Q&A: Adobe explains the transition to Apple Silicon

I caught up with Adobe to find out more about the experience of recompiling Photoshop for Apple Silicon.

Apple, Adobe, Photoshop, M1, Apple Silicon, Mac, developer

Adobe has released Photoshop for M1 Macs, delivering a huge boost in application performance on Apple Silicon in contrast to how it performs on similar Intel-based machines.

Adobe explains the transition to Apple Silicon

I caught up with the company to find out more about the experience of recompiling Photoshop for Apple Silicon — and while Adobe was at first a little intimidated by the scope of the project, it is full of praise for the developer tools Apple has created to ease this process. Mark Dahm, principal product manager at  Photoshop, explained how the transition unfolded.

A product like Photoshop is an essential tool of the trade for many people. What were the biggest challenges when planning to migrate it to the M1 platform?

"Photoshop has been fortunate enough to have been serving Mac customers for over 30 years, and having lived through the transition from Power PC to Intel chips in the 2005/2006 timeframe, a few familiar considerations came to mind as the Apple silicon announcement was made.

"For one, performance is top-of-mind for our creative professional customers, so we wondered how long it might take for us to match the years of performance-tuning that ensured smooth operation for Photoshop’s sophisticated blending and rendering capabilities. 

"Also, over the years Photoshop’s capabilities have extended beyond just core image editing to a variety of useful additional services; dynamic font activation, cloud sync technology, machine-learning features and installer deployment services, all to make a wide range of creative workflows beyond image editing easier and smoother. 

"Each and every one of those supporting libraries, contributed to Photoshop from nearly every corner of the Adobe engineering world, would have to be written to support Apple silicon, and on the fastest possible schedule. So perhaps the initial scope of the project was a little intimidating as we got underway."

During the migration, what were the biggest challenges? How closely was Adobe able to work with Apple on the project?

"Fortunately, Apple’s Rosetta mode allowed Photoshop to run reliably and fast on M1 devices on day one, without requiring significant changes to the code base. And many features were running as fast, or even faster than on the previous systems, so those earlier questions about performance were being resolved quite satisfactorily. 

"But re-factoring all of Photoshop’s dependencies to run in native mode was the necessary first step toward unlocking real performance gains from the hardware. Here, attention to the developer tool chain set the stage for a seamless transition, allowing us to spend more time fixing issues in our own code and not fighting with finicky developer tooling issues.  

"We were eager to tap into the more specialized aspects of the M1 chip to see how they could re-energize some of the seemingly magical features that have since become staples of the Photoshop experience over the years; features like Content Aware Fill, the healing brush, specialized filters and even relative newcomers, like the machine-learning-based Auto Select Subject and Sky Replacement tools.

"And thanks to our close partnership with Apple, we were thrilled to implement additional specialized optimizations that further boosted those features to where they clearly outpaced the broad-based performance boost that we were seeing across the other features. This is only the beginning, and we look forward to bringing even more performance gains and Photoshop magic to life on the new Apple silicon platform. 

"As the Apple silicon line-up expands into the future, having Photoshop working natively on the M1 architecture means it can be constantly tuned and optimized to take full advantage of the resource advancements that Apple silicon has to offer, without the additional dependency on Rosetta."

Despite the app's importance and the challenges (or not) of migration, you’ve managed to port PS to M1 in just a few months. Is the experience of building apps for M1 Macs relatively straightforward?

"For developers familiar with developing for the Mac platform, developing for the M1 should be a smooth experience. Apple’s significant investment in the developer toolchain and experience was a major factor here.

"Additionally, despite having been around for over 30 years, having more recently completed the transition to iOS for Photoshop for the iPad put a few of our modernization initiatives to the test, and we were happy to see some key benefits like Metal's unified memory system paying dividends across device surfaces."

What did you learn as a developer that you think might be of value to enterprises planning to recompile software for enterprise Macs, is the process worth doing?

"Recompiling a large application for Apple silicon requires investment on behalf of its developers. However, as we have shown in Photoshop’s case, it can result in significant user-facing improvements to performance. Additionally, as more customers purchase Apple silicon devices, they will expect that applications run natively on the latest hardware to take full advantage of their new machines. 

"We compared an M1 MacBook to a previous-generation MacBook similarly configured, and found that under native mode, Photoshop was running 50% faster than the older hardware.

"These great performance improvements are just the beginning, and we will continue to work together with Apple to further optimize performance over time."

What are Adobe’s M1 plans for other products in the suite?

"At the moment, Photoshop and Lightroom are both available as native apps for M1 Macs, and public betas of native apps are also available for Premiere Pro, Premiere Rush and Audition. We’re excited to bring more native Creative Cloud apps to Apple silicon devices, and will have updates to share later this year. "

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Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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