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Issue 10.4 ('Extreme Programming')
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iApp: PS Touch

Issue: 10.4 (May/June 2012)
Author: Marc Zeedar
Article Description: No description available.
Article Length (in bytes): 9,773
Starting Page Number: 17
Article Number: 10404
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For many people, Photoshop is their "killer app," the software that justifies the purchase of hardware. Now Adobe has finally released a version for iOS. While it's compelling and surprisingly powerful, it doesn't quite have all the features pros need.

The biggest problem with PS Touch is that it only supports a maximum of 1600x1200 pixel images. For professional designers or photographers, that's a joke. That's not even as high a resolution as the screen of the new iPad!

However, I expect Adobe to rectify this shortly, hopefully by the time this review comes out.

In the meantime, PS Touch is surprisingly useful and powerful. Because of the low resolution, it's probably not useful for more than quick mockups for pros, but for consumers it offers affordable power in a remarkably convenient package. It's also very useful for web work, where the resolution is sufficient for most needs. In fact, if you're a developer who occasionally needs graphics for your apps or website and you can't justify the expense of the full desktop Photoshop, PS Touch might be all you need. And for $10, you can't beat the price.

What can you do with PS Touch? The list is long: replace backgrounds (extract objects), paint (even with effects), work with layered images (including opacity and various blend modes), retouch, filter (everything from color adjustments to exotic painterly effects), and much more.

What can't you do? If you're a Photoshop veteran, you'll miss powerful features like layer masks and layer styles, but then you've got the full version, so why would you be needing the iPad one? In terms of portability, the iPad rules, and PS Touch is not a bad substitute when you need to work with photos on the go. Pros will have to adjust their workflow a little, and perhaps make a few compromises, but PS Touch is capable of being used for real work. (I can imagine wedding or portrait photographers doing rough draft retouches, such as removing a mole or zit, right on site to demonstrate to clients possibilities.)

Touch Interface

What interested me the most about this app was to see the user interface. Is it really feasible to retouch photos on a touch tablet? The surprising answer is a qualified "Yes!"

The PS Touch interface is minimal and generally works very well. There's a toolbar across the top that's like a menubar, letting you copy/paste, work with selections, and apply filters and special effects. A toolbar on the left side includes various selection and painting tools, several of which include multiple versions via submenus. A third tool palette is on the right side and is only for working with layers. You can hide the palettes on either side by collapsing them to tiny widgets, or hide all the palettes (including the top one) via a button in the upper right.

Working with photos works the way you'd expect: you can zoom in and out with pinch gestures, and pan the image with two fingers. If you actually want to move the selection, however, you need to tap the Move icon on the top bar.

One annoying aspect of the interface is that it only works in landscape (horizontal) orientation. When I brought in a vertical photo, I later couldn't figure out a way to rotate the entire file (you can rotate individual layers, but not all the layers together) and working in portrait mode was awkward with all the tools horizontal.

There are other issues too. Painting can be challenging as your finger covers up the area you are attempting to paint. But PS Touch does have a poorly named "Show Pointer" feature which solves this by offsetting the pointer from the active painting area, only I didn't discover this until after I was frustrated. Another problem is that while PS Touch has pretty good support for undo and redo, it didn't always undo or redo what I wanted. While trying to learn a new app like this you do a lot of trial and error and sometimes I lost work because it wouldn't restore what I had done. There is a limit to the quantity of undos too, but because that isn't indicated, it's hard to know how many steps you can take before you can't go back to the beginning.

In general, though, I was shocked at how good the PS Touch interface is and how easily I was able to do advanced tasks. Some items, such as gradients, are easier to work with than in the full version. For those used to Photoshop, there are differences in workflow that you'll need to learn, but new users should find PS Touch far more accessible than the full Photoshop.

One disappointing thing for those new users is in the area of guidance. Adobe uses Photoshop-style terminology which might intimidate or confuse new users, and since there should be a lot of those attracted by the tablet offering, I would have expected more assistance by the company. But Help is limited to a link to Adobe's online forums, just about the worst way for a new user to look for something simple, such as the definition of a tool. Even sadder, not only is this link only available via the main screen (not while you're actively editing a photo), but the app kicks you out to Safari to read the forums!

PS Touch does include some very nice guided tutorials that walk you through creating various photo projects. But these don't cover every single tool, leaving you to figure out some things entirely on your own, and they aren't well-named. For instance, I'd heard PS Touch would allow you to cut out the background of an object but I couldn't get that to work. When I searched the tutorials, I couldn't find any that did that, which seemed bizarre. I eventually did find it, but it was named "Add dramatic flare"—an utterly meaningless description.

In terms of interface, though, I have to give PS Touch a huge win: retouching and painting photos on a tablet is far more enjoyable than on a computer.

Unusual Features

PS Touch includes some features that surprised me. The Warp mode lets you twist and distort a photo, a powerful effect I didn't expect to have.

There's also a "camera fill" feature which allows you to bring in a live camera feed into the current selection. This allows you to do something such as typing some text and making that text shape your selection, then filling it with whatever you take a photograph of with the iPad's camera.

Another fascinating one is an import mode that lets you search Google for images you can use (supposedly ones that are copyright permissible). Need a sunset background for your composition? Just type in "sunset" and select a picture and it's brought right into your project. This is really handy, though it would be nice if you could specify the resolution of the retrieved images.


PS Touch isn't meant to replace Photoshop by any stretch and there are limitations that may restrict its usefulness. The text abilities, for instance, are almost pathetic. Text isn't editable, so once you've added it, it's permanent. Adobe does include some nice Adobe fonts you can use, but the list isn't exhaustive.

A bigger problem is not being able to take your projects back to your computer for full Photoshop. PS Touch will only export in JPEG or PNG formats, which flatten all your layers. This means pros won't want to put much work into a PS Touch project because it will be stuck there forever.

I also didn't like that PS Touch doesn't support Dropbox (or Apple's iCloud). Instead, Adobe pushes their own "Creative Cloud" service (which I didn't feel like trying).

The Bottom Line

This first version of PS Touch for iOS is a major step forward. It's not a true replacement for Photoshop (or even a complement, considering you can't go back and forth between the programs), but it does show the viability of this type of application in the touch tablet format. Right now it's not perfect but it's definitely a useful tool and well worth the miniscule price, and I can't wait to see what future improvements will bring.

End of article.