selector is integrated with a kooler (or other) color scheme to I can just quickly jump to the correct RGB value and get relates tints quickly.

    Similarly a large brush selector and shortcuts for brush presets on the ipad can save me from having a large panel competing with the main image on screen.

    So I like the idea. I would pay extra for it. But I would focus up the functionality on always-on large panels that would allow me to use as much screen real estate for my main image.

  • Linda Quinn — 9:58 AM on November 05, 2010

    A daul monitor on the iPhone doesn’t make much sense — way to small to be of value. What I would like to see it the be able to use the iPad as an extension of PS & a drawing tablet!

  • David Sharpe - Adobe User Groups — 12:26 PM on November 05, 2010

    I saw the demo at MAX, which was good but short. Take it a step further, get a bigger tablet, add virtual keyboard, minimized and maximized tool palettes – then ditch the physical keyboard.

  • Norm Dwyer — 1:38 PM on November 05, 2010

    I for one would not be happy paying for this as a separate app. After paying a small fortune for Creative Suite, a PC a mobile phone/tablet it seems like an insult for Adobe to think of charging for this rather than including it as a free download for Photoshop owners. After all it is only useful to Photoshop/CS user/owners who also own a mobile tablet device.

    However, economic realities being what they are I imagine in the marketplace of apps, i would be happy to pay .99 but would be willing to pay $9.99, but no more.

  • Seth — 1:50 PM on November 05, 2010

    I would purchase the Photoshop tools immediately!! Keyboard shortcuts are great, but they can only do so much.

    Being able to control palettes with my left hand and keep the mouse on top of my work would be invaluable and save tons of time.

    Currently I use two monitors and spend tons of time going back and forth between the two. I can’t believe some people don’t see the value in this.

    I tried Keypad and the interface was too clunky to be valuable. In essence it didn’t offer anything above already present keyboard shortcuts – I’m looking for that, plus being able to select colors, typefaces, effects, brush characteristics… essentially exactly what the mockup shows.

    Seeing this has me so excited for the possibilities.

    I can also see an equal amount of value in the same functionality for InDesign and to a lesser extent Illustrator.

  • Skyler — 2:46 PM on November 05, 2010

    I’m impressed, but would have to try them to see if there is a real productivity gain.
    At a glance, I’d say the iPad version looks more useful.

    I think they should be free to those who own Photoshop. It’s already plenty expensive.

  • RobertM — 3:13 PM on November 05, 2010

    What about using the device to add jestures to Photoshop. I could see zooming in and out, moving and rotating the canvas. Maybe allowing gestures to be tied to actions. That way I don’t have to look down at the device while using it.

  • Nathan — 1:10 AM on November 06, 2010

    I definitely would use the iPad version. The iPhone version would seem to be too small to be useful.

    In fact I actually really would love to use this tool on my iPad. Please pursue this. I think there’s some real amazing potential.

  • Navarro Parker — 5:34 PM on November 07, 2010

    I would love to see more companion surfaces. Like a Premiere virtual jog/shuttle knob?

    One crucial feature is how its going to sit by my keyboard and not scoot around with every touch. Seems like you almost need to recommend a specific rack or case for it.

    I would pay $9.99 for the software. Maybe higher if it was killer. Certainly not more than $19.99.

  • Guenther — 12:42 AM on November 08, 2010

    I don’t know if it is possible but it would be great if the ipad could function as a kind of wireless graphic tablet.

  • Ryan Martin — 1:40 PM on November 08, 2010

    Nevermind all the haters.
    Remember all the people who thought the iPad (and touch-screens in general) were pointless in the first place?

    Photoshop needs to go in this direction.
    (the amount of comments demonstrates a palpable interest)

    First bit win: Semantics

    Photoshop has SO many functions that learning keyboard shortcuts for all of them is an almost ridiculous memory game. Many people that are in love with their keyboard dance have been doing it day in and day out for years. Newer and more casual users do not get the same benefit.

    To me, one of the great advantages of a software control-panel is the ability to map functions to touch events SEMANTICALLY. I want to invoke content-aware-fill, there’s a “Content Aware Fill” button; which to me, is more accessible than a hand-sprawling, hard-to-remember keyboard chord.

    This alone, for me, outweighs the tactile feedback of the keyboard dance (in general).

    Tactile feedback IS good and necessary. But how many functions do you need constant tactile feedback for? The Wacom buttons/sliders already cover a lot of ground. And you can always accessorize with more external physical/haptic/tactile controllers (like the MIDI/OSC scene). And I agree with an earlier comment that Photoshop could take a page from Sketchbook pro and make the interface more Pen friendly with clever hot-spots and gestures. The HUD popups were a good first step.

    Second big win: Ergonomics

    When I am painting with my Wacom, one hand is on the pen and one is on the control-strip.
    Since the Wacom control-strip can only cover a fraction of the functions, I must often break my flow and re-adjust my position to (awkwardly) get at the keyboard.
    This is still better than relying on the classic drop-down menues for everything. I have carpal tunnel, so I need to reserve pen input for actually painting, not constant navigation of the Photoshop UI (especially in modal windows).
    There is a great need for haptic/short-cut functions, but it could be better met with flexible, dynamic, semantic haptic controller: a (multitouch) tablet, that I would work with one hand, in conjunction with the Wacom control strip.

    The other ergonomic win is in massaging the values of function parameters.
    There are a ton of horizontal sliders in the UI. Now that Photoshop gives real-time feedback on most of them, I constantly find myself spending a lot of time tweaking them back-and-forth to get a visual read on the best value. Ergonomically, this consists of delicately swaying my wrist back-and-forth within the range of a centimeter. This requires a kind of locked-arm muscle control that gets quite tedious and straining after a while. Lightroom improves this by allowing you to use the arrow keys on the keyboard to tweak the values of the slider you are focused on. But on the ipad you could dedicate the whole screen to a smooth, nuanced slider gesture that would give you greater control and allow your wrist/arm a free-er motion.
    This concept could be extended to a lot of modal functions, including free-transform, layer adjustments, etc.

    Also, it would be a huge step forward to be able to modulate a brush stroke, DURING the stroke. People use Wacom pressure sensitivity for things like brush size and opacity. This feels very natural, but sometimes limits the range and level of control you have over those parameters. It is also another point of ergonomic failure. I can’t press down HARD with my stylus, therefore I can’t get to the max value of that parameter.

    I would prefer to have the option to use a few well-designed multitouch gestures to “chord” these properties independently from the stylus-hand. Kind of like playing the Cello. This would let you get away with using a “dumber” non-Wacom stylus, or freeing up the Wacom stylus to modulate other properties; while giving you greater control over the specified parameters.


    People have so many different ways of working that whatever you guys come up with, it needs to be customizable/personalized.
    Continue with the Configurator idea.

    I bought the Photokeys iPhone app, and while it was a nice proof of concept, I immediately found it unusable because of all the personal decisions baked into it’s UI that did not fit my flow. Same with the PSkeys app. It is only with the Keypad Pro app on the iPad, where you can define your own hotkey layouts, that we are getting somewhere.
    But it is up to Adobe to take us beyond hotkey macros into live multitouch versions of the useful control panels.

    I bought the iPad for this.
    I would pay a significant amount of money for it. (anything cheaper than a Cintiq : )
    But I agree that Photoshop is already quite expensive; and this is an extension of Photoshop, not an independent app.

  • Sula — 7:27 PM on November 13, 2010

    Hey there John!
    Sorry it took so long to actually sum up what I would even buy an ipad just to use it.

    Here is the deal. I like big tablets. And most people that I know that say they prefer the medium and smaller ones, its just because its so hard to use the big one AND a keyboard.

    Personally, what I would love: to use the iPad to navigate and rotate my canvas. Zoom, Pan, rotate, in the standard multitouch fashion.
    A nice bonus would be to able to access crlt, shift and alt buttons easily, and maybe even make the color wheel pop by holding one of the corners? Anyway. To sum it up, I would like to use it without having to look at it.

    Even though I don’t know if that would work well. It works with the keyboard because you have the tactile feedback of the keys. But being able to navigate and rotate the canvas would be pretty awesome.

  • Michael Tuminello — 4:08 AM on January 19, 2011

    Better to have an iPad companion to Lightroom, optimized for sorting, tagging, organizing and sharing. that’s the kind of half-brain activity that would be perfect to do on the couch as opposed to sitting in front of your computer.

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