Apple iPad Chronicles: 5 Apps for Self-Publishers

by Joel Friedlander on June 7, 2010 · 29 comments

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Today I’m blogging at a local Starbucks. The iPad sits in its tiny dock stand and there’s plenty of room for the little keyboard. Looking at the setup in front of me, it looks like an experiment in Just How Much Computer Do You Really Need?

This is part of the genius of the iPad. Sitting here with a thin sheet of metal and plastic and a tiny keyboard. Could it be thinner? I don’t think it could be much thinner, no. Smaller? No, this screen size/aspect is big enough to see well, to watch a movie, but small enough that it still feels like a personal device, not a “piece of hardware.”

The iPad today looks to me not like a computer at all. It’s more like a window, a window I can look into that connects to every other part of the web, with all its assets, everywhere in the world. This window is 9″ x 7″ x infinity.

But I was there to use a couple of hours down time to do some serious research and writing, and the iPad responded well, as I hammered away for two hours. It’s responsive and easily hooks up to WiFi when it finds it. The iPad as a whole is by far the best, smoothest and most humane computing experience I’ve had in the 24 years I’ve had PCs.

But getting work done needs tools. I wanted to see if I could find tools like the ones that would be useful to any other writer or self-publisher. Here’s what I’ve found so far.

5 Apps for Self-Publishers

The App store, part of ITunes, is still light on heavy-duty applications, although games are becoming more plentiful. Here are apps I’ve been using every day and a quick note about each. The best of them make me foget I’m using the iPhone operating system. The others don’t let me forget it. Links are gathered at the bottom of the article.

Pages

pages for ipad, ipad fonts, book designThis $9.95 app from Apple is one of the programs featured in the run-up to the iPad launch. It’s a version of the desktop word processor by the same name. The program is promoted as being a simplified word processor with access to advanced functions like template-driven page layout.

Pages is a capable word processor and there is little competition in the App store so far. I sometimes felt that Apple had gone a bit too far in simplifying the program, since I always feel inside a highly controlled environment. There are many quirky interface features to this program, starting with the opening screen, where you realize there is no traditional file listing, just a rotating gallery of images of your documents, and your file functions, limited though they are, are all accessed from this view.

pages for ipad, ipad fonts, book design

Probably the most irritating part of Pages is Apple’s insistence on forcing users to employ their “simplified” and interactive interface. Although the iPad has no problem getting input from the keyboard while in an input mode, there is no access to any functions whatsoever from the keyboard. In practice this means you will be going back and forth constantly from the keyboard to tapping and stroking the screen.

Pages is adept at handling images, runarounds, and offers the full complement of iPad fonts. However, you will have to tap your way to a relatively obscure menu you might completely miss to find those fonts.

I wanted to like Pages, and I’ve been using it for all my word processing on the iPad, but it’s so dumbed down and inconvenient it’s hard to take it seriously as a platform for getting serious work done. In fact, Pages reinforces the opinion I expressed earlier: the iPad is a consummate platform for consuming content, crippled for producing content.

Atomic Web Browser

atomic web browser for ipad, ipad fontsThis $.99 App saved my sanity. One of the features of the iPhone operating system that runs the iPad is a lack of multitasking. We’ve gotten pretty used to multitasking and, like a lot of things, you only miss it when it’s gone.

Using the iPad without a browser like Atomic is painful, because when you close the window you are working in, you are closing the application completely. With Atomic, you gain a tabbed browser, which can open multiple windows at the same time.

I was writing a review of some software, and I could keep the website for the program in one window, and open the input screen for my WordPress blog in another window. You’ll see both tabs in this screenshot detail:

Atomic Web Browser for ipad

Atomic seems about as fast as the version of Safari that’s included on the iPad, but I’ve replaced it on the toolbar with Atomic. Do yourself a favor, spend the 99 cents, save your own sanity.

Good Reader

Goodreader for ipad, ipad appsGoodreader, another great value at $.99, provides robust file handling, otherwise missing on the iPad. It’s as if Apple didn’t want iPad users to ever see a file list, because I couldn’t find one anywhere until I installed this program.

Goodreader can handle uploads directly from your PC via WiFi, or treat your Dropbox (see below) as a server. It will display a large number of file formats, and I’ve been using it for the many PDFs I have stored on the iPad. These include manuals, reports I’m reading, manuscripts and plenty of samples of book designs. The built-in viewer on iPad presents a lot of frustration in its interface and performance, and you’ll want a file viewer of some kind to deal with uploads, downloads and basic file management.

Goodreader for ipad, ipad fonts

As you can see, the interface is easy to use and no-nonsense. It does it’s job and gets out of the way. Once you get used to the way Goodreader wants you to change pages, it’s pretty easy to use.

Dropbox

dropbox for ipadDropbox and Evernote are the two cloud utilites I rely on. Dropbox installs a folder on your desktop that’s password protected. You can have public or private folders and create your own. Then, you simply set up the same account on another computer and presto! Instant file synchronization wirelessly, automatically, reliably. Clients drop corrected files into their folder, I get alerted that the files has arrived. I send the proofs the same way.

Evernote

Evernote for ipadEvernote, another cloud-enabled app, shows how close we’re getting to the ultimate “throw anything at it” utility for storing, sorting, finding input of all types. Kind of a magic junk drawer that knows where everything is. You can clip screenshots from the browser bar and save them as notes, store audio files, web pages, videos, just about anything. Fully enabled for tagging, you can also find things pretty easily. And the real beauty of Evernote is the seamless automatic syncing between the iPad and iPhone versions and the one on your desktop. I’ve never found anything better for quick research and retreival.

There you have it. About two weeks in, and the iPad has made a place for itself in my work life. Apple has positioned the iPad as a satellite or adjunct to your regular computer, where you are likely to have more storage and a fixed network connection. The compromises between the roles the iPad plays as computer, and as computer appliance, are fascinating. As the platform matures, I wonder if those roles will go in different directions, or whether the lines will start to blur.

And of course, if the Facebook for iPad app appears, I can imagine a lot of units flying out of the Apple stores around the world.

Some readers have iPads. What great apps have you found? Are you using it more than you thought you would?

Resources

Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s useful iPad Apps for Writers with links through to her complete reviews.
GoodReader, Pages, Evernote, Dropbox, Atomic Web Browser in the App store
Eric Eldon, Inside Facebook: Expect an Official Facebook iPad App, but Not Facebook Webmail

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bfishadow/

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    { 17 comments… read them below or add one }

    Stephen Tiano August 22, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    There are two different things I would suggest, Pat: PDF and epub. I would start both processes by creating your photobook in InDesign. There you can choose a pages size, standard or custom, set up a few master pages for different size and shape photos, along with stylesheets for captions. Then I would lay out the pages of your photobook.

    I would finish up–of course I’m abbreviating this some in the telling–by Exporting to PDF from within InDesign. Then I would use InDesign’s capability (since CS4) to create an epub file from the InDy file.

    The advantage is that there are apps for displaying PDFs on the iPad, as well as a Kindle app for viewing on the iPad–not to mention that the epub could also be translated to MOBI format, which is the format that the Kindle device itself (as opposed to the Kindle app for the iPad) uses. (And–good news!–the software for turning an epub file into MOBI is Calibre, freeware).

    Of course, if this seems more than yo want to get into, you can hire a professional to do the job. Like me or Joel.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 22, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    Nice rundown, Stephen, thanks for that. I love the control I have in InDesign, and hope someday soon the eBook formats start to permit more print-like design capabilities. A guy can hope!

    Reply

    Pat Johnson August 22, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    I am looking into buying a IPad. I am a photographer in SF, and am wanting to make my own photo book (lulu, ebooks etc)and have client specific portfolios. I want to have a pic on one page and then story on the other. Can you suggest a good way to do this? I would like to do it on my ipad, having the original on my macbook (images etc), but do the stories on my Ipad. Any apps you suggest?

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 22, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    Pat,

    The best app for trying your idea is probably Pages. Although it has its frustrations, it’s pretty simple to place and position both images and blocks of text. On the other hand, I think the iPad is not really great at content creation. It just doesn’t have the control that you have on your Mac or the applications. It’s really meant to be more of a computing appliance. In this scenario you would create your books on the Mac then load them on the iPad.

    But give it a shot, you might be pleasantly surprised at Pages.

    Reply

    betty ming liu June 10, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    guess what — i went to my local apple store today and asked a bunch of questions about the ipad. i think i’m gonna do it. it’s not all your fault. but i’m gonna blame you anyway!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 10, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    OMG, you won’t regret it. And yes, blame me! I take full responsibility, Betty.

    Reply

    Stephen Tiano June 7, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    Joel, I must admit I’m squarely in the “size counts” camp as far as creating goes. There’s now way for me take Pages seriously, for instance. I mean, I love most everything Apple, from all the Macs (and even Apple IIe and IIgs) computers I’ve owned since 1985, to my iPod Touch and this iPad I’m surprisingly comfortable typing on. But the iPad, for me, is for consumption. I bought it for instance to help in troubleshooting eBooks, which I will likely begin producing by year’s end–even as I think that format is way too immature in it’s typographic capabilities.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 8, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    Hey Stephen,

    Yes, Pages is an odd duck, surprising fluid and powerful in some ways, crippled in others. It looks like you’ve had pretty much the same experience in coming around to the iPad as meant for consumption. But you know, part of the fun is seeing how far you can push these things.

    Have you seen any of the HTML5 or CSS3 demos of the typographic capabilities we might be seeing down the road? Interesting stuff.

    Reply

    betty ming liu June 7, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    chris, i didn’t understand a word you wrote here — but i copied it down in my old-fashioned paper notebook and will take it to the verizon store so that i can ask about the palm. even though i’m not following what you guys are talking about, that might change soon. will definitely consider your advice when i’m ready to buy a new phone (and, the ipad). thanks!

    Reply

    Chris June 7, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    If I may be so bold, may I suggest to Betty that she switch to the Palm Pre Plus (or Palm Pixi) on Verizon? Not only is a great phone, it works as a Wi-Fi hotspot, and up to 5 people can connect and share 5 GB of data for absolutely ZERO additional cost? It’s a great deal, and works perfectly with the Wi-Fi only iPad.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 7, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    Chris, I’ve seen that setup in action and I have to say, I was a little jealous. Might be just the thing for Betty.

    Reply

    betty ming liu June 7, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    p.s. — i just read about this crazy app. this restaurant has replaced its menus with an ipad that allows customers to order from it. whither the waitstaff? http://travel.usatoday.com/hotels/post/2010/06/ipad-replaces-menu-in-hotel-restaurant/95656/1

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 7, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    This article points up the ease with which custom apps can be created, and the incredible possibilities that are inherent in the iPad. Expect to see a lot more of this type of innovation, and thanks for bringing it to our attention, Betty.

    Reply

    betty ming liu June 7, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    it’s really interesting to read about your evolving relationship with the ipad. just curious — has having the ipad had an impact on your relationship to your iphone?

    i ask because i’ve always wanted an iphone. but in my area, at&t service is horrible. so i have a blackberry under my verizon plan. i’d be curious to know if the iphone is less important to you now. maybe you wouldn’t ever “trade down” to a blackberry — but if i got an ipad, maybe i wouldn’t have to upgrade to an iphone. your thoughts on this?

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 7, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    Did you see the article in the NYTimes today with the couple, each buried in their iPad at breakfast? Made me laugh.

    Yes, the iPhone is like a “little brother” to the iPad. And yes, the iPad is changing my relation to the iPhone, which I’ve considered the Greatest Invention in the History of Mankind. I’m not going to take that away because the iPhone is still more capable than the iPad, with both the phone and camera functions. But I don’t read nearly as much as I used to on the iPhone.

    If I could buy only one, it would be the iPhone for sure. But I bought an iPad without 3G. I figure someone will come out with an app that turns the iPhone into a WiFi hotspot. Wouldn’t that be cool?

    Let me know which way you end up going. Maybe you’ll blog about it?

    Reply

    Niko Silvester September 9, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    If you have an iPhone 4 (and maybe 3G S), it’s got a built-in feature for using it as a WiFi hotspot. Here in Canada, you have to have at least a 1GB data plan on your iPhone contract, though. You should be able to find “enable wi-fi hotspot” somewhere in your settings.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander September 9, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    Niko, this is available here as well. They now call it “tethering” and it costs about $30/month from AT&T, the principle iPhone vendor here.

    Reply

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