The Writer’s iPad: Apple’s Pages Does Words & Layout

by | Oct 7, 2010

Nothing shows the schizophrenic nature of the remarkable Apple iPad as well as Apple’s own Pages software. A combination of word processor and page layout functions, Pages ($9.99) is the top-selling productivity app for iPad. And in some ways it’s clear why it’s so popular.

pages for ipad

Pages in word processing mode. Click to enlarge

Like its big brother, Pages for the Mac, Pages for iPad is intuitive, colorful, makes great use of graphics in its interface, and can competently handle large documents and laying out flyers with equal skill.

Combine this ease-of-use and built-for-the-Mac simplicity with the iPad’s touchscreen interface, and you get a remarkably fluid and capable tool for creating documents.

Before I get to the other face of Pages, let’s take a look through the program at the kinds of capabilities it offers.

Pages: Stripped-Down and Easy to Understand

Pages for iPad contains part of the functions of the desktop program.

Apple Pages for iPad

Click to enlarge

In the screenshot you can see links to three sets of menus in the top right of the title bar. The My Documents link goes back to the rather odd, graphic file listing. If you keep over a dozen files in Pages, you will soon grow tired of flicking through them to find the one you want.

Also visible in the ruler are a simple set of formatting buttons for type styles, font formats, paragraph alignments and tabs. It’s through these two levels of buttons that you access all the formatting controls in Pages.

Here you can see the type styles cascading from a button click. These same style choices are also available in the Styles menu from the Info button on the right of the ruler bar.

Apple Pages for iPad

Click to enlarge

Pages makes some odd choices when it comes to arranging the options you might use in creating your documents. At the bottom of the Style list activated by the Info button (and you have to scroll to get to this option) is the Text Options button, which leads to your total ability to control the fonts in Pages:

Clicking on the Fonts or Color buttons leads you to a submenu to make your choice. At this point you are 3 levels deep in the “user friendly” touchscreen menu system. This would encourage you to make use of the styles so you have to return as little as possible to these awkward iPad font controls.

The Lists button gives you a choice of Bullet, Image, Lettered and Numbered lists, and the layout button takes you to the layout controls you see here:

Apple Pages for iPad

Click to enlarge

This is about as simple and direct as it gets.

The Insert button gives you access to Media, like the photo albums on your iPad, and preformatted Tables, Charts and Shapes from simple menus.

Tools for Graphics and Text

Pages includes the same kind of easy-to-use tools for working with graphics. When you select a graphic instead of some text, the menus change to match the context, offering options to arrange your objects, to use masks, and to set wordwrap styles.

One of the great things about Pages is the way it makes use of the touchscreen interface. It just feels very natural to reach out and “grab” a graphic, using the easy-to-spot controls to reduce or enlarge it, rotate it, slide it around on the page and watch as the wordwrap makes space for it within your text. This is the way it ought to be, I kept thinking.

Apple Pages for iPad

Click to enlarge

Tools, Setup and Template-based Documents

The last menu button, Tools, gives you access to an abbreviated set of functions. The document setup puts you in a screen designed to look like a blueprint. When you adjust the margin guides by dragging them, you get a real-time readout of the exact measurement as the guide moves. Pretty neat.

Layout Mode

Pages comes with a selection of very tasteful templates for a variety of documents. Using one of these templates, it’s possible to create a flyer or brochure quite rapidly. I picked up one of the flyer templates and modified it with images from my photo library and typed in new text.

It took about 5 or 10 minutes and I had a pretty neat flyer for my barbecue party, if I was having one. I find this part of Pages the most appealing, and the most natural. The touchscreen interface revolutionizes how you deal with objects on a screen, grabbing the handles and manipulating them directly. It’s quite addictive.

Apple Pages for iPad

Pages in layout mode. Just tap an object and you can start manipulating it.

On the other hand, working with Pages, as with many applications I’ve tried on the iPad, can be cumbersome and inefficient to the point of irritation. I use Apple’s bluetooth keyboard, and there is no way to do anything like a command from the keyboard.

What this means in practice is that you end up poking the screen constantly. Having to constantly take your hands off the keyboard to poke around on a screen seems awfully retrograde to me.

So I’ve chucked it.

As many people have mentioned, the iPad seems targeted squarely at interactive or social content consumption. It’s great for Twitter, web browsing, watching videos, it’s pretty good as an ebook reader, and it’s the best PDF viewer on any platform.

Once I switched to Writer for text entry—something the iPad is well suited to—I had no need for Pages. I found it distracting when I’m writing new drafts, and awkward for formatting.

In my workflow, the iPad’s sweet spot is as a mobile platform for text creation, besides its obvious strengths interacting with online content. But I just want to create the text on this platform and move it up to a more robust machine for manipulation. And in that workflow, there’s not much room for Apple’s beautiful Pages.

Takeaway: Apple’s Pages for iPad is a unique and powerful combination of word processing and layout. Intended for content creation, it’s crippled by the very same interface that makes it seductive to use. Should be of interest to any iPad owners who use Pages for the Mac.

Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, original work copyright by aperturismo,

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Teresa

    I would like to offer my skills as a graphic artist to a small school next year as a “yearbook” class. I plan to use 5 ipads, Pages and Mobile me to create the yearbook. Do you see any draw backs to this idea?

    • Joel Friedlander


      What a great idea! I would probably use Dropbox instead of MobileMe (although I use both now) because you can sync the same files on all the computers and iPads and it’s free. Good luck with your project!

    • Joel Friedlander

      Tom, that’s awesome. And your book looks great. I don’t know Pages very well but I couldn’t find anything about automated drop caps. Thanks for stopping by.

      • Tom Evans

        And what I love best is how your new book templates, designed for MS Word, work so seemlessly in Apple Pages :)

  2. Michael N. Marcus

    Although I’ve had my iPad since last April, I’ve used it much more for consumption than for production–but that may change.

    On Tuesday, I had it with me as an alternative to the uninteresting magazine selection provided in a doctor’s office.

    I started my “session” by reading part of Darwin’s “The Decent of Man,” and then was able to go online with wi-fi from a nearby doctor’s office. I read a news item that reminded me of something, and before the nurse called me for an echocardiogram, I had written half a chapter for a book I’ve been working on. The virtual keyboard would not be my first choice for full-time word processing, but it was good enough, and enabled me to be productive in a place where I had not planned to be.

    After my exam, I continued writing with the iPad propped up against the steering wheel in my car.

    It is truly an amazing, and amazingly versatile, device.

    Michael N. Marcus
    –Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series:
    — “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),”

    • Joel Friedlander

      Michael, your story says “mobile content creation” too. I write on my iPad every day, often in my car. Do yourself a favor and get the little Apple bluetooth keyboard. And thanks for your input.



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