iPad Adventures (or, How My iPad Makes Me Smarter)

6.9.2011 »
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iPhones, iPads, Android phones and tablets, Blackberries … for many of us they are now daily tools for communicating, working, and killing some time here and there. I’m writing from the perspective of an iPhone and iPad user because that’s what I use, but I think the bigger picture applies regardless of platform.

These devices are whatever we each make of them, and the beauty of that is each of us can make them something different at any given point in time. Well-designed and well-built apps are what make these devices so powerful and ubiquitous.

One thing that intrigues me is how useful I’ve found my iPad. As much as I (or maybe I mean my kids) enjoy Angry Birds, I’m getting real work done with my iPad the majority of the time I’m using it. I drafted this blog post with PlainText (free ad-supported version; $4.99 to remove ads). It’s a simple, stripped-down text editor built to interface with your Dropbox online file storage account. Drafting my post with PlainText means I can write in the iPad, and the work is being automatically saved to my Dropbox, making it available to me wherever I have Internet access—my desktop at home, the office, or my iPhone, or wherever I had some time to write and review and edit.

Screenshot of Plaintext iPad App
Here's a screen shot from PlainText, which I used to draft this blog post.

For a quicker and slightly more traditional method of capturing ideas and jotting down notes, Penultimate ($1.99) for the iPad is my go-to. This note-taking app that presents a paper notebook look and feel for writing with your finger or stylus (stylus all the way, for me). Other than letting you erase, it’s exactly like using a pen on paper. I’ve tried other notes apps that add a lot more functionality like copy/paste and vector shape editing, but I’ve come back to Penultimate every time for its directness and “realness.” You might ask “what’s wrong with using a real notebook?” I resisted this urge at first because I’ve always kept notebooks and sketchbooks, but it’s just too easy with the iPad. It’s almost always with me, I can convert the pages I write and doodle on to images or PDFs that I can send to colleagues, and if I’ve taken 23 pages of notes in a two hour meeting, I can email it to myself as a digital backup.

Screenshot of Penultimate iPad App
My go-to app for taking notes on the iPad. Plus, I like the name.

But enough about writing, I’m a designer, not an author! I’ll be the first to admit that sketching out ideas on the iPad isn’t always the most intuitive thing to do. There are plenty of times that I grab the pencil and sketchbook and that’s that. But I have found that working out visual ideas on the screen, especially with Adobe Ideas (free; $.99 to add layer functionality), can add a new dimension to my design process that bridges the gap between paper and screen. With the stylus, I can sketch out a page layout, web interface or logo with a similar amount of informality to a sketchbook, but I can work with qualities like transparent layers and photos and varying colors and line widths. It can all come together so quickly, and it adds a new dimension to how I think through a visual solution. I find myself considering things like the most efficient production of a Photoshop mockup of a web page during the sketching phase by interacting with elements that can move and change with a tap. This isn’t always the right approach for me, but sometimes it’s a tremendously powerful way to work through an idea and end up with a direct path to the refined design the client sees.

Screenshot of Adobe Ideas iPad App
I use this for working out digital ideas on-screen.

A traditional source for starting an idea and, often, helping to finish it, is stock photography and illustration. Getty Images’ excellent iPad app (free) provides a well-organized interface to search their vast collection. Saving an image comp to begin sketching with in layers in Adobe Ideas has been a great idea-starter for me, just as it can be on the desktop with all the “big” software. Sometimes the immediacy and simplicity of working with these elements with a touch and a stylus makes all the difference in how I approach a new idea. It might just be as simple as the fact that it’s merely different—it’s not a pencil or a mouse or a big monitorbut I’ll take all the options I can get to keep finding fresh, creative solutions.

 Screenshot of Getty Images iPad App
Stock Photography Search Tool from Getty Images

Two months ago, my list of favorite/most-used apps would have looked a little different. Two months from now, it may be a whole new list. But to me, that’s what’s great about these things. I can make this device useful for just about whatever it is I need to accomplish with all the “digital stuff.” At home, I use the iPad and iPhone to control a Mac Mini connected to the tv for music and movies, my kids grab the iPad as soon as I get home to play games, and it’s essentially an infinite clearing house for ideas that help me do my job. Once you start finding the apps that help you do the things you enjoy doing, and it’s so easy to have that outlet within reach, it’s tough to ignore.

There’re plenty more apps that I enjoy besides what’s listed, and I know everybody has their own favorites for their own situations.

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