Quick Look: Paper 3.0 for iPad

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Paper 3.0

Where did the time go? Paper grew up so quickly. It started off as a great drawing app, then it got a sweet custom stylus with innovative drawing and erasing features, and all of a sudden it’s a universal app for the iPhone and iPad…and it now supports text in Paper 3.0!

Text in Paper

Truth be told, I haven’t really embraced this latter feature, even a few weeks into this release. Text in Paper is interesting because it’s a text attachment to a particular sheet. Every file within Paper is essentially a sheet of paper, and the new text notes are like variable-length sticky notes that you can add to each sheet. The controls for the text are very interesting though: you can swipe on text to format it as a bullet point, checklist, or header. Basically every other note app I know of requires a specialized shortcut bar for those controls, but a horizontal swipe on a line of text within Paper will format it. Very slick.

Text doesn’t seem to be just an afterthought for Paper, either. In the few weeks following the release of Paper 3.0, FiftyThree added Spotlight support to the app. This means you can now search Paper straight from your homescreen for any text within the app.

In fact, there’s a bit of a sea change in the way that Paper is laid out. The old metaphor of sheets within notebooks is out, and stacks of paper are in. Tapping on a stack lays all the pages out as a scrollable grid of sheets; this took a while to get used to, but it’s a good adaptation of the metaphor for a digital format. Displaying my sheets as a grid shows me the progress I’ve been making in my designs, and makes it very easy to re-organize pages.

Importing Images!

The other big change to Paper, which would have warranted a post all on its own, is support for importing images as sheets. I’ve wanted to be able to do this for years.

If you’ve ever wanted to use Paper to mark up a web page or doodle on a map, this will make you really happy. I’m finding this feature lovely for scanning my own drawings and marking them up. The scanned pages act as the background layer of a sheet, so you can’t erase any portion of the background unless you paint over it.

The only caveat is that there’s a maximum import resolution of 4096×4096. That’s likely not a problem for most people, but it does mean that I have to resize my 24 Megapixel JPEGs before I can draw over them in Paper.

Changes to Zoom

Paper had a very interesting approach to zooming in. Pinching to zoom would summon a loupe that magnified the area below your fingers, and that loupe could then be dragged around or resized by pinching its border. I could see how this could be deemed almost a little too clever — it was easy to accidentally dismiss the loupe and zoom out, and it was a feature you had to play with for a few minutes to really understand.

However, I think the zoom implementation in Paper 3.0 is a step back. You now pinch to zoom on the whole canvas now, but there’s no nuance to that zoom. You’re either zoomed all the way in or viewing the entire canvas (zoomed out). I think this implementation of zoom is easier to start using, but needs a few levels of zoom (e.g., 100%, 200%, etc.) to really be useful again.

No Sync (Yet)

I don’t fully understand all of the technical aspects, but I’ve read enough articles from developers to know that a good syncing system is hard. Storage locations (iCloud, Dropbox, or a private server?), how to deal with conflicting changes, and what actions trigger a sync…this is definitely a lot to handle, especially in app that supports drawing.

But I do find it strange that Paper has made the leap to a universal app, but has no syncing support between the iPhone and iPad versions. Using an app for notetaking requires commitment on behalf of the user. If I decide to start using Paper for notes (which would make a ton of sense given its flexibility), I have to remember to start placing my notes in Paper and searching there, instead of storing that information in other apps that can sync across devices (Notes, Evernote, OneNote).

Paper is still a fantastic app, and I do believe sync is coming eventually, but it just isn’t useful to me as a universal app until that day comes. I like most of the changes in Paper 3.0 and I’ll continue to use iton my iPad as a drawing tool, but its other note-taking features feel incomplete without cross-device syncing.

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