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Full version of Adobe Photoshop for Apple iPad on deck for 2019, reportedly

It was always an inevitable move by Adobe, the only question was timing.

Lightroom CC gives us an idea of how Adobe will approach a full version of Photoshop running on the iPad.
Lori Grunin/CNET

Finally, it looks like Adobe's bringing "real" Photoshop to the iPad and other mobile devices, according to a report today. The cross-platform development effort was more or less confirmed by Adobe's chief product officer of Creative Cloud Scott Belsky, though the 2019 target was not.

Bloomberg calls this a "strategy shift" as if it's a new development, but it really isn't. That shift really occurred in October of 2017 when Adobe introduced its ground-up reimagining of its batch photo-processing software, Lightroom CC, shunting the more powerful "Classic" to the back burner.  It then followed up last month with a sneak peak of its upcoming video equivalent, Project Rush

Now playing: Watch this: See how the Apple Pencil works with the new iPad

While a more complete cross-platform version of Photoshop would likely look like Lightroom CC, it will probably work a lot like Rush: A stripped down, mobile-first interface designed to work across all devices, driven by Photoshop's desktop engine and Adobe's Sensei AI technology, with seamless handoff across devices. (Lightroom CC works in a similar fashion, but it's simply unsuited for at least one major use case, working with raw+JPEG files, so it's not really "full Lightroom." )

With iPad creatives defecting to apps like Affinity Photo, Adobe's been under pressure to offer a complete photo-editing solution to compete. But now's probably the right time. The market's changed a lot and the perception that desktop applications should cost more because they're weightier has given way to accepting that anything that comes with an accompanying cloud service will require you to pony up monthly.

But Adobe really needs to fix some aspects of Creative Cloud's syncing if it's going to push Rush and Photoshop as major cross-platform solutions. If you have multiple Creative Cloud accounts -- or need to work with clients who each have different accounts -- it's a major pain. Shared libraries only partially ameliorate it.

And right now, you still can't selectively sync assets. On the desktop, if you've got 50GB of assets, it syncs all of them. The only way around it is to constantly move folders in and out of the local Creative Cloud folder on a desktop. On mobile devices it syncs on demand, rather than keeping local copies of everything. Library assets and mobile creations still exist in a completely separate location from your other assets (though both are "moving there soon").

If Lightroom CC serves as a model, don't really expect a "full" version of Photoshop. But you really don't want that; at this point Photoshop is the Winchester Mystery House of software. What it really means is that it will use the current desktop engine (running in the cloud) so that the quality and speed of processing isn't constrained by the lack of power of the device. That's really where Adobe's advantage lies compared to many of its competitors.

The ability to work seamlessly across devices? Great. Begin stuck working in a mobile-optimized interfaces on a full-size display? Not so much. Unfortunately, we're stuck with that, as well as the lack of color management on mobile. At least for now.