Adobe continues to release M1-native versions of its Creative Cloud apps, announcing today that native Apple silicon versions of Illustrator, InDesign, and Lightroom Classic are all available now. The company also revealed several features coming to its other desktop and mobile apps and published a benchmark analysis that it commissioned from Andreas Pfeiffer of Pfeiffer Consulting, showing that, on average, Creative Cloud apps run 80% faster on M1 Macs compared to comparable Intel systems.
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I’m not an artist by any stretch, so when I started poking around Adobe’s Fresco, the drawing and painting app for the iPad and iPhone, I approached the app with trepidation. I shouldn’t have.
Fresco is undeniably a ‘pro’ iPad app. The app has a deep set of sophisticated features and integrations with Adobe’s other Creative Cloud apps and services. However, the app is also designed to scale with its users, meeting them where they start and growing with them, whether they are absolute beginners or seasoned pros.
Adobe accomplishes this in a couple of ways. The first is with Fresco’s business model. I’m sure many people who see an app of Fresco’s caliber assume it must be part of an expensive subscription, but it’s not. The app is free, and although there are benefits that only come with a Creative Cloud subscription, their absence from the free version of the app doesn’t detract from its core experience. You can go a long way with the free version, which makes it excellent for beginners and a good way for Adobe to attract new users.
Free is powerful, but it only goes so far. The second reason Fresco works for a broad spectrum of users is the app’s design. From the spot in the app to which every user is taken when they open their first canvas to the many ways to learn and draw inspiration from experienced users, Fresco’s thoughtful design provides a focused approach to drawing and painting that works for users at all levels.
Ultimately, it’s Fresco’s design that convinced me that this was a review I should write. I’m as guilty as the next person of assuming apps like Fresco are only for pro users. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that that’s not true for Fresco. So let’s dive into what makes Fresco such a good place to start if you want to try drawing and painting with your iPad and iPhone.
Today marks the start of Adobe MAX, Adobe’s annual conference for creative professionals. Every year, MAX is jam-packed with announcements about Adobe’s many products.
If you’ve been following along the past few years, the rise of the company’s mobile apps has been an unmistakable trend at MAX. Adobe has made apps for the iPhone and iPad for years, but with the launch of Photoshop for iPad in late 2019, it became clear that the company intends to play as big a role on the iPhone and iPad as it has for decades on the Mac. Instead of building companion apps for its powerful desktop apps, Adobe seems intent on building apps that let creative professionals move seamlessly from the desktop to the iPad and iPhone and back again.
Given the complexity of Adobe’s desktop apps, building something comparable on the iPad or iPhone is a tall order that takes time. Photoshop for iPad didn’t start out with nearly all the features users rely on when they use the desktop version, but with a monthly release cycle, Adobe has chipped away at the pain points, bringing the two apps closer together over time. The same goes for apps like Lightroom, which photographers rely on for editing images they take. The iPad versions of Adobe’s apps haven’t reached feature parity with the desktop, but the gap is closing, enabling users to work in new ways and in a wider variety of contexts.
This year the announcements at MAX are no different. I’ve tried all of the apps discussed below that Adobe is releasing or updating for the iPad and iPhone this year to one degree or another, including spending the past few weeks using the beta version of Adobe’s latest pro iPad app, Illustrator. My artistic skills don’t do Illustrator justice, but from what I’ve seen from my testing the past few weeks and demos by Adobe, Illustrator is a remarkably powerful vector drawing app that takes a truly innovative approach to the app that should still be familiar to desktop users, but is designed first and foremost around touch interactions. Adobe has also released Fresco for the iPhone and some substantial new features to both Photoshop and Lightroom.
Let’s take a look at what’s coming for the iPad and iPhone at Adobe MAX.
Illustrator for iPad
Illustrator on the iPad is Adobe’s popular desktop vector drawing app reimagined for the iPad and Apple Pencil. The app integrates with Adobe’s Creative Cloud service, allowing users to do their work from any device.
Adobe has created a context-aware interaction model that, coupled with the same touch shortcut UI first seen in Photoshop for iPad with the Apple Pencil, provides a rich and flexible set of tools for illustrators. The breadth and depth of tools and options Adobe offers comes with an initial learning curve. However, Adobe has wisely provided a set of tutorials and ways to learn from others that make it easy to learn the basics, so you can start experimenting on your own.
Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop are complementary tools that a lot of creative professionals use together on the desktop, moving images back and forth. Until now, however, that wasn’t possible on the iPad, which has made it a frequently-requested feature ever since Photoshop debuted on the iPad late last year.
With today’s update to Lightroom, there’s a new option in the share menu called ‘Edit in Photoshop.’ When you select that option, Lightroom converts your image for Photoshop and uploads it to Adobe’s cloud service. As soon as that process is complete, Lightroom automatically launches Photoshop and loads the image. When you’re finished making edits, tap the big, blue button at the top of the screen that says ‘Send to Lightroom,’ and a PSD version of the image is returned to Lightroom where you’ll also find the original image you sent to Photoshop. Alternatively, you can save the PSD file as a cloud-based document without sending it back to Lightroom.
Adobe debuted several other updates to Lightroom on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac too. The company is expanding the learning experiences available in the app with more guided tutorials and interactive edits that demonstrate the steps needed to achieve certain results. Lightroom also includes a new versioning system that permits users to experiment by applying different edits to the same image as different versions and compare them without creating multiple files. All users can also add watermarks to images now, which are synced across devices.
Users who upgrade to Lightroom’s premium service get several other features as well. Hues can be adjusted locally, allowing users to change hues in one area of an image without affecting other parts of it. Premium users can also share edits in the app’s Discover section, a community for sharing images, drawing inspiration, and learning.
With every major update of Adobe’s flagship apps on the iPad, I’m impressed by the progress that has been made. Lightroom is a terrific photo editor that’s made all the more powerful by the additional option of exporting images into Photoshop for iPad, which has been advancing itself quickly. Adobe announced updates to many of its desktop apps today too, but what’s striking about the announcements is just how quickly its mobile apps have begun playing a central role in Adobe’s pro product lineup.
Adobe has released a filter-focused camera app called Photoshop Camera that relies heavily on the company’s Sensei AI technology to make it easy to take photos, apply filters, and share them. The app, which was announced last November and has been in beta ever since then, is free with an In-App Purchase available to unlock 20GB of Creative Cloud storage.
Sensei is Adobe’s AI technology that the company has been weaving into more and more of its desktop and mobile apps. Like other companies adding AI to image processing, Sensei touches a wide variety of features in different apps, assisting with everything from aspects of the photo editing process like object selection to settings like exposure. With Photoshop Camera, Sensei plays an even more pronounced role, automating the process of mobile photography and applying filters to create an experience that balances ease-of-use with image quality.
As Adobe explained last fall:
With Photoshop Camera you can capture, edit, and share stunning photos and moments – both natural and creative – using real-time Photoshop-grade magic right from the viewfinder, leaving you free to focus on storytelling with powerful tools and effects. Leveraging Adobe Sensei intelligence, the app can instantly recognize the subject in your photo and provide recommendations, and automatically apply sophisticated, unique features at the moment of capture (i.e. portraits, landscapes, selfies, food shots), while always preserving an original shot. It also understands the technical content (i.e. dynamic range, tonality, scene-type, face regions) of the photo and automatically applies complex adjustments.
Photoshop Camera comes with several pre-installed filters, which Adobe calls Lenses, with additional ones available for download from the app’s built-in Lens Library. Some Lenses have been designed by Adobe, while others have been created by third-party photographers, and even musician Billie Eilish. There are a wide variety of Lenses available at launch, and the company says new ones will be released weekly going forward. The Lens Library also lets users manage their collection of Lenses, adding new ones, deleting others, and reordering them to customize the app to your tastes.
Not many apps can say they’ve been around for 30 years, but that’s how long it’s been since Photoshop 1.0 launched. To coincide with the milestone, Adobe has released updates to Photoshop for the iPad and the Mac. We haven’t tried either update yet, but from the press demo I received, the updates to both versions of Photoshop appear substantial and promise to improve the experience of using the app significantly.
On the iPad, Photoshop already has a Subject Selection tool that lets users quickly select the primary subject of an image, but now, it also has a new Object Selection tool that works a little differently. Object Selection works best when there are multiple subjects in an image, and you want to select just one. After tapping the Object Selection tool, you trace an outline around the object you want to select. Then, Photoshop uses some software magic to figure out what you want and snaps the selection to the object. Finally, you can clean up the selection, adding and subtracting parts using Photoshop’s Touch Shortcut UI. It’s fantastic to see this tool, which just came to the Mac a few months ago at Adobe MAX, already part of the iPad app.
The other headlining feature on the iPad is better typography settings. There are now type layer, character, and options properties that include tracking, leading, scaling, and other adjustments that can be made to text. It’s not quite the complete set of tools available on the desktop, but it appears to be a substantial improvement over the previous version of the iPad app.
The Mac version of Photoshop has also been updated too. Lens Blur has been moved from the CPU to the GPU for better performance. The app can also read the depth map from images taken with an iPhone and other smartphones, which can be edited in Photoshop to get the exact focal point and look that you want.
The Content-Aware Fill workspace has been improved too. Now, you can make multiple selections and apply multiple fills in the workspace, whereas before users had to leave the workspace and reenter it between selections.
Photoshop for iPad was released in early November 2019 with the promise of frequent updates to fill the gaps between it and its desktop sibling. So far, Adobe has lived up to that commitment with substantial updates last December and today. Another indication that Adobe is serious about mobile is evident from the Photoshop webpage, which prominently features the app.
Still, there is still plenty of work to be done before Photoshop for iPad rivals the desktop Photoshop experience. In addition to features that haven’t migrated from the desktop to the iPad yet, I’d like to see Adobe implement iPadOS system features like drag and drop, so I can drag images from Lightroom or other photo editors into Photoshop, context menus, which seem like a natural fit for an app with so many settings, options, and actions, and multiwindowing. My hope is that new functionality like keyboard event detection and whatever Apple has in store for iPadOS 14 will make it easier for Adobe to refine Photoshop further and continue to implement the most powerful desktop features on the iPad too.
The long-anticipated release of Photoshop for iPad was met with disappointment by many users who felt that significant functionality was missing. Although Adobe explained at the time that version 1.0 was a foundation upon which it intended to build rapidly, the length of time it took to create that foundation left many people skeptical. Today, to try to dispel some of the doubts surrounding Photoshop for iPad, the company published a blog post previewing some of the features coming later this year and in the first half of 2020.
Before the end of 2019, Adobe says it will ship the ‘Select Subject’ feature that it showed off at the Adobe MAX Conference earlier this month. The feature takes advantage of the company’s Sensei AI machine learning technology to facilitate complex subject selection. Adobe also says that cloud PSD files will upload and download faster in December after it makes changes to its systems.
Selection tools will get another boost in the first half of 2020 with Refine Edge allowing for soft edge selections. Curves for tonal adjustments and new adjustment layer options will be available too. Adobe also plans to bring features over from apps like Fresco, including brush sensitivity and canvas rotation. Finally, Adobe says it will integrate Photoshop with Lightroom for iPad, so you can process RAW images in Lightroom and use them in compositing projects in Photoshop.
With the reaction at Photoshop for iPad’s launch, I’m glad Adobe chose to showcase these new features in advance. It makes competitive sense too, given that alternative iPad apps that compete with at least some aspects of Photoshop continue to move forward rapidly. It’s that sort of competition that I expect will make pro iPad apps interesting to watch in 2020.
In a video shared earlier today, Tom Hogarty, who’s a Lightroom product manager at Adobe, demonstrated an upcoming feature of Lightroom for iPad – the ability to import photos from external devices (such as cameras, drives, or SD cards connected over USB-C) into Lightroom’s library without copying them to the Photos app first.
Here’s how it’s going to work:
The workflow looks very nice: an alert comes up as soon as an external device is detected, photos are previewed in a custom UI within Lightroom (no more Photos overlay) and they’re copied directly into the app. I think anyone who uses Lightroom for iPad to edit photos taken with a DSLR is going to appreciate this addition. Keep in mind that the 2018 iPad Pros support up to 10 Gbps transfers over USB-C, which should help when importing hundreds of RAW files into Lightroom.
Direct photo import from external USB storage devices was originally announced by Apple at WWDC 2019 as part of the “Image Capture API” for iPadOS. When I was working on my iOS and iPadOS 13 review, I searched for documentation to cover the feature, but I couldn’t find anything on Apple’s website (I wasn’t the only one). Eventually, I just assumed it was part of the functionalities Apple delayed until later in the iOS 13 cycle. It turns out that this feature was quietly introduced by Apple with iOS and iPadOS 13.2, as also suggested by Hogarty in the Lightroom video.
According to this thread on StackOverflow, direct photo import is part of the ImageCaptureCore framework, which is now also available for iOS and iPadOS. I still can’t find any documentation for it on Apple’s developer website.
Adobe MAX begins today in Los Angeles and runs through November 6th. As in past years, the three-day conference is an opportunity for Adobe to announce new products and updates to existing ones.
Last year, Adobe previewed Photoshop for iPad and Aero, an iOS AR creation tool. Today, those apps are finally out of beta and are available to everyone in the App Store. In fact, both Photoshop and Aero showed up on the App Store the evening before the start of MAX, providing me with a little hands-on time with them in advance of their official release.
Adobe has also previewed an iPad version of Illustrator, another of its core Creative Suite apps, which the company says will be available sometime in 2020.
Adobe’s announcements are packed with updates to a wide range of its products, but there’s a clear focus this year on mobile apps. In addition to Photoshop, Aero, and Illustrator, the company also announced updates to Lightroom for iOS and iPadOS and its Rush video creation app.
However, the centerpiece of Adobe’s mobile announcements is Photoshop, the company’s iconic professional design app relied upon by creative professionals worldwide. Ever since word of Photoshop for iPad was leaked to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman in July 2018, the idea of ‘full’ or ‘real’ Photoshop on the iPad has captured imaginations. That initial leak, combined with Adobe’s early marketing efforts, led to outsized expectations for the first version of the app.
Instead of the full-featured, desktop-replacement app that some people were expecting, Adobe says that it has built a foundation with its new cloud-based PSD files and Photoshop’s desktop engine, upon which it will evolve with the guidance of users. Based on what I’ve heard from Adobe and seen from my limited use of the app, I believe the company truly is committed to building a more fully-featured version of Photoshop for the iPad; however, it doesn’t appear that users will be able to abandon their desktops anytime soon.