Ina Fried

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Adobe Recasts the iPad as High-Tech Palette for Photoshop (Video)

While there are many applications that aim to bring a piece of Photoshop to the iPad–including some from Adobe itself–the creative software company’s latest effort envisions how Apple’s tablet can play a supporting role in content creation.

On Monday, Adobe plans to demonstrate a handful of new programs that allow the tablet to act as an added input device when used in conjunction with a Mac or PC running Photoshop. In one, Nav, the iPad is used to shift quickly between tools or open photos, while in another, Eazel, the iPad serves as a high-tech finger painting pad. A third program, Adobe Color Lava, turns Apple’s tablet into an ultracool, if pricey, color-mixing palette.

Adobe is showing the new Photoshop Touch apps as part of a series of enhancements coming next month in an interim update, version 5.5, of the company’s flagship Adobe Creative Suite. Typically, the company does a full update every 18 to 24 months, but Adobe said this time around it wanted to do things a little quicker. The new version should be available May 3, with the iPad apps aimed to hit the iTunes Store at the same time at prices ranging from $1.99 to $4.99.

In addition to the tablet apps, Adobe is offering fairly significant updates to some Creative Suite apps, such as its Premiere Pro video editing program. Others, such as Photoshop, are getting only modest updates. As a result, the Photoshop update will be free for CS5 owners, while it will be a paid update for owners of the video program or the full suite. For the first time, Adobe also will be offering both Photoshop and the Creative Suite on a subscription basis.

The tablet apps that Adobe designed aim to fill a niche, but mainly to show what is possible with new programming tools that Adobe is offering to developers. A new free Photoshop Touch software development kit will allow developers to come up with their own ideas of how the iPad can augment the traditional program.

Adobe’s move also shows yet another interesting way that tablets can move beyond content consumption and into the realm of content creation, albeit this time as an adjunct to a computer.

In an interview, Adobe Senior Vice President John Loiacono compared it to when Adobe opened up Photoshop to plug-ins 20 years ago; there are now tens of thousands of such add-ins.

“We’re dong the same thing taking advantage of tablets and people can build applications rather than just plug-ins,” he said. “We are enabling the whole community to create tablet-based applications.”

Although the three apps Adobe has created are for the iPad, the company said its developer tools are designed to allow for creation of programs that could also run on Android devices or even BlackBerry’s PlayBook, thanks to its support for Adobe AIR.

Adobe is also chugging away on programs that run solely on tablets and smartphones. It already has its Photoshop Express program for iPhone, iPad and Android. Earlier this month, the company showed how a future tablet application could manage complex editing tasks, including switching among multiple layers.

The company is also trying to quickly shift its publishing tools, such as InDesign, to be able to publish the kind of digital magazines being created for the iPad and other tablets. The new 5.5 version will make it easier to integrate video and other multimedia into a magazine-style layout, Loiacano said.