Working Visually with Think Tools in the Paper App by FiftyThree

FiftyThree, makers of the Paper app and the nifty Pencil, have released Think Tools, a new set of tools inside Paper that change what you can do with the app. If you have Paper, just update to get ThinkTools.

The new toolset lets you do rapid mockups, mindmaps, flow charts, and other visual prototypes quickly and (more or less) easily. While I am crazy about the new toolset, I have to admit that Paper and Pencil still frustrate me and there was some definite head-banging-on-chair-back while I was creating this test image. (Disclaimer: for reasons I won’t go into here, I am holding off updating my iPad to iOS 8, so although I am using the latest version of Paper some things might be different for me — and not in a good way.)

After playing with the tutorial and trying some random shapes for a bit, I decided to test it out by recreating a flow chart I made for my bedroom door when my young son had a sleepover with a few friends one winter holiday:

Thinking of waking me up? Check this handy flow chart first.

Thinking of waking me up? Check this handy flow chart first.

 

What I Love:
The quick and easy way you can draw shapes, move them around, and connect them with arrows. The promo video (which mentions visual facilitation, by the way, woo hoo!) shows some very cool examples of prototypes and early designs, and I see this as the key strength of the toolset. You can create and rearrange a diagram while you are in conversation with someone. Very handy, and I can definitely see using it a lot.

What I Like:
The variety of controls in the Think toolset: in addition to the smart pen that makes your shapes look nice and adds arrows automagically, there’s a scissors tool that lets you move things around, delete them, and copy/paste them (yay!). There’s a fill tool that lets you easily fill and clear fill from shapes as well as filling in the whole background. There’s also an eraser that I think is smart although it might just be that I was lucky when I used it, but it seemed to know about the edges of smart shapes at least a little bit.

What I Don’t Like But Can Live With:
The color mixer. It’s a cool idea and if I were painting I’d love it, but for what I do it just gets in my way and occasionally ends up with the wrong color selected so that I have to … Undo, which is another frustrating tool. The two-finger rewind is nice if you need to undo a LOT of stuff at once, but if you want to quickly get rid of the stroke you accidentally made because the app suddenly decided the Pencil was in fact your finger and you wanted to smear everything instead of writing, it’s a pain in the neck. Placing and moving two fingers correctly takes up way too much time and brain space for undo.

What Makes Me Bang My Head Against the Back of My Chair:
Writing. Oh, this is so painful. The zoom (loupe) has gotten a bit better, and now enlarges smartly when you get near the edges, but I consistently have problems with writing. If you write with the Pencil stylus, the app is supposed to understand that when you use Pencil you want to write and when you use your finger, you want to smudge. This would be super cool, again, if I were painting or drawing. But trying to create a flow chart or do notetaking, I find that sometimes the app stubbornly insists the Pencil is my finger and just smears in the middle of a letter (like when I’m writing the cross bar on the ‘T’ for instance). This slows me down so much that I lose the thread of what I’m trying to take notes on, which is a showstopper for me. So I switched Pencil off and just used my finger.

That got rid of the smearing problem, but the zoom is still problematic. There’s no way to re-center the canvas (that I’ve found), so if you want to write near the edges, it’s very difficult. On the top and bottom edge, I kept accidentally calling up the iPad’s pull tabs, which is irritating. I would love to be able to drag the canvas so that whatever I’m trying to write is in the most comfortable position — just down and to the right of center — so that my arm doesn’t get tired from holding my hand up off the screen. (I know, I know, Pencil is supposed to let me rest my hand on the screen. Not so much.)

So, a mixed review. I really love the new functionality of Think Tools. I still adore the little books that make up the interface, and the social-sharing capability is really cool. But I keep getting stuck on the difficulty of actually writing. If you have Paper, try it out yourself and let me know how you find it!

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