The iPad needs a Preview-like app

Img_0056

All I wanted to do was quickly annotate a screenshot from the iPad. The Posterous bookmarklet, which I use to start 95% of my posts, had an error I’d never seen before, and I’d captured a screenshot to markup.

On the Mac this is a task for Preview, the PDF reader, image viewer, and annotation tool included with Mac OS X. I love Preview, and wrote about the Snow Leopard version here.

On the iPad, however, my choices were limited. I found a couple ninety-nine cent paint/draw apps, but they proved clumsy. One lets me draw straight lines and shapes, but has no undo function, and you can’t see the shape until you lift your fingers. The other might be a nice tool for an artist, but not so easy to use, and overkill.

I ended up using Adobe’s Ideas app, but with a twist. Ideas is easy to use, fun to play with, and let’s you pinch in and out, which is a big help for writing the text with your finger. It also smooths what you draw, which also helps with the text. It’s also free. One complaint in actual use is that it’s kind of sluggish, more so than the others. Biggest complaint is that Ideas has no facility to save to the iPad’s photo library. Bad Adobe! Only output is via email, and it’s a PDF that, when emailed to Posterous requires (surprise, surprise) Flash.

So how do I get around this? Well, with yet another app, and another screen shot. Once it looks good in Ideas, I take a screenshot. Open the screenshot in the excellent Photogene app and crop it, then save to the iPad library. Now I have a picture to post anywhere, no plug-in required.

The problem is that to get the image above I needed two screenshots and two apps, and I don’t even have straight lines or typed text. I could have used a third app for straight edges, and probably a fourth for typed text, but I need something more all-in-one.

With such a small screen, the iPhone didn’t cry out for an app like Preview, but I think the iPad does.

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The iPad needs a Preview-like app

Img_0056

All I wanted to do was quickly annotate a screenshot from the iPad. The Posterous bookmarklet, which I use to start 95% of my posts, had an error I’d never seen before, and I’d captured a screenshot to markup.

On the Mac this is a task for Preview, the PDF reader, image viewer, and annotation tool included with Mac OS X. I love Preview, and wrote about the Snow Leopard version here.

On the iPad, however, my choices were limited. I found a couple ninety-nine cent paint/draw apps, but they proved clumsy. One lets me draw straight lines and shapes, but has no undo function, and you can’t see the shape until you lift your fingers. The other might be a nice tool for an artist, but not so easy to use, and overkill.

I ended up using Adobe’s Ideas app, but with a twist. Ideas is easy to use, fun to play with, and let’s you pinch in and out, which is a big help for writing the text with your finger. It also smooths what you draw, which also helps with the text. It’s also free. One complaint in actual use is that it’s kind of sluggish, more so than the others. Biggest complaint is that Ideas has no facility to save to the iPad’s photo library. Bad Adobe! Only output is via email, and it’s a PDF that, when emailed to Posterous requires (surprise, surprise) Flash.

So how do I get around this? Well, with yet another app, and another screen shot. Once it looks good in Ideas, I take a screenshot. Open the screenshot in the excellent Photogene app and crop it, then save to the iPad library. Now I have a picture to post anywhere, no plug-in required.

The problem is that to get the image above I needed two screenshots and two apps, and I don’t even have straight lines or typed text. I could have used a third app for straight edges, and probably a fourth for typed text, but I need something more all-in-one.

With such a small screen, the iPhone didn’t cry out for an app like Preview, but I think the iPad does.

Discoveries in Mac OS X Snow Leopard: Preview

Preview

I think most users are indifferent to Preview. They double-click a PDF or image file, view it, and then quit the app. In Snow Leopard there’s a reasonable chance they might notice it all happens faster, and the toolbar has changed, but nothing else. I think that’s a shame.

Snow Leopard’s Preview received enhancements that will elevate it from frequent use to a workhorse for me. However, the way some features were implemented seems odd…

PDF = Pretty Darn Fast.

Preview is fast. I mean, it’s really fast. It was always a quick little sucker, but in Snow Leopard’s 64-bit trim it opens images and PDF files (even large ones) extremely quickly.

For PDFs, other enhancements include:

  • Smart text selection (e.g., selecting just one column).
  • Open multiple documents in one window; you can search all at once (this can be very handy).
  • Speaking of search, it utilizes Grand Central Dispatch to increase speed.

You can also view a PDF as a contact sheet of pages, like so:

Preview PDF Contact

I trashed Adobe Reader the minute Preview first appeared, though admittedly my PDF needs are not extensive. (I don’t use Adobe Reader on my Windows machines, either). In Snow Leopard, even some die-hard Reader holdouts can probably let go of Adobe in this area.

Do I Have To Draw You A Picture?

Well, yes, sometimes I do. In Leopard, Preview gained the ability to annotate images with ovals, rectangles, arrows, and text. It also gained the “Instant Alpha” feature from Apple’s iWork apps. It’s useful to annotate pictures with text, or highlight a certain area. Preview’s newfound capabilities were welcome, and I utilized them often.

The problem is that the features were deficient. It didn’t take long to identify what was missing:

  • It draw ovals, but not circles.
  • It draw rectangles, but not squares.
  • It draw arrows, but not lines.
  • No control over arrow thickness.
  • It has any color you like, as long as it’s red.

(That last one isn’t so bad, since red is superior to the other, lesser colors of the spectrum. Still, the lack of choice was odd.)

New and Improved

Lines Thick and DashedThe best news about the new Preview is that it addresses the above deficiencies:

  • Hold down Shift while drawing an oval or rectangle to make it a perfect circle or square.
  • You have control over arrow heads, placing them at the beginning, end, both ends, or none. (The latter option, of course, makes it a line.)
  • You can choose line thickness, which includes an option for dashed lines.
  • You can choose a color for annotated items.

Having discovered the above, I tried some other keyboard tricks:

  • Hold down Shift while drawing a line to constrain it to 45 degree angles.
  • Hold Option while drawing circles, rectangles, and lines to draw them from the center.

Very good, Apple.

Meet Me At The Bar

Annotation ButtonThe annotation bar, that is. Previously you could add some annotation tools to the regular toolbar (images and PDFs had their own toolbars). Now there’s just one standard toolbar, and a button on it brings up a new “Annotations Toolbar”. It’s different for PDFs and images:

PDF

PDF Annotation

Image

Image Annotation

This makes it easier to access annotation items, and only displays when you need them. It’s very nice, though a bit incomplete.

You Got What You Wanted, What’s The Problem?

The devil’s in the details, and I’m a bit puzzled by Apple’s implementation of the new stuff.

The annotation toolbar is at the bottom of a window. Why? Who decided I should mouse up for menus and most toolbars, but mouse down for other controls?

Annotations Inspector ArrowsI like the annotations bar, so I’ll take it where I can get it, but why doesn’t it hold all the annotation controls? For example, draw an arrow. Its color, thickness, and dash can be modified from the annotations bar, but what about arrow heads? You’ll only find them on a new tab in the Inspector.

Show the Inspector, and next to the tabs of document information is a new tab for annotations. Here you’ll find the options for arrow heads.

Annotations Inspector BubblesFurther, you’ll find two more features not on the annotations bar. One of them is the choice of fill color. The other applies when you have a text box selected. You can pick a style of “Speech Bubble” or “Thought Bubble”. (Yes, now we can make our subjects talk, which is handier than one might imagine.)

I love these features, but Apple had a whole new annotations bar to work with and couldn’t fit them on it? Oh well, they’re not that hard to get to when you need them.

“Eight-by-ten Colored Glossy Photographs With Circles and Arrows and a Paragraph On The Back Of Each One Explaining What Each One Was”

(Sorry, but there was no way I was writing this article without the above reference.)

For me, the new tools have many uses:

  • My most recent cry for circles was when I did the image at the top of this article. The thought bubble would have taken 20 seconds with circles, but took a couple minutes because I had to make ovals circular, and occasionally started over when I wasn’t happy with the results.
  • Of course, I hadn’t even dreamed of the thought bubble actually being drawn for me, which is now the case.
  • As for lines, there are times I’d rather underline an item, but put a rectangle around it instead because lines were not an option.
  • I’ve already used the line thickness — along with a more neutral color — to draw over sensitive information in a screenshot I posted elsewhere.

In short, the new features will get a lot of use. Meanwhile, the occasional trip I made to Skitch will no longer be necessary. Skitch has now been retired; dead to me even before it was born (it’s still beta).

I could complain that I can’t create a new blank document, or duplicate an object, or group/ungroup items, but I think that would miss the point. I’d hate to see Preview’s speed and convenience sacrificed to make it more of a drawing program it doesn’t need to be.

Minor quibbles about implementation aside, the new Preview adds much-needed tools for better annotation of images. It’s not meant to be a “true” drawing program. Rather, I view the changes as Apple simply finishing the job they started in Leopard when they decided it would be useful for Preview to have markup tools. All this, and it’s faster, too. I’d call that a job well done.

Previous Articles in the Snow Leopard Discovery Series: