Thoughts on how to improve the utility of some iPad apps I use

More and more, I am transferring my base of computing operations to the iPad. There are really only two things that I do a substantial amount of on my laptop as opposed to the iPad: writing fiction and writing blog posts. Nearly everything else I do in my iPad and I am beginning to uncover an added convenience: the interaction between the iOS, the Cloud, and various apps is more powerful than any one app by itself. For instance, I can sit in my office and read my RSS feed in Reeder. If the Little Man suddenly needs my attention, I can send the particular article I’m reading to Instapaper and read it later, while still being able to purge my feed. The tight integration between these apps make the overall process of keeping up with my RSS feed easier.

That said, I’ve found some places in the apps I use regularly where some improvements and better integration between apps would make for an even better overall experience. I list seven examples of potential improvements below.

1. Zinio/Evernote integration

Zinio is an app that allows you to subscribe to and read many popular magazines on the iPad. The magazines are presented in the same layout you’d find them in the print version of the magazine. I use Zinio to read my weekly issues of New Scientist. There are some nice features built into the tool, and a recent major update to the app added some more nice features (like bookmarking articles) but there is one feature that I would love to see that doesn’t yet exist:

It would be nice to be able to send an article to Evernote.

Right now, when I’m reading an article in text mode, I can click on an icon that will allow me to email the text of the article. It would be nice to have a “Send To” function that would allow me to send the article to Evernote, and prompt me for the notebook and tags at the same time. Of course, I can emulate this functionality by sending the article to my Evernote email address which adds the it as a note, but a direct Send To function would be cleaning and easier to use.

2. Marking Evernote “notes” for local storage

I use Evernote extensively for all kinds of things. I use it to jot down ideas for blog topics and for topics for my Wayward Time Traveler column. I use it to keep notes for the issues of Astounding that I read for my Vacation in the Golden Age. And of course, I use it as a place to store scans of paper that would otherwise clutter my desk and file cabinets.

It would be nice to be able to select a note in the Evernote app and mark it as “local storage” meaning the note, and any contents and attachments for that note, would be cached locally on the iPad. This would be convenient for when I am not going to be connected to a wifi network but want access to certain notes. You would think this functionality would be available, but I haven’t been able to find it.

3. Sending photos to other applications

I use an app called Web Albums that allows me to upload and manage photos in Facebook and Picasa. It is a wonderful application and makes it pretty easy to get photos uploaded where I want them, but it is still usually a two step process. It would be nice if Web Albums could integrate with iOS in such a way that, whenever I selected a photo, regardless of where the photo was, I’d get an option to “Send photo to Web Albums” in addition being able to email or print the photo. In some sense, this would be like sending photos directly into the cloud. I believe some of this functionality is coming with iOS 5 but it might not be exactly what I am looking for here.

4. Native iOS offline caching

I am not offline with the iPad often, but when I am, it can be inconvenient working with apps that are so cloud-sensitive. One solution would be to add an “offline” layer to the iOS architecture. Apps could be built to be aware of this layer and behave accordingly. It would work like this:

  • Applications that pull down data from the cloud, would have an option to cache their data locally
  • iOS would have a native option to “go offline”
  • When iOS “goes offline”, any apps set to cache data locally when offline, would pull the data down; and the iPad would be “offline”.
  • You would then “go online” when you wanted to connect again (or this could happen automatically when a wireless network was detected)
So for instance, if you were flying across the country and sitting in the airport using the airport wifi, before boarding the plane you could “go offline”. If you have a news reader, it would then pull down the latest articles locally for you to read on the plane. Ditto for other applications that make use of data in this way.

5. Organizing books in the Kindle App

On a Kindle device itself, you have the ability to create categories in which to organize your books. A book can go in more than one category, which is convenient. This functionality doesn’t exist in the Kindle App for iPad, but I would love to see it. I have about 100 books on my Kindle and I have two options for sorting and organizing them: by date and by author. It would be nice to be able to organize the books into various “shelves” and then be able to look at just those shelves.

It would also be nice to be able to search across all books on your device. Right now you can search within a single book–the active book. But there are times when I am searching for something and I can’t recall exactly which book I saw it in. It would be nice, therefore, to be able to search all books (or a category of books, if they ever implement categories on the Kindle App for iPad).

6. Rich text editing

There must be some technical challenge in allowing rich-text editing on the iPad because most applications that I’d expect would allow it, don’t:

  • The WordPress app doesn’t allow rich-text editing for blog posts
  • WordPress via Safari on the iPad doesn’t allow the rich-text editing option either
  • Google Docs doesn’t allow rich-text editing from the iPad
  • Evernote (app and website) don’t allow rich-text editing from the iPad
Does anyone know what the technical challenge is here? Primarily, I use rich-text editing for my blog posts and for notes in Evernote. That’s all I’m really asking for, but it’s lack of availability in most applications is suspicious. I notice it is available in Pages. So what gives?

7. Reeder vs. Flipboard

This one isn’t a wish as much as an observation after a couple of months of use. I started out reading my RSS news with Reeder. A friend then told me about Flipboard. Flipboard has an elegant look to it, rather more aesthetically pleasing than Reeder. But I have to say that I just can’t get used to reading my RSS feed as if it is a magazine. I’ve tried and tried, but it is difficult to figure out when the article in question appeared in my feed, and I can’t look at just certain categories.

So I’ve switched back to Reeder as my primary news reading tool. It does just about everything I want. It allows me to read by category. Articles are sorted and listed the way I like them to be. I can sent articles to Instapaper and I can make use of the integrated Readability functionality. That works for me much better than the nicer-looking Flipboard.

There you have it. Anyone else have ideas or suggestions for improvement to iPad apps you use?

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on how to improve the utility of some iPad apps I use

  1. #2 — There is a setting for offline notebooks in the settings of the iPad app. You can’t set it for individual notes though, and it might only be available to premium accounts.

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