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Office in a pocket
Initial release of the first iPad version in April led to much discussion and argument. Many watched the presentation of a new Apple gadget and almost everybody remembers the slide where on a large screen behind the speaker this tablet computer was placed between iPhone and MacBook. Probably only few people realized the true nature of the gadget, or may be the position between phones and laptops is reserved for netbooks seemingly forever. It looks as if iPad is compared and will compete with this class of devices. Unless the company behind this amusing device manages to prove the opposite.
As you know Apple is not going to do it. On the contrary, the first releases of accessories and applications show attempts of Cupertino-based company to bridge the gap between iPad and laptops and distance it from phones and other small mobile devices. I mean not only the keypads, but first of all three office applications joined in iWork suite for Mac OS, and offered in App Store as Pages, Numbers and Keynote. Let’s start with the easiest.
Pages (the basis of all three applications reviewed today)
This is a word processor for iPad. Almost identical to Mac version, but is slightly less functional. The same can be said about the two other applications described below. Basic functionality is not necessarily a disadvantage here as a simplified interface is good for them. But don’t be in a hurry.
It’s the first launch of a word processor. Initially new owners of this application have an empty folder for future documents to be created or imported. You can add *.pages file (fully compatible with “parent” version) by tapping on “New Document” button or “+” icon in the lower part of the main screen. Before starting our work we are kindly offered to choose from sixteen different templates to suit all needs. You can create an empty document, a poster, a recipe or even a flyer. Letters and resumes are available in six types.
Let’s not go into details of prearranged formats, but create our document from scratch and build the structure we need. Typing, as you can easily guess, is performed with the help of on-screen keyboard, which raises a serious and unpleasant question – how to deal with relatively big chunks of text? On-screen buttons, as it becomes clear, are not good if you work with more than one short sentence like “I’ll be late, busy at work, love you”. You can easily send text messages by holding your phone in one hand and tapping your message with the thumb of the other, but with iPad it is a bit different. At this moment you can use Bluetooth (in my case) or a special iPad keypad.
In such a simple way a tablet, if not easily becomes a netbook, but definitely distances itself from phones. By using the keypad at times you even forget about the touchscreen and feel as if you are back in time, when mouse hasn’t been invented yet. Having found way around text input, we can move onto formatting.
This is helped by the panel in the upper part of the screen. “Body” button can change its name depending on the chosen style and is responsible for formatting the paragraph you want to modify. In other words, where your cursor is at the moment. To the right you have standard buttons “Bold”, “Italic” and “Underline”, which affect only the highlighted sections. Then go “Align Left”, “Center”, “Align Right”, “Justify” and, finally, Tables, New Paragraph, Split into Columns and Page Break. This is it, which proves again that everything of genius is simple.
What are the several icons above the panel we have just described? “My Documents”, as you may have guessed, will return you to the list of created documents and automatically save your latest work. “Undo” cancels your last action if it doesn’t meet your expectations. These two buttons are situated on the left, but the most interesting is four icons on the right. The first (“i”) again offers to format the paragraph in general. It also allows to highlight one word or an interesting phrase, any text fragment and color your selection, choose another font and appropriate font size. You can also make your highlighted selection bold, italicized, and underlined or apply strikethrough formatting. This button helps to create lists, format and insert columns. “i” not only mirrors, but complements the buttons of the panel available below it.
Then comes graphics. Every document you create will welcome any such addition and will even help with this. Again let’s start from the simple first, which is adding images from iPad photo album. All you need is to choose a place for this insertion, tap the icon with mountains and sun (to the right of “i”), chose an event in “Media” and specify an image in this event. By default the image will be inserted in the center. You can enlarge or scale it down. It’s nice that “text wrap” is supported during scaling down, so when you drag the image from the center to the left or right you’ll see the text to the left or right from the image respectively.
To create tables, unsurprisingly you have to go to “Tables" section. Here you can choose not from the events, but from styles. The same rule works in the following two sections. Choose the style, add to the document. Table size change doesn’t retain the proportions as in image size change. Double tap allows entering information into table cells. You can add or delete cells after tapping on horizontal or vertical arrows, easily found in the top right hand and top left hand corners of the table. Is that all? Not yet. It is quite logical at this stage to merge cells, adjust the width and height of separate elements. It seems that such actions are not allowed (at least it remained secret for me). I realized though, that “i” set of functions depends upon the place of cursor. Apart from cells merging there are other things to do, which means that we have to go back to images for some time, especially as we have more or less clear view of working with tables.
Additional parameters of bitmap graphics (activated by universal “i”) enable application of certain effects to the inserted image. You can use predominantly shadowing and Apple-style reflection effect. It is also possible to make a photo with dog-eared left and right pages to create an image of a real photo printed on genuine glossy paper. Besides, here are available transparency customization, text wrap and different types of frames.
Graphs for iPad are realized similarly to Mac OS. You choose the type, the required color scheme and insert into the document. Then double tap on a new element and you can do editing in table mode. Interestingly, in different graphs you can enter figures both in relative amounts (e.g. percentage points), and in absolute ones (e.g. the amount of sold items during a particular period). Finally we’ll have percentage points anyway. To the right from the tables its graphic section has Forms, which is a range of buttons, cursors and other “curves” to help highlighting important parts of the text. Graphic settings of Forms are similar to text settings together with options of other graphic elements we finally managed to sort out.
Finally, a quick word about the remaining two buttons. “Key” offers to read official manuals for any of the three iWork applications for iPad. Here you will be unkindly and unceremoniously sent to Safari. Apart from this, you can access document settings and adjust the size of the document working area. Search option reminds of its necessity as your document gets bigger and during the final editing. One of the useful features here is spell check, but rulers are a bit strange.
Now as we are through with text editing, let’s go to other main menu features apart from access to the files we create. In other words, we tap on “My Documents” and see our newly created file. We know everything about “New Document” button, so look at the top right hand corner with an icon, which resembles a folder. Tap on it and you will see import menu. I don’t know why Apple developers limited file import by wire via iTunes. I was also surprised to learn that Pages can interact with iWork server only in the outgoing mode.
Besides upload to iWork.com, the created documents can be sent by mail or saved locally in *.pages, *.pdf or *.doc formats. If you just save a document and want to export it, you need a wire connection to iTunes, which receives your files. The documents you no longer need should be deleted not only to clear iPad memory, but to keep a list of created or imported text files with bitmap and vector graphics in order.
From text we go to spreadsheets. Numbers, as you know, is an analogue of a similar application for Mac OS, and some sort of a rival for Excel, mainly for Windows. We will not concentrate on the menu, import and export of files, as this option is identical to what was described above for Pages. Export is limited to Numbers and PDF files. Let’s go to the functionality and core features of the application.
When you want to create a new table you are offered similar (with some changes, of course) sixteen templates with prearranged rules for cells interaction. Once again we have to start from a new page.
Addition of cells and adjustment of the table is carried out as in Pages. The familiar “i” button allows us to choose page styles and play around with some visual settings. In “Cells” you can adjust not the whole table, but particular selected cell (or groups of cells), among other things. “Format” traditionally allows choosing what information and in what way will appear in cells: figures, currency, per cent, data, time, ranking, completed / not completed and text.
When you look at Numbers you may even think that the developers paid much greater attention to this application, so similar it is to its “parent” version for Mac OS. On closer examination we see that Pages on computer has nothing that is not available for iPad. The compactness of the first application reviewed today is a bit clumsy though, while the second one is logical and user-friendly.
One example of such user-friendly approach is a large library of formulas for all occasions. If some formulas are missing you can always add them yourself, as all symbols are readily available. Although you are unlikely to need them. Formulas you do have here are classified logically and offer everything an average user may need.
Apart from text, dates, figures and formulas, the cells can have images, schemes/graphs, forms for text and other tables. The key and two arrows again have rather administrative functions. It is notable, that Numbers, unlike Pages, is quite functional without a genuine external keypad with its traditional button response and other experience. I would even go as far as to say that Numbers benefits from it.
Keynote surprises from the start. Firstly, because the application works in horizontal mode only. How can it be, you may say? Why do you need a keypad dock for iPad then (which makes you work in a vertical mode)? How can you handle this issue? Review of iWork suite showed that some Apple customers might have wasted $69. I wish I could create my own presentations with the text typed on a gadget prepared especially for the new product! So iPad keypad has a serious drawback here, while an ordinary Bluetooth keypad, though devoid of a dock, has an advantage. But let’s return to our application.
The ubiquitous “i” follows the same principle. It can add effects to graphic elements and style to the text. Addition of images, tables, vector elements and graphs is similar to Pages. The only interest is generated by an icon with two diamonds responsible for animation of some (or even all) parts of the presentation you create. When you are through, tap “Play” to see the results.
The main difference between Keynote and Pages, as you can see, is in animation. Without it Keynote would have been an identical copy of Pages. Not taking into account a slightly different way of text input in the third application. As in any serious suite for presentations the text is added in blocks which shape and size can be adjusted manually.
Main menu used for files management is arranged in accordance with the principle mentioned above. There are twelve templates and they differ not by the position of images and text blocks to be configured manually, but by color and texture solutions. You can upload files to iTunes and iWork.com. Two previous applications have this feature as well. Traditionally such files are exported in *keynote and *pdf formats. For comfortable work you are likely to require Bluetooth keypad.
On Bluetooth keypad and iWork applications
It is logical to think that familiar applications have to support usual shortcuts. It makes work easy, enjoyable and more effective by saving some of your efforts. Office applications for iPad work with shortcuts just fine, but there are some limitations. Only formatting and editing are supported. I have to admit that at first I overlooked this point, took it for granted and didn’t describe it in detail. But imagine how you would work if to select particular text fragments in Pages, even accompanied with the external keypad, you had to use the tablet’s display? Touching it again and again hoping that this time the necessary paragraph will be copied. It wouldn’t ruin our world, but would severely limit the connection with the word processor and we would require some alternatives. The pair of applications described above has nothing different in terms of shortcuts.
It is not difficult to describe when to use three applications for iPad. For some people Pages alongside Bluetooth keypad may substitute a massive desktop computer and even a laptop at times. This way we have a light and simple temporary solution for writers, journalists and those who express themselves in words. As to Numbers you don’t have to think twice as the spreadsheets will be useful for tradespeople. Having worked in retail in some not very distant past I appreciated (in days of Win CE or even Palm OS) the advantages of an electronic spreadsheet you can edit over pen and paper, which always got lost. Even here Keynote differs quite radically from the rest. If Pages allows and encourages to start anew, and Numbers allows the import of readymade spreadsheets to fill in on the tablet, Keynote for iPad can be used to demonstrate a finished product. Presentations are better created in normal conditions and iPad connected to a bigger screen or a video projector is quite convenient to show the results of work.
Eventually what we see in Pages, Numbers and Keynote for iPad is three different, but similar applications for the creation of something new, unique and beautiful away from your laptop or desktop PC. This is the way it should be as the tablet is meant to occupy the place between laptops for work and smartphones with entertainment features. It is more comfortable than iPhone and less functional than MacBook. After all the features of a new gadget have to be understood, recycled and taken as they are. These features should be constantly projected onto the numerous application created or adapted precisely for the tablet.
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Published 24 May 2010
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