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
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"
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.
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.
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