iPhoto vs. Photoshop Touch on the New iPad: Consume or Create?

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The Retina display on the new iPad is one of the tablet's defining features, and it makes the device ideally suited for multimedia work, including image editing. Apple’s new iPhoto app and Adobe’s Photoshop Touch are taking advantage of that opportunity by bringing powerful photo editing and sharing tools to the iPad.

Although both apps give you lots of tools for working with your photos, they are very different in terms of what they actually allow you to do. Photoshop Touch is geared more toward heavy editing and the creation of new images, whereas iPhoto is more for organizing, optimizing, and then presenting the images you already have.

iPhoto will run on the new iPad or the iPad 2--but not the original iPad--and it requires iOS 5.1. It will also run on the iPhone 4 or 4S. Photoshop Touch will run only on the new iPad or the iPad 2, and it requires iOS 5.0 or later. Photoshop Touch is also available for Android tablets running 3.1 (Honeycomb) or later with an 8.9-inch or larger display and a minimum resolution of 1280 by 800.


Apple announced the $5 iPhoto alongside the new iPad on March 7. iPhoto will work with photos you sync from iTunes, through iCloud, or through the camera connection kit, as well as with photos you take using the camera on your iPad. Be aware, however, that syncing through iTunes or iCloud will compress your images and can slightly alter colors.

iPhoto comes with several effects, but you can apply only one at a time.
You can sort your collection by Album, Photos, or Events, and create Journals. Editing tools include crop, straighten, color adjust, brightness adjust, and saturation controls. You'll also find a number of brushes to fix problems such as red-eye, or to saturate, lighten, darken, sharpen, or soften specific areas. The effects tools can turn your photo into a black-and-white image or give it a vintage look, although you can apply only one effect at a time.

iPhoto saves edits in JPEG format. If you’re working with imported RAW-format photos, it will apply edits to a JPEG version of the image, so the RAW file remains unchanged. Emailed and exported images will be JPEG even if the original was a PNG file or some other format.

The most distinctive feature that iPhoto brings is Journals, which are like digital scrapbooks. You can add photos, captions, maps, dates, and weather modules, and resize them and move them around the page. The easy-to-use Auto Layout tool allows even noncrafty people like me to produce interesting-looking Journals. You can easily share your Journal by uploading it to iCloud, which creates a Web page that you can share with family and friends or export via iTunes. In addition, iPhoto can play your Journal as a slideshow complete with a soundtrack.

The Journals tool in iPhoto will automatically arrange your photos to make them look interesting.
These slideshows are for more than just boring your family with vacation photos. My string trio sometimes plays at bridal fairs to drum up wedding gigs, and at the most recent fair, more than half of the other vendors had set up iPads at their booths to run slideshows of their work, be it photography, cakes, dresses, or jewelry.

iPhoto has lots of other sharing options for photos, including Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter. iPhoto can even detect other iOS devices running iPhoto--such as your iPhone--so you can move photos between devices over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connections. While you can find plenty of image-enhancement and editing tools out there, iPhoto’s real strengths are in managing, sharing, and presenting your images.

Photoshop Touch

Photoshop Touch came to the iPad 2 in February, and it looks and functions similarly to the Android version that arrived back in November. Just like the Android version, it costs $10. Photoshop Touch can bring in images from your local photos (although it won’t see your Photo Stream), as well as from Adobe’s Creative Cloud, the camera, Google image search, and Facebook.

Photoshop Touch can bring in images from Facebook or Google.
We noticed that the images we moved through Creative Cloud showed similar color shifting as did those that went through iCloud or iTunes. The other main thing to consider when bringing images into Photoshop Touch is that the program will resize images to fit the maximum resolution of 1600 by 1600 pixels.

Photoshop Touch comes with many of the same tools as the desktop version of the software does, including layers, selection tools, adjustments, and filters, but they're redesigned to work well with your fingers. Though the tools should look familiar to longtime Photoshop users, they can be a bit overwhelming to new users. Adobe has included tutorials to help you find the tools you need to create the image you want.

Working in this app isn't the same as using Photoshop on your desktop, as you are limited to the accuracy of your fingertip, and some advanced tools and effects simply can’t be replicated given the processor and memory limitations of the tablet. I was able to complete the “replace my head with a cow’s head” challenge in under 15 minutes using the camera on the tablet and an image from Google image search, so the app is at least good enough for making mock-ups and quickly getting ideas out of your head and onto a screen when you’re out and about presenting to clients.

I was able to replace a coworker's head with that of a cow using just the camera, a Google image search, and Photoshop Touch.
You can send your completed image back to Adobe Creative Cloud. The app saves projects as a new file type called PSDX, which requires a plug-in to import into CS5. PSDX files are limited to 1600 by 1600 pixels and 16 layers. Text is rasterized once you finish adding it, so you can delete it--but not edit it--afterward. Additionally, effects don't remain live; even though you can undo them, you can't change them. You can share flattened images by email or Facebook, or send them to any AirPrint-enabled printer.

Photoshop Touch is a strong app for performing heavy-duty image modification, as long as you are okay with the 1600-by-1600-pixel image limit. While it is powerful in manipulating individual images, it lacks tools for presenting multiple images, so you’ll still have to save images out to your camera roll and use the Photo app for slideshows.

Notable Differences

Perhaps the most notable difference between iPhoto and Photoshop Touch is the size limitation in Photoshop Touch. Working with layers is more intensive, and Adobe had to limit the size and layers to maintain an acceptable level of performance on tablets. This means that Photoshop Touch will work best as a tool for creating images for the Web or smaller prints, or making mock-ups and drafts on the go. It won't replace the full version of CS5 for graphics professionals, but it can still do a lot more editing than iPhoto can on the iPad.

Editing in iPhoto is limited to one effect at a time, and while you can crop, you can’t select anything other than a rectangular area to crop out. Photoshop Touch allows you to add multiple effects, work in layers, select and cut out any shape, and add text to an image.

You also have access to more image sources in Photoshop Touch, such as Facebook and Google image search importing. Each app is designed to use its specific cloud service for moving images back to your PC, or you can email individual images back to yourself. iPhoto can also export images to iTunes as a way of getting them off the device.

Another notable difference is the presentation functionality that exists only in iPhoto. Journals are no replacement for a professional portfolio website; but if you need to put images of your work online or into a slideshow without spending too much time or effort, Journals are a great alternative.

Photoshop Touch is also available as an Android app, while iPhoto is not. Some of the features found in iPhoto can be replicated by other Android tools, such as the slideshow feature in the built-in Gallery or QuickPic, or the collage tool Diptic.

Photoshop Touch is the better app if you need to edit images heavily or layer multiple images together to create new images. iPhoto is the better option for presenting and sharing pictures, and it still comes with many tools for enhancing existing images. The great thing about app pricing is that for $15 you can have both apps and do any heavy editing in Photoshop Touch, and then save the images out to your camera roll to organize them and share them through slideshows or Journals in iPhoto.

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At a Glance
  • Apple's third-gen iPad is defined by its amazingly sharp and crisp high-resolution display, as well as its option for 4G. The heavier weight is a disappointment; but the display, coupled with Apple's solid app ecosystem, makes this tablet the one to beat.


    • 4G LTE option via Verizon
    • Vivid, high-resolution display


    • iOS 5.1 still lacks large-screen optimizations
    • Slightly increased weight
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