Paper app on iPad adds handy feature for business users

Erik Eckel finds plenty of good uses for the free version of the Paper app for business users. Those who want more sophisticated effects and colors can opt for add-ons.

There are more than 170,000 iPad applications. Occasionally one comes along that distances itself from the crowd. Fifty Three's Paper app is one such program.

Why has the drawing utility captured such attention (the app generated some 1.5 million downloads in its first two weeks of availability)? The answer is simple: Paper provides frenzied iPad users-struggling to overcome the challenges of an ever-accelerating and increasingly demanding business environment-with a practical and effective tool for performing a deceptively simple task: drafting basic diagrams and sketches.

Tablet computers are cool. They're stylish, fun to use, handy for email, great for games, super for tracking calendars, and often better for Internet surfing. But sometimes they fail when it comes to creating a quick drawing. That's problematic, especially considering all the task minimally requires is a napkin and pencil (less than a dollar total cost versus the several-hundred-dollar tablet PC). So when a simple, almost Web 2.0-ish app comes along that performs a basic but critical task very well, it finds demand. That's why sketching apps like Penultimate and Paper prove popular.


Just as numerous Microsoft Office users likely never use more than 10 or 20 percent of the productivity suite's features, many iPad users never require an application's advanced capabilities. Instead, many iPad users require only the ability to create simple sketches, drawings and diagrams. Programs such as the Omni Group's OmniGraffle may prove too expensive and too complex. In fact, many of the advanced features and functionality only serve to frustrate users attempting to perform basic tasks like drawing a rudimentary network diagram, sketching a quick layout, or mocking up a wireframe.

That's where Paper shines. Business users will find what the free app lacks in sophistication, it makes up for in ease of operation. With no prior experience and without completing training or tutorials, a new user can begin making competent diagrams, boasting multiple colors using the free app's single, intuitive and easy to manipulate fountain pen stylus.

Of course, drawings stored on the iPad don't do much for business users; the app's power is only unlocked when the creations can be easily shared or exported to others. Users can stream Paper drafts to Tumblr, send them via email and even distribute via Facebook and Twitter.

The real key for business users is retaining the ability to easily create drawings -- a portable whiteboard. The app is unencumbered by advanced features that add sophistication and clutter the user interface and tool menus.


Business users requiring additional capabilities aren't left in the cold, however. Fifty Three offers several additional add-ons that can be purchased to provide additional functionality, as the user desires.

Sketch adds soft pencil blends, while Outline offers the addition of a bold marker to the stylus palette. The Write option adds a text feature, while Color provides a watercolor-like supplement to the stylus and coloring toolbox. Each of the additional tools can be purchased from within the application for $1.99 each. Alternatively, all the tools can be purchased as an Essentials package for $7.99.

A word on styli

Steve Jobs and Apple worked very hard to ensure iPad users don't require a stylus. They largely succeeded. Most iPad users don't require a stylus, which honestly, isn't really stylish. But, if you find yourself regularly needing to create drawings, sketches, diagrams or wireframes, you're going to need one. I know that may prove blasphemous among iPad aficionados, but a stylus proves much more precise than a fingertip, enables creating much more accurate and legible drawings, and helps leverage Paper's full capacity.

By Erik Eckel

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...