Creativity is an iPad app away

Nick Bilton / New York Times News Service /


Published Jun 5, 2011 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

The iPad is great for activities like watching movies, surfing the Web, playing video games or reading digital magazines and newspapers. The rap against the iPad is that it is not as useful as a computer for creating.

But with the right tools — and the ability to control the urge to play one last game of Angry Birds — the iPad can also be a hefty workhorse. Inexpensive apps and third-party peripherals make the iPad an excellent device for photographers, artists, writers and bloggers to create original content. (It can still help those forced to do more mundane tasks.)

Photography

Although the iPad 2 comes with a front- and rear-facing camera, the quality of the images is so low. That does not mean the iPad cannot be used to view, edit and share photos.

To do so, you will need the Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit, available from Apple for $30. Plug the connector into the USB and either connect your camera's SD card or any digital camera through the USB hookup.

The iPad detects that a camera is connected and allows you to download photos that can be viewed and edited. The process is zippy and straightforward. (You can even plug an iPhone or other mobile phone into the iPad and it will recognize it as an external camera allowing you to download your mobile photos and videos.)

Although iPad-specific photo editing apps are still trickling into the iTunes App Store, a few considerable options are available for download.

Adobe Photoshop Express, which is free, will let you change the contrast, saturation and brightness of an image. You can also apply a number of dramatic filters that will make your photos turn black and white or give them a sepia tone.

A few tacky effects, like rainbows, are available in the app, too.

Other applications, including Color Effect and ColorBlast, both free downloads from iTunes, let you change the color of images, and even focus on a specific part of a photo.

Painting and drawing

Artists with iPads can pick through a long list of drawing apps. Some promote the use of a finger, which is reminiscent of the finger painting you did as a child, minus the messy paint-drenched hands, of course.

Brushes, $5, lets you fingerpaint digitally. It's somewhat difficult to get used to this medium, but with a little patience and a lot of talent, you can create beautiful drawings.

Autodesk sells a suite of intense drawing and design applications. Sketchbook Pro, $5, can be used for more advanced painting and drawing, where users can change brush sizes, colors and create masterly works of art worthy of Leonardo's sketchbook.

Adobe recently released new iPad applications, including Adobe Eazel, $5, and Adobe Color Lava, $3, that can be used as an extension of a desktop computer running Adobe Photoshop to paint images or mix colors on the iPad and then pass them back to a computer.

Apple does not make it easy to find arty apps like Wurm ($2) that can turn a tablet into a canvas. It groups painting and drawing apps in the Entertainment category of its App Store with movie streaming apps, talking cat games and People magazine.

Writing and blogging

When it comes to the onscreen keyboard on the iPad — which takes some getting used to — people either love or despise it. For those in the latter camp, several companies offer external keyboards with real keys that can connect to the iPad through Bluetooth.

Although not designed specifically for the iPad, Apple offers a wireless keyboard for $70. Logitech also sells a beautiful keyboard and protective case in-one for $100. When typing, the iPad slips behind the keyboard and most passersby will believe you are working on a true laptop. When traveling, the iPad can slip into the case.

Writing apps range from basic notes to high-end word processing. Apps like Evernote, which is free, Trunk Notes, $4, and SmartNote, $3, allow you to write long or short notes that can either be saved on the iPad or shared with another computer.

Apple's Pages, $10, is a word processor as good as any program. Apple made a version of Pages, along with Apple's spreadsheet application Numbers ($10) and presentation software called Keynote ($10), available Tuesday for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

If you have a blog, services including Word Press, Blogger and Live Journal have free downloadable applications that will let you update your blog without logging into a Web page and scrolling around in confusion. Just start the app, type out your blog post, hit publish and you are done.

Handwritten notes

The iPad was never really meant to be touched with a stylus or pen. Steve Jobs, Apple's chief executive, reaffirmed this view when he recently said of his product designers, “If you see a stylus, they blew it.”

In reality, a pen is sometimes mightier than a touchscreen keyboard.

Dozens of iPad pens are available. Pogo offers several pens priced from $8 to $30. A novel pen called the oStylus, $38, looks eerily like a scalpel used in an operating room, but is designed to offer an accurate penlike experience for the iPad.

But there is a catch to writing on the iPad. Although the multitouch screen is a blessing with some apps, when you try using a pen on the iPad, frustrations can quickly arise. For example, when the palm of your hand touches the screen while trying to write with a stylus, you will see a trail of scraggly lines all over the page left from your wrist brushing against the display.

To tackle this, some note-taking apps try to distinguish between the tip of a pen and the palm of your hand.

Notes Plus, $5, has a little tab at the bottom of the page called a Palm Pad. This can drag up the page to a desired point; if your palm touches the screen below this line, it is completely ignored.

Penultimate, $2, tries to be even smarter, offering a feature called Wrist Protection that automatically detects when the pen is touching the screen versus your hand or wrist.

The boring stuff: work

When you bought your iPad, I'm going to guess the last things on your mind were financial spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. But it is good to know that the iPad can be used for all of the above in a pinch, or even on a daily basis.

For those who practice the dark arts of PowerPoint or Excel, Apple's iWork suite, which includes Keynote and Numbers, allows you to create elegant presentations or in-depth lists of numbers that add up to create even more numbers.

No matter which apps you end up picking to do your photography, sketching or work spreadsheets, make sure you leave enough time to procrastinate with your iPad, too.

The Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit.

The Brushes app on the iPad.

Photos by Chang W. Lee New York Times News Service

Photos by Chang W. Lee / New York Times News Service

Apple's Pages app, left, and the Penultimate app, right, are excellent tools for photographers, artists, writers and bloggers to create original work.