iPad Gems: Evernote, Papers, Instapaper Pro, OmniGraphSketcher, Penultimate + Art Authority
Welcome to our latest edition of iPad Gems. This roundup looks at a collection of popular apps from the Mac and iPhone platforms that have made their iPad debuts with appropriate redesigns for the device’s larger screen, as well as a new offering that demonstrates the enhanced note-taking capabilities of the iPad.
Though Instapaper Pro, Papers, and Penultimate received the highest ratings in this group, everything in this piece is worth a look; as always, some apps may be targeted at a more niche audience than others.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the pre-iPad versions of this app, Evernote is a popular cloud-based service that allows users to store and access “notes” of various types—text, pictures, audio files and other content—that are all tagged and indexed in an online database that can be accessed from any web browser. Desktop versions for Mac and Windows users provide a more native desktop experience and offline access. The release of the Evernote iPhone application two years ago dramatically increased the utility of the service, allowing users to capture their thoughts and other snippets of information while on the go and transparently upload them to the Evernote servers, where they were indexed and made searchable. Notes composed on the iPhone can also be geotagged, while uploaded photos are scanned and made full-text searchable on Evernote’s servers. Evernote has expanded on all this functionality with its Evernote for iPad application (Free), which has been completely redesigned to take advantage of the iPad’s improved interface.
Notes are presented in larger thumbnail views with optional details listed beside them, and can be sorted or grouped by notebook, tag or place. Photos can be uploaded from the iPad photo library and voice notes can be recorded directly on the device. The iPad version can also display geotagged notes in your library on an integrated map view. Full-text searching is available right from within the iPad application, and searches can be saved for reuse. Users of Evernote’s paid Premium service can also sync selected notebooks to the iPad for offline reference. The iPad version unfortunately still shares some of the iPhone’s limitations: PDF files are rendered with their notes as an icon, requiring an extra tap to view, and the app doesn’t yet support editing of rich-text notes, although users can still append plain text to an existing rich-text note or photo. Despite these limitations, the iPad version of Evernote is a solid iPad redesign with a lot more flexibility for organizing and searching content than before; it may actually win some users over to the Evernote service. iLounge Rating: B.
The iPad’s arrival will have broad impact on different types of users, but it’s already being hailed in the halls of academia, where it could become an effective replacement for lugging around textbooks and tomes of reference and research material. Papers ($15) is an excellent example of the iPad’s potential as a research tool: a mobile companion to the popular Mac application of the same name, Papers on the iPad provides quick access to a large collection of research papers and scholarly publications. Users can browse through, read, organize and search papers stored on the iPad, add ratings, flag items for later reference and add their own notes and bookmarks to articles.
Papers also provides direct access for searching academic and related scientific repositories, including ACM, NASA-ADS, arXiv, Google Scholar, IEEE Xplore, JSTOR, Pubmed and Web of Science. Users can search through any or all of these repositories simultaneously and download PDFs directly from within Papers from many sites for offline reading, although as with any other academic search service, some sources may required additional subscriptions or academic library memberships to access. Downloaded articles can be sent out via e-mail, or shared wirelessly with other iPad, iPhone or iPod touch users of Papers, or synced with Papers on the Mac.
For any graduate student or academic researcher, Papers alone could easily justify the purchase price of an iPad when compared to the time and expense of visits to university libraries and photocopies, and the information it accesses is almost enough to make some of us want to go back to school. In considering the amount of research collected by one member of our team for her graduate degree, it was estimated an iPad with Papers could have easily replaced three large boxes of photocopied journals. Best of all is that Papers has been released as a Universal app, so both iPhone and iPad users can take advantage of it for a single price, and existing users of the iPhone version basically get a free upgrade for the iPad. Given the app’s price and design, this strikes us as a fair way to handle iPhone OS users. iLounge Rating: A-.
Following the release of Instapaper for the iPhone, Marco Arment’s Instapaper service quickly became one of the most popular options for quickly saving articles and other web pages for reading on the go, providing a single, common repository for users to collect information they found on the web for later reading offline. The popularity of Instapaper on the iPhone quickly brought integration into the service from a multitude of other applications, allowing users to not only save pages from a web browser, but also providing integration from third-party apps such as RSS readers and Twitter clients. With the iPad’s natural role as a reading device, Instapaper Pro ($5) has come to the device with a clean and elegant interface to allow you to quickly access, organize and read through your saved pages.
Beyond simply saving web pages for later reading, Instapaper actually does an intelligent job of reformatting pages to extract the important text and inline images so that you can get a clean newspaper-like reading experience. Instapaper presents you with a single-page ebook-style view of your content, which you can navigate by scrolling, tapping a page at a time, or using the iPad’s accelerometer to auto-scroll as you tilt the device. Six different fonts and multiple font sizes are available, and the user can adjust brightness, margins and spacing, as well as choosing between either a white-on-black or black-on-white display for text. Items can be archived, starred or organized into folders and changes are synced back automatically to the Instapaper service and can be accessed from the web or on other devices. Instapaper Pro also allows you to look up definitions of words from directly within the application and share your items via e-mail, Tumblr or Twitter.
Instapaper Pro provides an extremely efficient and clean way of saving and viewing web content; it is a must-try app for anybody who reads a lot on the web but either doesn’t have time to consume everything whilst in proximity to a live Internet connection or wants to collect information in a single place for later reading or review. The integration of the service into various Twitter and RSS apps makes it especially useful for users who prefer to quickly browse through their feeds while saving information for later reading. Further, its folder organization provides a useful online repository for saving articles that you want to keep—everything is saved on the Instapaper servers and can be accessed from any device running Instapaper or from any web browser. It’s also worth mentioning that Instapaper Pro is a universal app, so existing users can simply use the updated iPhone version on the iPad without having to repurchase it, and new users need only purchase a single app for use on both devices. iLounge Rating: A-.
The Omni Group was one of the first major software developers to announce a commitment to iPad application development, promising to bring its most popular Mac desktop apps to the platform. Among the first of these is OmniGraphSketcher ($15), an iPad version of the Mac application of the same name. OmniGraphSketcher allows iPad users to quickly create free-form graphs and charts by drawing on the touchscreen rather than crunching numbers. Essentially, OmniGraphSketcher starts you out with the chart and lets you fill in the data visually, rather than the other way around.
OmniGraphSketcher includes a tutorial document to show you the basics, but the application is intuitive: you plot data points, draw lines and create labels simply by tapping and/or dragging on the screen. An inspector pop-up allows for further customization of color, width, style and more, and any item on a chart can be edited for accuracy after being placed. Files can be transferred to and from the Mac version, or charts can be copied to the iPad clipboard as scalable PDFs for use in other applications such as Pages or Keynote. Users who want to start with a specific set of values rather than a more abstract chart can also simply paste in data columns from another application such as Numbers or even from an HTML table from the Safari browser. Users who regularly chart from hard data may prefer to use a more traditional spreadsheet application such as Numbers, and the higher-than-Numbers asking price may scare away some people interested in sampling the features. But for users who are more interested in quickly and easily creating impressive-looking charts for sharing or presentation, OmniGraphSketcher is well worth a look. iLounge Rating: B.
Given its tablet design, it’s not surprising that the iPad has attracted a wide variety of free-form drawing and sketching applications for any number of purposes ranging from artistic creation to sketching to simple note-taking. Penultimate ($3) falls primarily into the latter category, but is flexible enough to be used for other purposes as well.
The concept is simple: you create a notebook and then use your finger to jot down or sketch out your thoughts. On the surface Penultimate may seem like little more than yet another digital ink application, but it handles this task with surprising panache. Most impressive is the precise touch sensitivity used for writing or drawing within the notebook—a light touch draws thin wispy strokes while a harder touch draws thicker, darker strokes in much the same way that a gel ink pen would work. You can also choose from three different photorealistic paper styles, create as many pages as you want in a given notebook, and create additional notebooks to keep your thoughts or projects separated. Individual pages or entire notebooks can be exported to PDF and sent out via e-mail for sharing with others. Penultimate provides one of the most elegant solutions available on the iPad for users who prefer an entirely free-form style of note-taking as opposed to working with a keyboard, virtual or otherwise; its functionality should be incorporated into the iPad’s operating system, but until and unless that happens, the reasonable price makes it worth grabbing. iLounge Rating: B+.
Originally released for the iPhone, it wasn’t until the iPad version of Art Authority ($10) was released that this application really came into its own. The goal of Art Authority is to create a virtual art museum on your iPad, allowing you to browse through an online database of over 40,000 paintings and sculptures organized across all historical periods. While the iPhone version provided the same database and basic feature set, the larger screen of the iPad produces a much more immersive and interactive experience.
Artwork is presented framed and hung on textured wall-like backgrounds accompanied by titles, dates and other information, and users can tap on works to view full-screen versions and access additional information about the work and the artist, or view other related items from the period and artists’ influences. Images can be presented in a slideshow, complete with a Ken Burns effect or saved to the iPad photo library for sharing. Although much of the historical information comes from Wikipedia, its presentation within Art Authority alongside high resolution images of the artwork provides a much more interesting exploration of art history, an effective aggregation of publicly available information and imagery. The biggest caveat is that while the developers have collected a large repository of over 10GB of high resolution images, many contemporary works are still under copyright and therefore can only be displayed from authorized servers—in most cases in much lower resolution than the iPad’s screen is capable of displaying. In short, users will find a stunning collection of high-resolution images for works from earlier periods, but may be less impressed with anything displayed form the last century; this is one of a couple of reasons that the app will seem to some users to be overpriced relative to the iPhone version, on which the lower-resolution works look fine. Despite this, however, Art Authority provides an impressive library of artistic works and knowledge within a coffee-table book style interface. iLounge Rating: B.
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