Adobe Photoshop Touch brings the flagship retouching app to the iPad 2

Adobe has finally gone and done it. An iPad version of Photoshop called Adobe Photoshop Touch is out for the iPad via the App Store. It's tremendously impressive and to a lesser degree a bit frustrating.

Let's start with the good stuff, because there's plenty of it. Getting a sophisticated photo app running on the iPad is no small task. It requires many controls and a lot of ways to complete tasks that differ from their counterparts on the desktop. Adobe has given this a lot of thought, and while Photoshop Touch isn't as full featured as Photoshop CS5, it brings a boatload of functionality to the tablet which will make every photographer anxious to buy the US$9.99 app without hesitation.

Here's a brief run down of the features:

  • Layer Support

  • Image browsing from Facebook and Google Image search

  • Selection tools

  • Filters (including sharpen, gaussian blur, drop shadows, bevels, gradient maps, pencil, scratches and 21 more)

  • Curves, shadow/highlight adjustments, temperature, replace color, black and white, invert, brightness/contrast, and noise reduction

  • Editing features including crop, image size, add text, warp, add gradients and more

If you use Photoshop, most of these tools will be familiar to you. New tools include the Scribble Selection Tool (which allows you to select and extract parts of an image) among others. When you are done editing your image, you can save it to your camera roll and share it via email, Facebook or Adobe Creative Cloud (after creating a free account).

Adobe Creative Cloud offers 2 GB storage for free. You'll be able to buy more when the service comes out of beta later this year. At that time Creative Cloud will be a $49.99 yearly subscription. Once your image is on the Adobe servers, you can download it on any other device with web access. The app does not support Apple's iCloud. You can print your image via AirPrint if you have supported printers or an OS X app like Printopia.

Using the app was fairly intuitive. There are 13 built-in tutorials and a link to online help, though there's no complete help document. The tutorials are not in video form, but rather step-by-step directions that you can move forward and backward through as you choose. I found the instructions effective and easy to understand. If you are already a Photoshop user, you understand the concepts of making adjustments to an image. If you are not already Photoshop-savvy, the basics aren't hard to pick up. I'd like to see many more tutorials, and I hope future updates will add them.

You can get an idea of the depth of the features in Photoshop Touch by looking through the screenshots I've posted. There is a lot to this app, and most Photoshop functions are carried over other than masks.

There are some negatives, of course. The most glaring issue is that the maximum output size of an image is 1600 x 1600 pixels. This is simply too small, and is much less resolution than output by the iPhone 4 (2592 x 1936) and 4S cameras (3264 x2448). I can assume the resolution was held down to keep performance snappy on the iPad, but I would expect an app with these features to handle higher resolution images. Maybe the rumored iPad 3, with what will likely be better specs, can do more.

While the app supports layers, which is a major positive, there are some limitations. For example, if you add a text layer, you can't go back and edit the text. You'll have to delete the layer and start again.

Another limitation is that saving an image means losing layers, as files are saved as JPEG images to your iPad camera roll, or when you send them via mail or to Facebook. If, however, you save to the Adobe Creative Cloud, layers are preserved. You can download the image from your Adobe storage but you'll note right away that the image is in PSDX format and Photoshop won't load it. To fix this you must download the Creative Cloud plug-ins from Adobe so Photoshop CS5 can open your file. Note: CS5 or 5.5 is required, so earlier versions of Photoshop won't load the files at all.

Photoshop Touch has familiar tools like the lasso tool, but placing boundaries precisely is difficult because your finger covers up the screen. A stylus might be more practical for that kind of work, and of course Photoshop Touch provides some more automated selection tools.

My tests of the app were positive. Overall performance was good. It can take a few seconds to render some effects, that's to be expected. Features worked with no issues, and for a first iPad version I saw no bugs, freezes or crashes. In my tests, Photoshop Touch was solid.

Overall, Adobe Photoshop Touch is a tremendous achievement. Ever since the iPad came out, it has been criticized as a consumption device, and not a creative tool. Photoshop Touch is yet another app that has made that argument seem nonsensical.

Any serious photographer should consider buying this app. No, it's not the full Photoshop experience. I wouldn't expect that in a $10 app. Rather, I think of it a bit more like Adobe's Photoshop Elements. It's scaled down from Photoshop, but contains the most used and wanted features.

I am still troubled about the file size limitation. That's what I'd like to see Adobe fix first. There are other photo editing apps for the iPad that preserve the original file size, so it's not impossible. Photogene is just one example of many iPad apps that can output files at original resolution.

Adobe Photoshop Touch is a 50 MB download, and must run on an iPad 2. The original iPad just doesn't have the horsepower to make the app viable. Photoshop Touch requires iOS 5, and you'll want to sign up for the Adobe Creative Cloud if you want to work on your images on Photoshop CS5 and keep your layers intact.

This is a great first effort from Adobe for the iPad. Photoshop Touch will only get better over time, but as it stands now I think many photographers, both pro and amateur, will want this reasonably priced and powerful photo editor.

Check the galleries below for a look at Photoshop Touch being used.