Thursday, June 10, 2010

iPad blogs day four: writing in Pages

Is it time to turn the page on your laptop?

I've been testing the Pages app - the iPad's word processor - all week. I fully expected all kinds of hassles and wonky conversions to and from Word, and - surprise! - it's been a more pleasant experience than I could've imagined.

I've been saving this review, because I really wanted to test the hell out of Pages. For many people in my field, I believe that the decision to buy an iPad comes down to this app - "Yeah, the iPad is a great toy, but can I use it to write stuff for work?"

I'm happy to report that the answer is, thank you Sammy Davis Jr., "Yes, you can!"

What is Pages?

Pages is the "Word" part of Apple's iWork slate of apps, which includes Numbers (Excel) and Keynote (PowerPoint).

The apps are available separately for about $10 each, which is a real steal - so important is it to the iPad's sales and Apple's profits to convince people that the iPad is a viable replacement for a laptop.

When you first use Pages, the biggest hurdle you face is psychological: they might have very well called it, "I can't believe it's not Word."

I admit that I've been calling Pages "Word" all week when I've shown people how it works, just so they wouldn't get confused - kinda like when my friend's mom used to make burgers, but insist that they were "Big Macs."

In fact, the Pages app works a lot like Word. You get:
  • 16 templates from which to compose your document, including term paper, resume, invitation, flyer, letters (four kinds!), and - PRs take note - proposal.
  • 43 fonts.
  • Text styles.
  • Tables and charts.
  • Graphics, photo styles, and effects tools.
  • A toolbar.
  • Spellcheck and a dictionary.
  • 200 levels of "undo."
  • The ability to import and email Word documents.
Pages does NOT have a thesaurus, allow you to track changes, preview your document, adjust columns, or use a mouse. It's touchscreen all the way, baby!

You can choose between the iPad's onscreen keyboard and keyboard attachment. I tried both, and found the onscreen keyboard to be the easiest and most convenient way to be mobile and get things done.

The attachment doesn't work so well when your iPad is in a case, but if your iPad is always in one place, you might prefer to keep it affixed to the keyboard attachment.

As well, I prefer the landscape view, which isn't available when you use the keyboard attachment.

Using Pages

In Pages, everything starts with the My Documents button at the top of the page. When you select it, you can create a new document or open an existing one.

You navigate your documents by flipping through thumbnails and stopping on the one you want to see.

The formatting buttons and styles are organized somewhat differently than Word's, but they're quite easy to figure out. I'll spare you the details, other than to say that you can format copy, align words, and insert tabs without a problem.

The real innovation comes when you're working with images. Inserting photos in Pages with your fingers is, I dare say, way easier than using a mouse.

You simply insert an image from your iPad's photo library and use your fingers on the touchscreen to drag it where you want it, resize it, rotate it, and watch the text flow around it automatically - to a guy raised on Pagemaker, it's truly a thing of beauty.

Word compatibility

To open your Word documents in pages, you email them to your iPad, hold your finger on the attachment, and select the "Open in Pages" option that pops up.

You can also transfer docs in iTunes, but I didn't bother trying out that option - I'm already an obsessive "Email stuff to myself" guy, so it comes pretty naturally.

Likewise, you can share any Pages document that you create as a Word doc, and send it by email or invite others to open it at

I've spent a significant amount of time sending documents to and from Pages in various versions of Word and it works well - but watch for some minor wonky formatting: there are no Wingdings in Pages and, as I say, no Track Changes.

As well, you need to email the Pages document to another computer if you need to print it; the iPad can't send docs to the printer without the middleman. Yet!

Pleasant surprises

Let's end with the three, biggest positives:
  • Pages is really fast, in terms of the app launching and in terms of opening documents.
  • There is no "File" menu, and you NEVER have to save: the app does it automatically.
  • The built-in user guide is a model of what a user guide should be: simple, short, and useful. In five minutes, you're good to go.

You probably won't love Pages as much as me if you're constantly printing and merging documents.

That said, Pages is easily the best mobile writing app on the market - better than anyone had any right to expect. I created my first assignment handout on the bus today, and it was waiting for me in my email inbox when I arrived at work.

When I use Pages, I imagine that I must feel exactly like Sinead O'Connor, because - like her - I have very little hair and "I do not want what I haven't got."


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. I was fooling around with Pages at the Apple store yesterday and I was very surprised at how functional it was.

    Solid review!

  2. Never have to save, eh? Back to the future.
    Instant, automatic saving was one of the wonderful features of the TRS-80 laptop that I used as a reporter at The Globe and Mail 25 years ago.
    It was made by Radio Shack. We called it the Trash-80.
    You could throw it against a wall and it would keep working. And saving.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Maybe it's still saving as we speak!

    Deleted earlier comment for misspelling "it's." Ugh.

  5. Thanks Kenton, I'll be picking this up after reading your gushing review of love.

  6. The inability to track changes is a major limitation for anyone working collaboratively on a document. I downloaded and never use pages for this reason -- can't do any of my serious work on it. Hopefully will add this soon.

  7. I agree about Track Changes. So you expect them to create an app for that anytime soon?

  8. I don't think there will be a new app to do it, but probably just a Pages update at some point.

    I've also seen Track Changes completely bastardize a document, so in some ways: I kind of like that clients can't see where I've made things "more beautiful." Ha!


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