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'Rudimentary' Photoshop for iPad highlights one of Surface Pro X's strengths

(Image credit: Windows Central)

Microsoft's new Surface Pro X represents the company putting its full weight behind Windows 10 on ARM. It's the biggest overhaul in design that the Surface Pro line has seen in years, and Microsoft has even developed a custom ARM chip, based on Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8cx, to power it all.

Still, there remain concerns about how well ARM chips can handle traditional desktop app emulation. While there will certainly be performance hits when running x86 apps, a new report about Adobe's progress on Photoshop for iPad makes clear that the Surface Pro X's ability to emulate desktop apps gives it a significant advantage.

A rough start

iPad Pro

Source: iMore (Image credit: Source: iMore)

Adobe's work on creating a native, full-featured version of Photoshop for iPad dates back to last year. The company announced Photoshop CC for iPad ahead of the launch of Apple's revamped iPad Pro in October 2018, and it's expected to launch in full by the end of 2019.

A new report from Bloomberg claims that the app will debut with several missing features, however. Citing conversations with current beta testers, Bloomberg states:

Participants have told Bloomberg News that some beta versions don't include well-established features they expected to be part of the release. They complained about less advanced or missing features around core functionality like filters, the pen tool and custom paintbrush libraries, vector drawing, color spaces, RAW editing, smart objects, layer styles and certain options for mask creation. Their disappointment about these limitations stems from Photoshop's established reputation as a leading professional photo-editing program on the desktop.

Bloomberg further ads that testers have called Photoshop for iPad "rudimentary" in its current state, adding that apps like Procreate and Affinity Photo for iPad are currently superior options. "Feature-wise, it feels like a beefed-up cloud-based version of their existing iPad apps and not 'real Photoshop' as advertised," one tester said.

Living up to "Pro"

Surface Pro X open on table

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

This isn't entirely unexpected, as Adobe stated Photoshop for iPad will build out features over time, but will lack some capabilities at launch. Still, it highlights one of the big advantages of the work Microsoft has put in to make sure traditional desktop apps can run on Windows 10 on ARM devices at all.

From launch, Surface Pro X will be able to run the full Photoshop experience, as well as any other x86 desktop apps out there. Given that the Surface Pro X is in a bit of a nebulous space where it's likely to be compared to both other PCs as well as the iPad Pro, that's an important distinction.

As we've seen with previous Windows 10 on ARM PCs, there will ultimately be a performance hit imposed by emulation. As an example, Windows Central senior editor Zac Bowden recently got a look at Photoshop booting up on a Surface Pro X, and it certainly wasn't what one would consider snappy.

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With the work Qualcomm and Microsoft have put into tailoring the Snapdragon 8cx and Microsoft SQ1 chips for PC workloads, it will be interesting to see just how noticable any performance hits will be across a variety of desktop apps. For Photoshop users, this might not be a long-term concern, either. During the Surface Pro X unveiling earlier this month, Adobe revealed that it is working to build native Creative Cloud apps for the Surface Pro X and Windows 10 on ARM.

Ultimately, one could argue that the iPad Pro and Surface Pro X aren't necessarily making plays for the same markets, which renders this all moot. Those who are already immersed in the Apple ecosystem aren't likely to jump to Surface Pro X just for some missing Photoshop features. But it's still an interesting differentiator for creatives who may be on the fence.

No matter where you stand, it should be fascinating to see how all of this will shake out. I'm particularly looking forward to some head-to-head tests once native versions of Photoshop are available for both platforms.

Dan Thorp-Lancaster is the Editor in Chief for Windows Central. He began working with Windows Central as a news writer in 2014 and is obsessed with tech of all sorts. You can follow Dan on Twitter @DthorpL and Instagram @heyitsdtl. Got a hot tip? Send it to daniel.thorp-lancaster@futurenet.com.

34 Comments
  • The irony is, that it would be much easier for Adobe to just compile the Win32 app for native ARM64 than to develop a new and stripped down version for iOS.
  • It's all about where their customers are. WoA simply doesn't have the users. SPX is promising and could start changing that. Emulation is finally at a "good enough" level for most people.
    I wonder what SDK Photoshop is based on, though - probably something dated. I wonder if Microsoft even provides an easy ARM compilation target for that SDK. In .NET, it's as easy as changing an option in a dropdown box and hitting Build again. But Win32, I'm not so sure...
  • Windows SDK is available for ARM64, this means no (or minor) issues for Win32 and UWP apps as the APIs are available. This includes even very outdated frameworks like MFC. From my experience, Direct3d9 and older is problematic, but Direct3d11+12 is just fine.
    But yeah, its about where the customers are. On the bright side it is quite easy to compile existing source code for ARM64 so the incentive for developers do not need to be particularly high (e.g. even a relatively small user base might be sufficient). They still would need to maintain only one code base.
  • A better question is, how is this a strength against Surface Pro 7 and any other Windows tablets vs. Surface Pro X? If 99% of my apps are going to be emulated, why not just get a regular Surface Pro or regular laptop instead? Why should we be excited about using Windows 10 on ARM? If there are very few tablet optimized apps, what's the point?
  • That device is not for you then, simple as that.
  • That's not an answer to his question...
  • Yes it is, it simply means the said device does not meet his other like him with such use case scenario.
    Browser-based apps are the most prolific computing that most people do. Those that probably in your use case scenario category should not be getting this type of device and does not make this type of device non-capable it's intended use case (Light computing)
  • What about buying another tablet then like the regular Surface Pro? Looks like if 99% of your apps are going to be emulated you might just want another device. Sadly you wont be able to get the benefits of an ARM device either :(
    I think the Surface Pro X is in particular interesting for people, where the number of emulated apps is say <50%.
    The number of native apps is going up anyway eventually, so more people can enjoy the benefits of ARM devices over time.
  • ARM64 build is just a click away.
    And as long as you are not running computation costly stuffs like games or game developing tools, you are fine with this thing. You will have long battery life, always on and other features.
    For people who travel, this could be used as a long lasting pocket WiFi... And if I'm not mistaken, there's an AI/ML chip in it right? Image processing is one of its strong point. Some company or app like Adobe and its products, will want to utilize that chip eventually. Why wouldn't they?
  • If the apps you use are x86 and you feel that they won't run well on the Surface Pro X, then that is not the device for you. Windows 10 on Arm's main selling points are the always-on connectivity and enhanced battery life and if you mainly use web apps or can find native ARM versions of apps you use, then this device is a good choice. Different strokes for different folks.
  • The point is. I3-i5 performance. With 15-20 hour battery life. That’s all day, without needing to take a charger. For super mobile people it’s a dream come true. I love myYoga C630. And that’s not even an 8cx chip. It just needs the new Edge browser and visual studio code and a better screen which the Surface X has. Perfection for me!
  • But the Surface Pro X is only like 12 hours. They sacrificed thinness for battery life. I want one still, even though I have no use for it.
  • Actually I think it was more wattage for battery life (though thinness was clearly a part of it). It's an interesting decision. I'll wait and see some (good) reviews and benchmarks before I judge. In the mean time the SP7 looks pretty awesome. 10th Gen Intel is no joke.
  • You're not going to get as good performance from the Surface Pro X as you would from a high-end Surface Pro 7 so, if that's your priority, stick with the latter. The former is thinner, lighter, has better battery life and has LTE built in, while still providing pretty good performance. If those are priorities to you then you should be excited about the Surface Pro X. I would expect that Microsoft would be looking at eventually phasing out the Intel Surface Pro and making the Surface Pro X the only option. If and when that becomes a reality remains to be seen.
  • I think the Surface Pro X is super interesting, and hope it finds success and has sequels. But a key part of any "creative" application discussion has to include the pen/stylus on the device. The Apple Pencil is by all accounts I've seen, THE KING for overall drawing accuracy, latency, tilt, and pressure capabilities. Microsoft has made some good progress improving the Microsoft Pen and how well it works on the Surface Pro line, but it still falls short of the Apple Pencil. Drawing diagonal lines slowly STILL results is some jitters in your line stroke. And because of various driver/software reasons, pressure and tilt seems to be hit-and-miss... tho that has gotten better over time. While I really don't want to buy into the Apple Walled Garden ecosystem, I am anxious to see what, if any real improvements are to be had with the Surface Slim Pen.... they didn't talk it up much as far as how it was fundamentally better, or if it addressed the pain points that artists still have with the Surface Pen.
  • I think for drawing you may be right re: Apple and Pencil, however for general inking across all apps and note taking abilities I think Surface wins out. It's more about "art" vs. productivity inking with Apple leaning on the former, Microsoft to the latter. At least, that's how I felt with an iPad 9.7 and Pencil and as a non-artist, vs Surface where I use inking for more office/work-related things (PDF, signing documents, note taking, annotating screenshots, etc.).
  • I'm happy to see the discussion that my comment has generated. Folks raise an important pro/con of the two options. I wholeheartedly agree that Microsoft has kicked some major butt on the inking integration and productivity stuff. There's basically nothing that comes close with how powerful inking is on Windows... not to mention your inking is fully searchable just like typed notes. But as others have noted, Microsoft has made no secret that they are also catering to the artistic crowd, with their inclusion of Adobe and many other cool app makers and artists in their demos and sizzle-reels. So it behooves them to up their game on the accuracy/general smoothness game that the Apple Pencil is dominating. At one point a couple years ago, Microsoft made pretty direct comparisons to the Pencil. I dragged myself into an Apple store a while back just to try out the Apple Pencil... it made me cry... it's absolutely EXCELLENT for drawing. The hard tip takes a little getting used to, but that's a pretty minor thing when the underlying tech is just so reliable and smooth.
  • Yeah, that's what also find myself genuinely awestruck how the Apple Pencil draws. Pretty much no latency and very smooth lines. It kinda makes me jealous not having iPad for drawing that I wish I have that same pen performance with my Surface. The only I don't like about Apple Pencil is there seems not much resistance, so being so slippery is something I have to get used to, though this can be fixed by applying a matte screen protector. Also not having eraser function can be inconvenient especially for note taking. What I want is the best of both worlds from Surface Pen and Apple Pencil, and have it on Surface devices. I rather having a single device than buying an iPad simply because of drawing. I prefer saving money not buying two devices.
  • Totally agree with you there Daniel, for most people the surface pen is enough since there aren't much artists anyway. For productivity the surface pen is plenty enough, and the rubber functionality edges it over the apple pencil in regards to productivity. In saying that, it's not like artists CANT create great artistic work using the surface pen, you can, but it just isn't as good as apples.
  • Kinda hard to say there isn't much artist out there as much as not much "average" people using a pen for note taking. But yeah Surface Pen does not limit the artist what it can do, personally I find Surface Pen does the job I want to do for art. But still I wished they could have done better since I much prefer having Surface than buying another device like an iPad just for art. I rather save my money buying a single device than two. Many artist like Surface devices like Pro and Book (for those who can afford), but its Surface Pen performance like jitter issues can be a pain to deal with on certain artist who draw lines slower, which is a big thing if you do a line art.
  • I guess the basis for that is more people know how to write than people who can fully take advantage of the artistic features of either pen or pencil.
    I'm not saying however im against improvements and know well enough how good the pencil is, but it seems unlikely MS will update the pen in the near future considering their Neo appears to be designed for the flat pen which by the looks of things is just a physical redesign of the existing pen with minimal tech upgrades.
  • I agree. For drawing, I think nothing beats the iPad/Apple Pencil combo. I think Microsoft isn't too far off and I hope they can reach that level of accuracy. But my gut feeling is that Microsoft is more focused on the productivity side of inking.
  • Which is crazy right? Microsoft was seriously in this space first, trialed wacom tech with the first Surface Pro and eventually bought N-Trig to bring it all in house and improve the experience. Then with the SP5 (?) there was a big deal made about how much they had invested into the writing & drawing experience, they've sent review units to artists to get feedback, they've had them on stage at presentations talking about how good it is, and then about the same time as the SP5, Apple walks in with the iPad Pro and takes the crown for the best inking experience. I do *really* like Microsoft's push to deeply integrate the pen though, that's nice and better than the iPad Pro implementation. Hand writing emails & writing directly into text fields is something I've wanted for a long time & now have in Windows. In terms of notetaking though, Windows unreliable 'always on' and Windows Hello mean that I'm frequently frustrated when I just want to take a quick note or a sketch - I'm hoping the Surface Pro X might improve this.
  • You are spot on. Microsoft is lagging beyond ios in terms of drawing. I disagree with others trying to twist the fact saying surface pen is better in inking than drawing. I think technically if a pen is good for drawing then it should be good for notetaking too. I do a lot of illustrations on my surface pro 6 i have to admit surface pen isnt that great for artists, dont get me wrong its not bad, but not worth the hype microsoft is creating. The main problem i see is the accuracy, the tiny pointer always has a little offset. For example try to make a dot in photoshop canvas and try to start exactly from the dot. There is always a little offset. Ipad on the other hand handles it very well.
  • I think the "better" in regards to Surface Pen is simply has to do with the integration of pen input and the whole Windows Ink experience. But the pen performance itself is not as great as Apple Pencil. For that matter, Apple Pencil is better also at note taking if we simply talk about the pen performance. That almost no latency input, very smooth and precision makes note taking also enjoyable, except that it is bit slippery than Surface since Apple Pencil doesn't have the more resistance feeling on its tip. The issue I have with Apple Pencil is the lack of eraser function which is highly convenience feature when note taking.
  • I think everyone here is spot on, even when it may sound like people are disagreeing on some finer points. Pen input has a lot of facets. Software integration is industry leading on modern Windows. But Microsoft is definitely wasting a lot of potential because of the accuracy issues with the pen hardware. Better accuracy would lift ALL use cases to be more enjoyable, and totally CRUSH the artistic use cases, making Surface untouchable as an overall package. I think Apple benefited from having a fresh start with the Pencil. Microsoft has been burdened with a long history of pen standards, making things like pressure-curve config and individual application support of tilt, etc. an unavoidable annoyance. Maybe Microsoft should do something similar, release a Microsoft Pen Pro alongside an API, and roll-out a "Certified Pro Pen" program so that Dell, HP, and others can offer a predictable "Better than Apple Pencil" equivalent. And the next Surface Pro/X could be the reference implementation.
  • I think pen input shouldbe well out of the box. Infact apple was first to introduce tilt feature. Simply put Microsoft has great ideas but apple is better in implementation. I feel the problem is with the windows in general, it is not deisgned for touch or pen input. I hope windows 10x will be different cause its based on core OS. One can just hope. I would really like to see Microsoft taking things seriously than just throwing things on the wall.
  • Hi arvind, Not to be abrassive, but it sounds like your experience with Windows touch and pen support might be limited or dated... Pen support, as far as how well it is integrated into the OS and made available to individual applications, is industry leading on modern Windows. And Touch support is excellent on modern Windows. The only caveat there is that not all older apps have been updated to have larger buttons, etc. to be more touch friendly for our big chubby fingers. I'll take the ability to run nearly every app ever created in the long history of Windows, over the inability to use touch AT ALL on MacOS. I will concede to the general assessment that Window 10 made some backwards movement on general tablet UX when compared to Windows 8.x. While Windows 8.x was pretty controvertial, there is no denying that Windows 10 retreat to the safety of Windows 7 paradigms has left the tablet side of the OS a bit lacking. But the basics are there, and improvements are coming with Windows 10X and related advancements. The only other real alternative for a full productivity OS with touch support is the recently enhanced iOS on iPad (now called iPadOS) which finally adds local file system capabilities and a few other worthwhile productivity enhancements. That is not to short-change this offering from Apple. There is real potential for iPadOS to have a huge impact. It honestly has all the key ingredients to eventually supplant most people's desire to use MacOS. ...and on top of all that, iPadOS has the killer feature that we've already talked quite a bit about... the Apple Pencil.
  • "As an example, Windows Central senior editor Zac Bowden recently got a look at Photoshop booting up on a Surface Pro X, and it certainly wasn't what one would consider snappy." Honestly, Photoshop CC (like nearly all Adobe CC apps) takes forever to boot even on my 8-core desktop. The performance shown here is not half bad, considering.
  • None of this matters because Procreate has already surpassed Photoshop in capability and usability for digital artists, so they don't really care about Photoshop anymore. My brother illustrates children's books and is a long-time PC user. He recently moved to iPad Pro for his artwork because of the draw (pun unintended) of Procreate and the quality of the Pencil. Using Procreate as a replacement for Photoshop wasn't some compromise he had to make, it was by choice, and in fact the very reason he switched.
  • And this is exactly the danger of Microsoft not being aggressive enough on this stuff... Apple has incredible momentum behind it, so that even though the iPad Pro had a slow start, it is quickly ramping up with "killer apps".
  • I think an important distinction needs to be made about audience. The iPad Pro is for one phase of art creation, after which you take your file over to a desktop or laptop and finish up there. (Affinity Designer for iOS is pretty stripped down, and one reason is that it's designed for a touch-first environment.) Windows is trying to be a true all-in-one, with the entire workforce possible on one device. (Affinity Designer in the Microsoft Store is the desktop version, which isn't for touch-first environments at all.) (Disclaimer: I am not a professional artist!) Also, Windows is focused on productivity more than creativity, and the inking implementation shows that. That's a big reason I'm a big fan of Windows. I need a do-it-all device, not a (basically) 100% touch-first device without grown-up apps but with terrible keyboard.
  • I assume this is 32 bit Photoshop, so you are limited to 4GB RAM, right? It works, but only if you are a "casual" user of Photoshop. Otherwise you will definitely want a real PC.
  • 2 different markets for these devices. iPad is desperately trying to become a laptop while Surface Pro X is trying to be the exec laptop. I would love for someone to compare using the Office Productivity suite on the X versus the iPad. Or hacking mouse/trackpad support on an iPad vs. the X. While photoshop is a great product, I could just buy an SP7 if I want the full featured version and pen. I consider the SPX almost like an iPad Air and the SP7 more comparable to an iPad Pro experience at this point. I'm excited for Stadia and Project xCloud running on ARM. I could technically boot up an Azure desktop and run the entire Adobe suite in the cloud as well.