Most of my commentary on the iPad so far has been extremely positive. I've really enjoyed its excellent portability, its responsiveness and the quality of the design. However, a lot of the arguments coming from doubters is that whilst it is excellent for information consumption (surfing the web, watching movies etc) it's rubbish when you want to create information, for example write a lengthy document, or an email.
Apple's 'Pages' application is out to prove these naysayers wrong. It's a word processor, based upon the version that has been available on the Apple Mac computers for years, but with a complete makeover to take advantage of the touchscreen interface.
At £5.99, there's no real arguing with the price. Word processors for computers often cost much more, especially when they have to be bought as part of a suite of products, like spreadsheets and presenting tools.
So what does £5.99 of word processor get you? Let's start with the good stuff.
Have you ever looked at all the features you have in Microsoft Word and then looked at how many of them you actually use? There are literally hundreds and yet it's pretty clear to me that most of us are happy enough to fiddle with the font, maybe realign a few paragraphs, underline the title and we're done! Even adding a picture or a table is new ground for many of us and getting into mail merge and so on, the preserve of the hardcore office administrator!
Apple have aimed to capture the majority requirements by cutting down the functionality to what most people need every day. This will either be a massive "hurrah" to some, or a complete deal breaker to others.
On starting up Pages, you're presented with a document that gives you a quick start guide to using the software. You'll learn how to choose between document styles, edit fonts and text sizes, insert and manipulate pictures (like photos from your collection) and use the on board dictionary and so on.
My initial surprise at how limited the options are compared to say, Microsoft Word turned very positive very quickly when I was up and running within minutes (the quick start takes about 5 mins to get through) and doing things that I've yet to work out how to do in Word! For example, by tapping and holding on a picture, you can drag it across a page and set it back down exactly where you want it. Move it over some text and the text will beautifully wrap itself round the picture, resulting in some attractive page layouts with a minimum of effort! Press two fingers on a picture and you can even rotate it.
So, first impressions are good. Sure, it falls short of an enterprise grade office word processor - but if you want to write a interesting looking letter, or report for friends, family, school, work - I think you'll find this up to the job. For those that do need to use Micosoft Windows and Office to read or edit documents, rest assured that anything you create on the ipad is compatible once emailed or exported across.
I think it's time for the first potential deal-breaker. At work, it's pretty clear that the ipad is going to prove popular as it's an easy way to carry around and read a large amount of paperwork without having the cost and bulk of printed paper to haul. This has already tempted a few users to part with the money - but they've all made the same complaint. One function that really would make this a useful work device is called "Track Changes".
Track Changes is a collaborative tool where a draft (lets say a contract) can be passed around a team, or to a senior colleague for review and they can edit the document where they see fit. The changes are highlighted with notes in columns and strike-throughs where text has been deleted and so on so that when the draft is passed back to the writer, they can see the edits. The original composer than then go through each change and 'Approve' or 'Reject' each one. It's a heavily used feature in all kinds of business and Apple really needs to add this down the line. I should also note that I checked some of the competitors on the 'App Store' and no one seems to be selling a word processor with this feature yet. Whomever gets there first could find the money flowing in!
Whilst 'Track Changes' will be missed sorely by office types, there is, I'm afraid, another compromise that can impact on us all. The keyboard. Or lack of one.
When writing a short email, a note or updating Facebook, I'm quite pleased at how quick I've become on the on-screen keyboard. Sure, if you hold the ipad vertically, the keyboard gets a bit squashed and you end up 'pecking' with a single finger at the keys, but lay it down horizontally and it really doesn't take long to get up quite a speed.
It's not really the keyboard that I don't like here, it's the tiny view of the document you have when you're working on it that I'm struggling to come to terms with. The keyboard takes over about half the screen and, if you want to see the menu options at same time, you're left with only 6 lines of decent sized text in view whilst you work and these can be part obscured as you type also. Editing the text and pictures when you're done is great fun, you can move things around in full screen just by swiping your fingers, but putting the text in is not fun. I think it would be fine for an occasional couple of page document, but more than that can be quite uncomfortable, both on the eye and on your posture as you hunch over the screen.
To benefit from typing on full screen, or if you really don't like typing longer documents on a touchscreen, the iPad is compatible with bluetooth wireless keyboards. Apple themselves make a nice one (http://www.apple.com/keyboard/) it's attractive, practical and portable - but VERY pricey. Any bluetooth keyboard should work, so take your pick! Don't blame me though if you sit there looking at your keyboard infront of your ipad and start wondering why you didn't buy a laptop! The lines are blurred here I'm afraid!
To summarise, I think for £5.99, Apple have done a great job bringing useful word processing to the iPad. As a means to write a letter in your personal life, or update some documents on the go between offices I think it's great. However, I would find some of the limitations a bit too much to bear if it were the only word processor I had access to. And Apple, if you're listening - give us 'Track Changes' pleaaaaaaase!!!
Featured image used under 'Creative Commons' license. Thanks to huggerindustries.