Does Photoshop Mix show the future of Adobe's creative apps?

The new free Photoshop Mix iPad app taps cloud-based processing for creative tasks that your iPad isn't powerful enough to do on its own. What does this indicate for the future of Adobe's creative tools, both on your computer and mobile devices?

Joining the big update today of its desktop applications, there was the announcement of greater emphasis on Creative Cloud services and a small flurry of new mobile apps for Creative Cloud users. One of these is Photoshop Mix, a Creative Cloud app for creating composite ideas and designs on the iPad, as well as applying edits and looks to existing PSD files drawn from a user's Creative Cloud storage. It can also use Photoshop CC tools like Refine Edge to cut out and create masks, edit images using Content-Aware Fill and send such edited images to Creative Cloud as PSD files.  

Sounds great. But haven't we heard something slightly similar before... Photoshop Touch perhaps?

Apparently not, or at least not quite. Speaking to us under embargo last week, Adobe design evangelist Rufus Deuchler described Photoshop Mix as a good example of how the new Creative Cloud services work.

“There are some processes [in Photoshop Mix] that consume too much memory for mobile devices,” he said, “When applying particular filters, such as Upright and Content Aware Fill, the image gets sent to the server, gets processed and comes back into the app in very little time. We're actually leveraging Adobe technologies in the Cloud and sending it back to the iPad.”

As regular Digital Arts readers will know, there are number of Cloud-based services available to creatives. Adobe of course has its Anywhere for Video 'on-premise' Cloud service, Autodesk has various CAD tools running in the Cloud in its 360 apps, while cloud-rendering services are big business. Virtual workstation applications are also being explored, such as Mainframe2, powered by Nvidia's GRID technology and Amazon Web Services to host full versions of tools like Photoshop on its servers.

Photoshop Mix's Content Aware Fill offers the same tools as the full application, and its performed on Adobe's servers.

While the approach differs wildly, what all of these solutions – and the new tools like Photoshop Mix - have in common is that they allow quick creative interaction upon a thin client such as a tablet app or web browser and leave the heavy lifting to multiple cores on CPUs and GPUs in the Cloud.

Rufus said that Adobe's thinking behind new mobile apps like Photoshop Mix was that they were tools, not toys. “These apps should be powerful enough to do serious work, yet easy enough for anyone to use,” he stated.

Rufus added that the tools should also 'know' the user, able to offer personalised assets such as Kuler colour swatches when they log on.

This ties in to a move towards a concept that Adobe, among many, is pushing, that of the 'network becoming the platform'. During my research for a Digital Arts article on cloud computing for creatives, Bill Roberts, director of product management for video at Adobe, suggested to me that as 'the network' becomes a pervasive part of workflows, it would allow creative teams to reimagine how they create content and work together. “Using the Cloud to host content, deliver services and exchange ideas allows teams to better collaborate,” he said. “Instead of worrying where a specific file is located, teams can worry more about the work.”

Take that a bit further. What if creatives didn't have to worry about the specific device they were using either? As long as it can access the Cloud and you can interact with it, you can leave the processing to a remote server on the other side of the world. Just get on and create with whatever you have to hand, whether that's a personal or shared computer or tablet or even something we've not explored yet. What's to say that a future version of Photoshop couldn't run on a super smart Smart TV (hello, Apple) or a redefined DSLR?

Of course an online, connected creative tool is only a killer app if you can actually stay connected and online. The Adobe Achilles heel was exposed in May when users of its premium cloud-only Digital Publishing Suite experienced outages and the authentication system that allows users to log in to Creative Cloud programs failed, locking out some users from their work. Adobe offered IT Crowd-style workarounds to the latter licence-driven issue (log off the internet and restart the desktop application in question) which highlighted the network-based nature of the problem.

Even before this, many creatives feared the transitory nature of working entirely in the Cloud, wary of trusting sometimes unstable networks not to lose their assets. Concerns about security are also well documented. Adobe itself has already come under a lot of flak from creative professionals, particularly photographers, who intensely dislike the 'rental' nature of Creative Cloud. You'd need a very smart app indeed to change some of those minds.

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