Why Photoshop on iPad Isn't Good Enough (Yet)

Photoshop is great on an M1 Mac, but mobile takes time

Key Takeaways

  • iPad Photoshop gets new features, but the competition is far ahead.
  • Adobe has updated Photoshop to run natively on Apple Silicon Macs.
  • It’s fast. Really fast.
Photoshop running on a Mac
Eftakher Alam on Unsplash

Photoshop now runs on Apple’s M1-based Macs, and by all accounts, it is fast. Photoshop continues to be king of the desktop. But what about the iPad?

Adobe’s Pam Clark says that the rejigged version of Photoshop for Apple Silicon Macs runs an average of 1.5 times faster, with some features feeling "noticeably faster" and "substantially faster."

So, it’s faster. Photoshop on iPad also gets some improvements to how it handles your cloud-based documents. Solid updates both, but isn’t Photoshop for the iPad running a little late compared to indie photo-editing apps? Maybe, but that’s because you’re getting all of Photoshop.

"To take such a recognizable product—and brand—and reimagine it for the mobile world took an incredible amount of thinking and effort," an Adobe spokesperson (who declined to be named as they were speaking on behalf of the company) told Lifewire via email.

"To preserve the app’s iconic UX, we took on the significant challenge of building Photoshop on the iPad using the same code base as Photoshop on the desktop."

Photoshop On iPad

Since the iPad launched in 2010, Adobe has had a few cracks at bringing versions of Photoshop to the tablet, but none of them tried to bring anything close to the entirety of the frankly iconic (and monolithic) application to mobile. 

Then, at the Adobe MAX conference in November 2019, Adobe launched "real" Photoshop for iPad. Under the hood, it was indeed the same as the desktop version, but its features were severely limited.

Even today it is far from the desktop version. You can layer up and retouch your images, and use powerful layer-based masks, but the majority of Photoshop’s tricks—its filters and powerful image-mangling tools—are absent. What, then, is the point?

Person using iPad Pro and Apple Pencil with Photoshop

The point is mobility. Cloud sync lets users take their work anywhere, make simple changes, and show them off to clients. They can access "full PSD files, even with thousands of layers," says the spokesperson.

"Just this simple ability has been enough. [Photoshop on iPad has] gained significant traction among creatives, with more than a million downloads as well as millions of cloud documents created since its release," says the spokesperson. 

Meanwhile, the competition is speeding ahead.

The Alternatives

Photoshop might still be the big cheese on the desktop, but there are plenty of more powerful options on mobile, many of them fully compatible with your Photoshop files.

What’s more, some of these apps are available for a one-time purchase instead of being subscription-based like all Adobe’s apps. 

Affinity Photo bills itself as a "genuine desktop-grade, professional photo-editing app," and that’s an accurate description. Affinity Photo is also available for the Mac and Windows, just like Photoshop, and already packs in just about any photo-editing feature you might need.

The main difference is that Affinity Photo for iPad looks a lot like Photoshop on the desktop—small icons and an interface that’s better navigated with a mouse or an Apple Pencil.

Photoshop might be severely limited on iOS, but Adobe has designed it for a touch screen, and its UI departs significantly from the desktop version.

"To take such a recognizable product—and brand—and reimagine it for the mobile world took an incredible amount of thinking and effort,"

"Some of the software and hardware limitations this project needed to overcome included a new OS to compile and run on, slower CPU and less RAM, a smaller screen, and touch input," says the spokesperson.

Another great iPad photo-editing app is Pixelmator Photo, which is more of a replacement for Adobe’s Lightroom rather than Photoshop. This, too, manages to pack in all you need for editing your images for publication, and it does it all in a very touch-friendly UI. The app even uses your existing Photos library, so there’s no importing or exporting required. 

The Future of Photoshop

Photoshop is still the go-to app on the desktop, and despite slow progress, the iPad version is pretty great.

Adobe has proved that it can be nimble—the M1 Mac-compatible beta of Photoshop was available when those computers launched. In the end, all the great competition forces Adobe to make a better product.

Meanwhile, most of these pretenders to the Photoshop throne pay homage by mimicking Photoshop’s long-established keyboard shortcuts, which makes trying them out almost trivial for the professional user. Either way, the customer is the winner.

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