R.I.P. Photoshop Touch: Adobe Rethinks Its Approach To Mobile Apps

A grand master of the kitchen-sink approach to software has decided it doesn’t cut it in the post-PC era.

R.I.P. Photoshop Touch: Adobe Rethinks Its Approach To Mobile Apps
[Photo: Flickr user Tom Newby]

I get lots of pitches from tech companies hoping that I’ll write about products they’re introducing. I don’t remember ever having heard from one who wanted to tell me about something it was discontinuing.


Until now, that is. Today, Adobe is announcing that it’s ending development of Photoshop Touch, the version of its photo-editing application for iPads, iPhones, and Android devices. It’ll be available in app stores until May 28, whereupon Adobe will yank it from the market. Copies of the software installed on devices will continue to work “for the foreseeable future.”

That’s not all the news, of course. Adobe isn’t giving up on Photoshop on mobile devices–it just doesn’t think it should be a single kitchen-sink piece of software. Instead, the company will focus on offering a portfolio of free apps, each of which does something specific and tries to do so in a straightforward fashion. Already, it offers Photoshop Mix (which specializes in compositing), Photoshop Sketch (drawing), and Adobe Shape (which lets you snap a photo and convert it for editing), among others. These are iOS apps at the moment, but Adobe says it’s working on Android versions.

Why the switch? Adobe’s Bryan O’Neil Hughes says that it has to do with the way that mobile apps have evolved since Photoshop Touch was introduced in 2011, and in particular the effort the company has put into tying together its disparate software offerings using the Creative Cloud service, which stores images where multiple apps on different devices can easily get to them. Given that, the company thinks there’s no need to try and cram too much functionality into one mobile version of Photoshop. It can unbundle it into discrete apps that work together, and with other Adobe programs.

“Photoshop Touch came from a time when that wasn’t how applications worked,” Hughes told me. “We’ve learned a lot in the last few years.”

Adobe is still learning: Hughes gave me a sneak peak at an upcoming Photoshop retouching app (code-named Rigel, final name T.B.D.) that looks impressive–and that he said is not merely based on the equivalent features in Photoshop’s desktop version, but is more advanced in some respects. Here’s an Adobe video teaser.

A Dead App Walking

I reacted to all this news with decidedly mixed feelings. I’m a hardcore Photoshop Touch user. I’ve used it on my iPad to process hundreds of images for articles I’ve written over the past few years. It’s so core to my workflow that I might almost be able to use it with my eyes shut.


And yet I’ve never loved Photoshop Touch. Nor have I ever had the sense that Adobe was all that interested in it. As the company has rolled out interesting stand-alone iPad apps, it’s left this one largely alone. Photoshop Touch isn’t radically different than it was when I started using it, and its interface hasn’t aged well, especially in comparison to those of Adobe’s more recent mobile apps. Basically, it already felt a tad moribund.

I expect I’ll still spend time in Photoshop Touch. If I ever need to replace it with something comparable, Pixelmator is a terrific option. I’ll be okay.

For decades, Adobe has produced astonishingly powerful, versatile applications that can do just about anything . . . but only if you can figure out how to use them, which has never been a cakewalk. With this new strategy, it aims to dump comprehensive and opaque in favor of specialized and simple. And it’s so striking a philosophical shift that it may be a bigger deal for Adobe itself than it is for its customers.

About the author

Harry McCracken is the technology editor for Fast Company, based in San Francisco. In past lives, he was editor at large for Time magazine, founder and editor of Technologizer, and editor of PC World.