A Designer's Guide to the iPad

A little under a year ago, I came home from the Apple Store with my brand new, 16GB iPad. It was met with, well, derision. Already known as the resident Apple Fanboy in my circle of friends, buying this “oversized iPhone” did little to quell those arguments. One year later, the iPad is the best selling Tablet PC in history, dozens of “iPad killers” have tried and failed to do exactly that, and even my father, a legendary Apple hater, has now paired his company-issued iPhone with an iPad. 

I admit, I bought it on potential. As I told my brother at the time, I bought it, and then figured out how best to use it. The idea of keeping my research books on this little device alone sold me on it. The potential of what talented iPhone devs could do with the extra power and screen real estate had me drooling. It delivered everything I hoped and more, yet there is still room to grow, and the iPad 2 looks to improve on the experience. 

On the day of the iPad 2 launch, I thought I’d showcase some of the apps that I have used over the past year that have helped me as a designer, and budding art director. 


First things first-the iPad is not a replacement for your computer. Yet. There were a number of times I’ve had to travel over the last year, and there hasn’t been an opportunity where I felt comfortable leaving my workhorse MacBook Pro at home. The first year of the iPad was all about consumption, not creation. Apple’s introduction of iMovie and Garageband last week seem to point the iPad into the other direction, and I hope that developers follow suit. A true Mobile Photoshop/Illustrator/Indesign combo would be worth whatever price Adobe would decide to charge. 

It’s also not a productivity tool. I mean, I can write articles on it fine, and I keep my iCal synced on it, but sometimes it’s a little to easy to jump out of writing a blog post when Plants vs. Zombies or Netflix is right there. Sometimes, there’s a little *too* much to do. If you’re ever inclined to procrastinate (as I can be from time to time), it can be a bit problematic. 


Writer for iPad ($.99)

Website | iTunes 


Writer was the last in the long line of note apps I tried. I was primarily looking for something I could you to take notes during lectures and such. But Writer is so amazing that I found myself using it to write full articles. Most of the articles I’ve written for this blog were initially composed within Writer. It syncs with Dropbox, so I can start writing on my iPad, then jump to my MacBook without thinking about it. 

What makes it work so amazingly well is the additional row of keys on top of the standard iPad keyboard. This makes it closer to a proper keyboard, and makes it easier to jump through a document. That puts screen space at a premium, but while you only see three lines of copy at a time, it never feels obtrusive. And of course, it pairs with a bluetooth keyboard which will give you full-screen typing. It feels so seamless and natural; I could almost believe it could be a native iOS app. It also has a neat little device that keeps track of how long it will take for you to read the document. As someone who isn’t bound by word count, this is helpful for me, so that you don’t spend a twenty minutes reading my ramblings. And yes, some of them have been that long. 

The special commissioned font also makes type easy to read. The major downfall of the iPad is reading long form documents can sometime make your eyes bleed, but the design of this font is amazingly easy on the eyes. I find myself editing documents in Writer sometimes even over my laptop. I really wish that it was available as a system font within iOS. For pure writers, this app should be one of the first app you pick up. 

Reeder ($4.99)



If you read a number of blogs, you know that managing all of them can be a bit of a monster. You’ve probably started using Google Reader, and you can access vanilla Google Reader within the Safari app, but to truly master your blogs, check out Reeder. It’s the first app I look at every morning. The iPad is a natural fit for such short-form reading, but Google Reader’s need to be connected to the Internet can be problematic when you’re on a plane.  When you open Reeder, it downloads all of your subscriptions, so that you can read them offline, and presents it in a very simple, easy to read format. It also caches the actual webpage in the background, so you can see the actual website with the push of a button. You can send the link to email, Instapaper, or any number of social media feeds, and it works naturally with the iPad’s swipe functions. 

If you have a lot of subscriptions, it can take forever to sync, but it’s forced me to trim down my subscriptions because I wasn’t reading all of them anyway. And managing your subscriptions still really requires you to jump back into Google Reader. But if you want customized news straight to your iPad, Reeder sits second only to…

Flipboard (Free)

Website | iTunes 


I wrote about Flipboard in this space a few months ago. It had just launched, and was still very green around the ears. It had a lot of potential, but wasn’t ready for my everyday use yet. But Flipboard has since grown into a mature platform for managing not only your Google feeds, but your Facebook and Twitter lists. Where Flipboard shines is its ability to pull links for Twitter and Facebook feeds and display the text within the app itself. If you use Twitter lists (and you really should), Flipboard turns them into your own personal magazine. And thanks to some featured partners, you can download dedicated tiles from sites such as Wired, and ABC News. 

Flipboard recently added the ability to add Google Reader feeds as well, but I think Reeder is a better use for those than Flipboard. 

iBooks/Kindle (Free)

Kindle Site | iTunes 

KindleIbooksIbookspdfSee the full gallery on Posterous The area I figured my new iPad would get the most use would be reading books and magazines. I love to read, but toting around dozens of books can get cumbersome-even more so when you’re talking about massive Photoshop books. The iPad seemed like the perfect fit. 

As e-ink fans will tell you, reading anything for a long time on an LCD screen can be murder on your eyes. Your eyes weren’t meant to stare at a 10-inch light source for hours at a time. The Kindle hardware works because it replicates the printed page, and there is no light source causing strain on your eyes. So I don’t do as much reading on the iPad as I’d like. I have managed to get through a number of books, but in short spurts, not long-term. That said, if you tweak the brightness/contrast settings within either of these apps, and read with a light source, it reduces your eye strain quite a bit. Do NOT try to read in the dark, unless you’re a fan of staying awake until 2am. 

Where iBooks and Kindle shine for me is as a repository for my technical manuals. iBooks handles PDFs like a dream, and the Kindle app hides all of the superfluous art Apple crammed into the ebook side of iBooks, so it’s just a screen with the reference that you need right in front of you. When I was tackling coding a website during my marathon all-nighter a few months ago, I had a book in front of me, the Kindle app propped up next to me, and it worked like a dream. I now have most of my key references in either PDF, ePub or Kindle format, and it’s nice to have them with me wherever I go. The ability to add annotations and notes are cherry on the sundae. The only thing iBooks is missing is the ability to mark up and annotate PDFs. But if I need to do that, Goodreader works in a pinch.

Dropbox (Free)

Website | iTunes 

Dropbox You’ve probably heard of Dropbox, even if you don’t use it. By signing up at dropbox.com, you get 2GB of cloud storage that you can access and share anywhere. I originally used it for just storing documents here and there, and after installing it on Melissa’s MacBook we stored a bunch of our wedding documents on there. During a hard drive scare a few weeks ago, I decided to splurge on Dropbox Pro, which gives you 50GB of storage for 10 bucks a month. Now, in addition to my hard drive backup, I now have a backup of all my project files on my external hard drive, Melissa’s laptop, and online. Peace of mind. 

The iPad app not only gives you access to those files, but it also allows you to pull photos from your iPad and store them in your Dropbox, and you can view most files in it as well. It handles PDFs extremely well, and if I need to keep it on my iPad, it’s not too difficult to pull it into iBooks. And Dropbox syncs with a growing number of iOS apps, like Writer. It’s a must have for keeping track of your files on the go. 

If you don’t have a Dropbox, sign up for your free 2GB here.

Foliobook ($7.99)



It never occurred to me to use my iPad as a portfolio, but when I did, it seemed completely natural. As a transition, I would carry my portfolio case with my iPad so that I could show both if needed, but lately, I’ve been using the iPad exclusively. Originally, I used the Photos app a portfolio app, by putting my images into an album and syncing, but this is problematic-because the pictures sit in their own album, if you’re not in complete control of the iPad, a wrong swipe could have the viewer looking at pictures from your wedding. And Photos is a pretty vanilla app-there’s no way to really manage how the images sit in the app without fiddling with iPhoto on your computer. 

I had actually considered developing my own app because it was so frustrating trying to find one, but then I found Foliobook. Originally designed for photographers, Foliobook does 90% of what I’d want a portfolio app to do. I can give my portfolio a cover, separate images my group or client, and manage the transitions between images. It would be nice if the app could control notifications and volume within itself without having to turn all that stuff off manually, but as a portfolio solution, Foliobook is the best of a limited selection.

Adobe Ideas (Free)



There are a number of sketchbook type apps available, but Adobe Ideas really shows the potential of a true Mobile Photoshop on the iPad. I’ve used this to play around with painting and creating images, but where it gets the most use from me is using it to make changes with my clients. Instead of printing out a bunch of paper, I’ll load my proofs onto my iPad, share them with my client, and then make changes directly on the images while we talk. 

Twitter (Free)


Twitter You all know what Twitter is, at this point. There’s nothing I can really add to this except to say the only Twitter client you should consider is this official one. It’s free, it’s fast, and it lets you manage multiple accounts. I’ve tried a number of Twitter iPad apps, but the official one is the best. 

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