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Confessions of a Creative Maniac: Pixel Pushing with Analog Digits

COW Library : Apple iPad : David Biedny : Confessions of a Creative Maniac: Pixel Pushing with Analog Digits
CreativeCOW presents Confessions of a Creative Maniac: Pixel Pushing with Analog Digits -- Apple iPad Review All rights reserved.

Pixel Pushing With Analog Digits
As someone who has spent the last quarter of a century writing, among other things, software and hardware product reviews, and as the primary author of the very first book ever written about Photoshop, it seems somewhat fitting that my very first column for my new editorial home would be Photoshop related -- and on a platform that many Creative COW fans might feel is little more than a media consumption device, the iPad. Indeed, the tablet market suffered from a severe identity crisis right up until the release of the iPad, a device that enabled an entirely new market for this class of gadget, and which has cemented Apple as the only serious player in that segment, with technology that can just as easily be used to create media, not just consume it; and while I'm aware than some might dub me an Apple fanboy due to those words, I will provide this Youtube link, an excerpt from a radio interview I did when the original iPad was released:

As you might derive from listening to that rant, I can hardly be called a doe-eyed Apple cultist. While I have been using their technology for over 30 years now, I have also taken them to task more than a few times, both publicly and privately, and it's because I care about the technology that I use to create the many forms of media I deploy in my work. The day after I was asked to join as a Technologist (a sad, sordid story for some other day, perhaps), I took the opportunity to go out and buy an iPad 2, as I knew that I was likely to be the only Byte editor to do so, and that the higher-end apps I was hearing about on the platform would not fall on the radar of editors more likely to be consumers than producers. At this point in my jaded tech life, I almost never play the role of early adopter, if nothing else, I've learned that I don't like arrows sticking out of body.

The second generation was when I bought in, and boy, did I ever fall in head first -- after a year of swimming in iPad waters, I can tell you that it's the most significant leap forward I've seen in digital hardware technology since the release of the original Macintosh 128, and my sense of excitement has been total and all-consuming. Mind you, I'm no unsophisticated neo-Luddite, looking to simplify my digital lifestyle; I'm the guy who fights to keep the Calculations/Apply Image commands in Photoshop (and the UI nightmare that are those dialogs will definitely be addressed in a future missive), I'm all about pushing tech to the edge, so it's not like I'm afraid of interfaces, fully-featured power user programs or anything of the sort. The simple fact is that the Apple implementation of the iPad is something uniquely new and different, and while it definitely has its drawbacks (also certain to be a topic of discussion here, sooner than later), it's signaling what so much of our future digital world will look like that I can't afford not to immerse myself in it.

Which brings us to Adobe and Photoshop Touch, their first serious foray into the mobile software arena. Yes, I'm aware that they had some app offerings before PS Touch, but let's face facts, they were lab experiments that should have been given to existing Photoshop owners as party favors, not sold commercially as viable products. An app to remotely select Photoshop tools from an iPad is not making retouchers' lives any easier, and the idea of mixing color swatches on a device conspicuously lacking color management and calibration tools, is just short of laughable. Adobe Ideas is a crippled vector toy, demanding you shell out extra dollars for layers, which is downright insulting, and it's $9.99, which makes me wonder why Adobe is even still selling it in the App store, especially now that Photoshop Touch is available for the same price.

Photoshop Touch is a cleanly designed, full-featured image editing tool for the iPad (and Android platforms, where it was initially offered before being released for iOS), and I'll say this up front: it's darned good, I really like it, and I think that it's one of the few apps that lives up the standard set by Apple's own outstanding apps. PS Touch offers a balanced combination of features and usability, and for $10, any iPad 2 owner reading these words should bite the bullet and get it.

There are bound to be lots of reviews of Photoshop Touch out in the internet, so I'll skip the feature parade commentary and hone right in on the issues which will potentially interest Creative COW readers:
  • There has been much online discussion regarding the resolution limitations of Photoshop Touch, which tops out at 1600X1600 pixels. While this is not optimum, it's not really surprising, likely due to the relatively limited overall RAM in iPads (512 megabytes), and the complexities of implementing a layered bitmap editor in a tight memory situation, combined with the fact that it's not going to be the only app vying for memory. Videographers working with 720P HD will not be quite as upset with this limitation, and let's face it, if you're primarily interested in prepress applications, you're going to be bound to your laptop and/or desktop machines, and are not the target demographic for PS Touch. Anyone working in SD or HD video, folks primarily prepping images for venues like Facebook, Flickr and eBay will not notice the resolution limitation - one that I strongly suspect will be addressed in the next 90 days or so. As it currently stands, if you try to load an image larger than the stated size, PS Touch will automatically downsample it and present you with the lower-res copy.

  • The two most significant feature omissions I uncovered in my first hour of using PS Touch: no Hue control, and no Unsharp Mask filter. We all know that the standard Sharpen convolution filter is a useless joke, so why even bother putting it in there? And a Saturation control, with no accompanying Hue slider? Weird.

  • PS Touch offers many of the filters you've come to love - and/or hate - but the lack of Unsharp Mask or Smart Sharpen is, in a word, unfortunate.

    Hue and Saturation go together like peanut butter and jelly. Color Balance might do in a pinch but things are more easily colored with Hue.

  • The otherwise serviceable Clone tool lacks a "sample all layers" option, essential for isolating retouched pixels into their own layer.

  • While layered images can be saved and opened in the full Photoshop with all layers intact, you'll have to use Adobe Creative Cloud as a conduit to get this functionality; if you simply want to email someone your work, you'll be presented with the option of flattening the layers and sending out a PNG or JPEG (with a predetermined, fixed quality setting).

  • The Integrated image search via Google lets you filter with color, type and copyright status.

  • The integrated text tool only uses an embedded set of Adobe fonts (not surprising), but more frustrating is the fact that all type is bitmapped and un-editable immediately after creation.

  • PS Touch fonts are a limited affair, and while some of the choices are quite workable, did we really need Hobo?

  • The Dropshadow and Glow effects are hardwired bitmap affairs, unlike their editable implementation as Layer Styles in the full Photoshop.

  • The Scribble Select tool -- the mobile incarnation of the Extract tool in Photoshop - feels a bit rough, it needs a bit more intelligence in knowing where the edge of a selection actually falls, and the whole affair desperately cries out for an interactive Grow selection command, one that responds dynamically to a changing sensitivity slider.

There are lots of little sniggles and compliments I could drop about Photoshop Touch -- wow, double-tapping on any layers brings up a 3D spinaround view of your layers, which looks cute, but doesn't really provide any functionality.

Double click on any layer and you'll see this 3D view -- which while cute, is as useful as concrete chewing gum.

In fact, I discovered a problem -- the last selected tool continues to be live in the 3D view, but in a bit of an uncontrolled fashion, which feels suspiciously like a bug. This feature was designed to be used as a sexy aside during a product demo, but beyond that, it's just empty eye calories. I also wish Adobe had broken some new ground by using Multitouch in a way that no one has yet -- providing onscreen button equivalents for Option/Alt, Command/Control and Control/Right Mouse Button, so that keyboard modifiers memorized by years of Photoshopping would transfer over to Photoshop Touch.

But all this aside, Photoshop Touch is now the image editor on iOS to beat, and while I strongly suggest that anyone looking into getting it also invests $3 on the amazing ArtStudio app (, which has been the best-in-category for image editing on iOS for the last year, and has things that you won't find in Photoshop Touch (including the ability to load images up to 2048X2048, create layer masks that aren't just gradients, and offering a set of creative brushes far surpassing those in PS Touch), overall, the $10 price for Photoshop Touch makes it a total bargain. It will be interesting to see how Adobe deals with the new realities of software pricing the app ecosystem is bringing to the foreground, and how it will refine PS Touch over the coming years and help it more closely complement its bigger brother.

Tablets are not going away, they're not just for media consumption, and in this space, I'll tell and show you why I type those words, along with lots of other ideas about the state of the software we rely on, the industries we work in, and the untold stories of many of the tools we use on a daily basis. Thanks for taking the time to consume these thoughts, I'll be serving you more fresh opinions and information shortly, and I promise to be unlike anyone else you read on this wonderful site.

David Biedny is a multimedia artist, author and educator with over 30 years of industry experience. The author of various infamous Photoshop books and innovator in the early New York multimedia industry, Biedny worked on "Terminator 2: Judgement Day", "Memoirs of An Invisible Man", "The Rocketeer" and "Hook" at ILM, has authored hundreds of technical articles, reviews, columns and tutorials for a variety of publications, served as faculty at the School of Visual Arts, San Fransisco State University and NYU, lectured at Stanford University, and was present for much of the behind-the-scenes action during the formative years of the digital revolution. He currently teaches digital media in the design department of the Yale School of Drama.


Re: Confessions of a Creative Maniac: Pixel Pushing with Analog Digits
by Lance Moody
Nice Job, David!

Lance Moody

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