The Apple iPad: Lightning Strikes Cupertino Again

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hit the Folder button, while with your left you can flick through the list of folders and stow the message in the appropriate place. You don’t have to keep moving your cursor back and forth (there is no cursor!) and you don’t have to pop back and forth between screens, the way you do on the iPhone. It’s ingenious.

Apple has also improved the Calendar and Contacts apps to make them resemble old-fashioned File-o-fax pages. While I’m not generally a fan of gratuitous imitation—there is no reason an e-book page needs to look like a print page, for example—it actually helps in this case, as it’s now easier to flip between days or weeks on your calendar and get an overall sense of how your commitments are stacking up.

There are a hundred examples like these—little situations and tasks that Apple was forced to rethink to make them work on the iPhone, and that it has now refined and improved for the larger screen of the iPad. One of these is typing. I was extremely skeptical, after watching Steve Jobs’ keynote talk on the iPad in January, that it would be as easy to use the device’s keyboard as Jobs made it look. I was wrong. The onscreen keyboard works great for old-fashioned 10-finger touch typing, as long as the device is in landscape orientation. (In portrait orientation, the keyboard is too cramped for that and you have to go back to hunt-and-peck.)

Yesterday I used my iPad to take notes on a phone interview. I type really fast—fast enough to capture a speaker’s words verbatim. And the iPad keyboard didn’t miss a beat. There were more typos than usual, but I had no trouble deciphering my notes later. My only complaint in this department is about the placement of the quote-mark and apostrophe keys. They’re in the shift screen, in the same spot as the M and the comma. For touch typists, this makes no sense and is a real time-waster. Fortunately, given that the keyboard exists entirely in software, it’s the kind of thing that should be easy to fix.

Evernote on the iPadA word about word processing. I bought Apple’s $9.99 Pages app, and I’m using it to type this article now. I’m pretty impressed. Apple has stripped away 98 percent of the crud that has accumulated over the years in the desktop versions of word processing programs and has left only the stuff you really need, like the ability to change fonts or styles, reformat the page, and drop in graphics. When you’re done with a document you can convert it to Microsoft Word format (which is what we use around the Xconomy offices) and e-mail it to yourself in one step.

Apple is calling the iPad version of Pages the best word processor ever written for a mobile device; I’d go farther and say it sets a standard of simplicity that even desktop software should emulate. Its main weakness, and it’s one common to all text-centric iPhone and iPad apps, is the clunky way Apple has implemented text selection, copying, and pasting. What was a two-step operation with a mouse (highlight a word or phrase, right-click to cut or copy it) is now a four-step process on a multitouch screen (highlight a word, tell the app you want to select it, drag the little nobs to take in neighboring words, then choose cut, copy, or paste). And in the Safari Web browser, where people do an increasing amount of text processing (ever heard of Google Docs?), I’ve found that the cut-and-paste tools are difficult to invoke and often wholly unresponsive. (More stuff for Apple to fix.)

In the “work” category, I should also mention some of the more advanced tools for information gathering and management that are available for the iPad. There’s Safari, of course, which—setting aside the cut-and-paste issue—is blazingly fast and makes Web pages look gorgeous. But I’m also excited about the Evernote app (pictured above), which has been completely redesigned for the iPad. Evernote is a Silicon Valley startup that makes a cross-platform system (available for Mac, Windows, the Web, the iPhone, and other devices) for saving digital information of all sorts. I’m a longtime user and fan, and reviewed the service back in July 2008.

The iPad version has all the same functions as the others, like the ability to create and edit notes, but what’s really lovely about it is … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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