Published September 22, 2011

Creating digital media on an iPad (2)

When the iPad was initially release, it was touted as the ultimate digital media consumption device. Whatever you can see and hear over the Internet or on your hard drive was just going to be more enjoyable on the iPad for all sorts of reasons: form factor, ease of use, portability, etc.

It took a little while, but a few multitouch-optimized production apps started to trickle out to prove that the iPad's unique interface makes an exceptional if not ideal digital media creation device as well, if only for certain types of media.

Djay for iPad was one of the first apps Gruber cited proving this true. Then of course came the iPad 2 and Apple's own Garageband made its multitouch debut.

Trying to be productive

Along the way, the good folks at The Omni Group ported their much-loved diagraming app, Omnigraffle to the iPad. Being a fan of the desktop version, I sucked it up and purchased the $50 iPad app. It was probably the first productivity app for the iPad that I decided to take seriously.

Amazingly, most of the familiar Omnigraffle tools and options were there. It was impressively simple to create new objects, line them up, resize, and change their properties. Without getting too deep into it (I'm not trying to write a review here), it felt truly useful, but not robust enough to replace desktop Omnigraffle for my everyday wireframing needs.

Actually being productive

Fast-forward a year and a few months, and Omnigraffle for iPad is now at version 1.6 and has some impressive improvements. Most notably, you can import stencils from Graffletopia simply by searching and clicking. With almost zero effort, I had some of my favorite wireframing stencils ready to go.

Today I was tasked with giving the home page for HipHost a rethink for the sake of highlighting featured or seasonal tours, I decided to give Omnigraffle for iPad the old college try.

Actually using the damn thing

The goal at hand was a simple home page wireframe redesign. I usually find redesigns easier than carte blanche designing, but I wasn't ready to jump into desktop Omnigraffle, Fireworks, or even code. I reached for the iPad and fired up Omnigraffle thinking I'd play around with a few grey boxes and figure out the big picture, then shift to the desktop.

But an hour and a half later, I had something that looked an awful lot like a complete wireframe. And I was very, very happy with the results. And very, very surprised by the time.

Single-tasking is the way to go

Multi-tasking destroys productivity. True productivity. The sort of get-shit-done productivity where you feel good, not exhausted, when its over. The single-tasking nature of the iPad means you can't help but pour all your attention into what you set out to do.

A UI so clean, you can eat off it

When wireframing, I'm mostly doing the following:

  • selecting elements
  • positioning elements
  • typing text
  • configuring elements

Here's how you do these things in Omnigraffle for the iPad:

  • selecting elements: tap
  • positioning elements: tap & hold, drag
  • typing text: tap, double tap
  • configuring elements: tap, tap the Inspector icon, tap a property, make changes

These are trivial examples and certain actions are more complex by nature, but they demonstrate that nothing I wanted to do ever took more time than I felt it should. I was never fumbling through menus or panels trying to figure out where some switch was that let me do what I needed to do. All the important controls just felt there.

While apps on the iPad lack power-user features like keyboard shortcuts, the right multitouch user interface at least feels efficient.