Adobe’s iPad Trio

Adobe has released three new apps for the iPad that integrate with Photoshop. Adobe Eazel is a painting app with a unique interface. Adobe Nav allows you to control Photoshop remotely through a customizable interface. And Adobe Color Lava is a color mixing app.

And while all three can be used on their own to varying degrees, the major selling point is that they are designed to be used in conjunction with Photoshop.

Getting Ready

All of the apps run on either the iPad or the iPad 2. (I’m testing them on my original iPad.) To integrate with Photoshop, you need to be running either the newly released Photoshop CS 5.5 or install the free 12.0.4 upgrade to CS5.

Your iPad and the Mac or PC need to be connected to the same wi-fi network. This doesn’t sound like an issue, but some setups – like the one I have in my office – use wired ethernet and don’t have wi-fi enabled. At home though where I connect through a wireless network, I had no problems.

And finally, you have to enable remote control in Photoshop by going to “Edit > Remote Connections…” You will be prompted to name your “Photoshop Server” and set a password. Then in each app, you’ll need to connect to Photoshop and select the computer.

Adobe Eazel

Eazel ($4.99 in the App Store) is a painting app with a unique interface. When you start Eazel, a video plays demoing how to use the app. And honestly, you need to watch it. The interface isn’t intuitive. You get the feeling that Adobe’s interface designers wanted to develop an experimental interface and that’s exactly what it feels like.

Using five fingers, you activate controls that allows you to paint with pseduo-watercolor brushes. Under each finger is a control that allows you adjust settings like brush size, color and opacity. Using two fingers, you can zoom in and out.

If you tap with five fingers and then pick your hand up, the control configuration changes from being under your fingers to being aligned in the center of the canvas. For me, this is much easier to control.

The painting effect is kind of cool, but difficult to control. With some practice, I was able to create some fun abstract artwork. But I was never a painter, so maybe someone with some painting experience might be better at it.

When you are done with your creation, you can export it to the Photo library or send it to Photoshop. Files are 2048 × 1536 pixels. When you transfer the file to Photoshop, it opens a new file with the document.

Transferring a file is the only feature that connects Eazel to Photoshop. It’s basically a painting app with a wireless export to Photoshop.

Adobe Nav

Nav ($1.99 from the App Store) is a simple app. Connect it to Photoshop and select tools with buttons. And you can customize the interface. A second screen lets you look at and switch between all open documents. One interesting feature is that when you disconnect from Photoshop, the second screen maintains the open documents. You can look at them and zoom in on the remaining files.

Adobe Color Lava

Color Lava ($2.99 in the App Store) is a color mixing app that allows you to paint colors on a canvas, blend them together and then build a color palette from your creation.

The interface is intuitive. On the left, there is a six color palette and a tray of “water.” In the middle of the color palette is a gray scale palette. Tapping it switches from color to black and white. Double tapping on any color gives you a hue, saturation and brightness sliders to customize colors. The “water” cleans your brush (and as a nice touch, ripples when you move the iPad).

You combine colors on a canvas. Then store colors you like in the five blanks spaces on the right. Just tap on one of the blank squares and then tap the color you want to save.

On the lower right side of the canvas is a camera icon. Click that to add a picture from your photo library. You can then sample colors from the picture, or paint on it to create new colors.

When you start a new palette, the current palette is saved to a second screen. The second screen lets you name your palettes and export them. Double tapping on a color set brings up your selections with RGB, HSB and hex values.

You also are given the option to Send to Photoshop or email the palette. Sending the colors to Photoshop seamlessly adds them to your Swatches palette. Emailing them sends a PNG with an Adobe Swatch Exchange (.ase) file. This is great because an .ase file can be imported into any Adobe Creative Suite application. You can easily add your colors in InDesign or Illustrator.

The main limitation is that there is no way to calibrate the iPad to match your main computer display. If you are a photographer or designer that is very particular about color workflow, then this may not be the app for you. And if you do need to match existing color profiles or if you need CMYK values, you will need to do a few other steps after importing.

Should you buy them?

Is there any real value for adding these apps to a professional workflow?

Eazel is fun, but I really don’t see the point. While the effects are cool, there are lots of painting and drawing apps that are more full-featured for about the same price. And the only Photoshop “feature” is sending the file to open in Photoshop. It feels like an interface experiment instead of an extension of Photoshop.

For Nav, I could see some instances where it would be nice to customize your workflow with some additional buttons or tools. But as it stands now, I’m really not sure I would use it frequently. I mean, how much of this is faster and more efficient on a touch screen than using a traditional mouse or trackpad setup. I do see lots of potential for Adobe to expand and develop this app, but for now, it’s very limited. (Random feature request: I would love to be able to create buttons for individual automated actions.)

Personally, I will absolutely use Color Lava. I can see how this would work with my workflow and the ability to send swatches as .ase files is a great added feature. It’s intuitive and delightful to use and for $2.99, I think it’s a great value.

Finally, let’s be honest, none of these apps are expensive. And if you are a Photoshop user, you may want to check them out. One thing you can be sure of is that Adobe is not done tweaking and adjusting these apps. I fully expect to see updates and refinements in the near future.

Trial Balloons

When I was using the apps, it occurred to me that these apps are, in many ways, trial balloons for Adobe. They can test out and show off different types of connectivity with Photoshop - from simple export to full remote control. They can try out different price points from $1.99 for Nav to $4.99 for Eazel. They can experiment with interfaces and workflows and figure out how to build even better tablet applications. Adobe and many other software manufacturers are trying to figure out how to create, sell and market apps for tablets. Connecting tablet apps with desktop software is a fascinating concept and these three apps are a great start. I can’t see what Adobe develops next.