Adobe Photoshop turns 30, now much smarter

Adobe introduces new machine learning-driven Photoshop features for iPad and Mac to celebrate 30 years of the application.

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Photoshop is one of the computer world's most influential applications. Thirty years ago today, Adobe first introduced the popular software. To celebrate, the company today updated Photoshop for Mac and iPad with a range of tasty new features that show how far digital arts have come in the last three decades.

Photoshop on iPad

Adobe has been working hard to make Photoshop on iPad more feature complete in comparison to the Mac version. Both versions use the same code base, which helps the company move new tools to the tablet.

The iPad version already has more than a million users, and the latest update sees it gain the same Object Selection tool the desktop version of the application gained in fall – and this is an AI-driven feature. (Object Selection uses machine learning to help you make more accurate selections, especially when working with multiple objects.)

The idea behind this is that the AI tries to figure out which object in the image you are attempting to select and then refines your selection for that object.

If you’ve not used Photoshop a great deal, this may sound like a relatively minor enhancement, but it is not: It will save image editors huge amounts of time and vastly reduces one of the friction points of their craft.

That this is now available on iPads should help designers find new design opportunities. It’s also a good illustration of how AI/machine learning can be used to augment human tasks in ways that enable people to remain more focused on bigger challenges.

The iPad version also gains additional type settings tools: layer, character and option tools, such as formatting, tracking and leading-edge controls for text. Adobe says kerning support and a Refine Edge brush will be introduced later on.

Photoshop on a Mac

If you use Photoshop on a Mac, Adobe’s birthday surprises include things like Dark Mode support for system dialogs. The Content-Aware Fill workspace has been improved so that multiple selections and fills can be made while remaining in a workspace – until now you had to leave and re-enter that space to make such changes.

The impact of AI is visible in the Lens Blur tool, which now makes much better use of the Mac’s GPU. Once again, this is an articulation of machine intelligence working to enhance what a user can do, as it relies on algorithms tuned for 3D.

These significantly improve the overall realism, including the sharpness and edges when using Lens Blur to synthetically blur portions of the image.

“It is carefully tuned to simulate a 3D environment to create the most realistic results possible, while also consuming the least amount of computer power so you don’t burn up your machine,” Adobe said. “Now you can synthetically adjust the depth of field by dynamically manipulating the blur of a 2D image after capture in milliseconds.”

The company has also tuned the application’s performance, so clicking, panning and zooming into images should be more responsive than before.

As part of the company’s celebration of Photoshop, artists Anna McNaught and Magdiel Lopez are sharing some pro tips on using the application; the info should be available here.

The journey of Photoshop

I guess some readers may want to point out that Photoshop is technically 32 years old, as it was originally created in 1988 by Thomas and John Knoll. (Adobe purchased the product and introduced it as Photoshop 30 years ago.)

The application has been through 20 major versions and countless minor updates since it first shipped. Across its journey it has transformed the photographic arts, unleashing new levels of excellence and creating a digital industry. It has also enabled negative impacts, such as fake news images.

(It is interesting how the application is tuned to prevent you scanning and editing images of money, for example.)

In its first incarnation, Photoshop was called Display and only handled grayscale images on a monotone display. The Knoll brothers later added image editing; the first picture Photoshop ever edited was a snapshot of John Knoll’s wife. Just take a look at the first demo video.

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