PhotoKeys for iPhone [iTunes App Store link] is an interesting app. In short, it turns your iPhone into a small touch screen to access the Photoshop tool palette—Move, Marquee, Lasso, Magic Wand and so on—as well as other common functions such as Copy, Paste, Undo, Save, etc. You get the idea.
Let’s get the first question out of the way: why? Well, I can see a few situations making this app useful: laptop users and graphics tablet users who don’t sit hunched slavishly over their Wacom all day (like I do). Many times I have been using my Wacom with my MacBook, and lurching back over to the keyboard to swap tools with the keyboard can ruin the creative flow. Yeah, I’m a keyboard junkie.
After downloading the app to your iPhone, you’ll need to install server software on your Mac or PC (Mac version—using Photoshop CS4—tested for this review). The server software is free, but of course useless unless you’ve purchased the $4.99 iPhone app as well. Also, you’ll need to have your iPhone set up to access the same local wi-fi network as the computer you are running Photoshop on. After installing, Mac users will find a new item in their menubar, and I assume PC users will find a new icon in their taskbar tray. Without configuring anything, and also without relaunching Photoshop, PhotoKeys sprung to action without a hitch.
Tapping tools in PhotoKeys resulted in an instantaneous switch within Photoshop. Impressive.
The tool icons on the ‘Tools’ screen are reminiscient enough of the Photoshop analogs that even a casual Photoshop user will have no trouble determining which button does what. At first raw glance, the ‘Edit’ screen was less intuitive as far as which buttons performed which actions. Some were obvious enough, but others not so much. I jumped in to this demo without reading any documentation to see how far I could get without needing to do so. I like to see how intuitive software is without having to read a manual or a getting started guide.
The third screen—’Arrows’—is basically a giant set of arrow key buttons. I found a bit of a lag when tapping the arrows repeatedly. The Arrows screen offers three modes: Nudge, Move and Clone. All worked as expected by their names, albeit the lag mentioned above. The lag seems to be more pronounced by a repeated tapping of the arrow keys as opposed to just holding down the direction you want to move the layer. Also, I couldn’t really determine a difference between the speed or distance of the Nudge versus the Move mode—both seemed too slow to me. Also, one needs to already have the Move tool selected, and there is no way to activate the Move tool from the ‘Arrows’ screen. I think a Move tool button on this screen would be a welcome and handy addition.
One thing that as a Photoshop CS4 user I have come to love is the “Spring-Loaded Keys” feature. If you aren’t already aware, Photoshop CS4 allows you to not only switch tools using single-letter keys on the keyboard (M for Move tool, B for the Brush tool and so on), but also to temporarily access these tools by holding down the respective key. Just as the Spacebar for time immemorial has allowed you to access the Hand tool and then bounce right back to the previous tool you were using, now all tools have that feature—just hold down the key, as opposed to tapping it to do so. A tap with still switch to the tool if desired. An extremely handy new feature in Photoshop CS4. Unfortunately, PhotoKeys does not offer any such functionality. I’m not sure if this is even feasible in PhotoKeys, but for me it would be a must-have.
PhotoKeys also seems to only offer the “standard” tool and edit set of Photoshop—in other words, the tools that are most common with most versions of Photoshop. You won’t find new CS4 tools, such as my fave—the Rotate View tool.
Omnipresent on all PhotoKeys’ screens is the “Zoom Bar” at the top of the iPhone window. this is probably my favorite feature, as it gives one instant gesture-based access to the Zoom tool at any time. It works smoothly and flawlessly. Very cool.
As someone who primarily works in Photoshop on a desktop computer extensively using keyboard shortcuts, I’m not sure PhotoKeys fits into my particular workflow. That said, the execution of this app is impressive and well-done. If anything in this review caught your attention as useful or handy for your workflow, I’d have to say PhotoKeys would be a worthwhile purchase.