Thursday, March 17, 2011

One great app for iPad

I have already written about the fact that, although Apple's App Store has thousands of apps for the iPod, iPad and iPhone, the vast majority of them are junk. Because of this fact, I have been very choosy about the apps that I download. But I finally found a really good one - two, actually.

Autodesk made their name and their fortune on AutoCAD, arguably the most well-known CAD software on the planet. They added to their product portfolio over the years, through clever R&D and through judicious acquisitions. I never thought of them as players in the app market.

This week I was looking for a quick and easy sketching app. I found one called Jot!, which works very well. (I think the exclamation point on the name is stupid, but everybody else likes it...) I'm increasingly pleased with it - the more I use it, the more I like it. It's simple and it's well executed. It's uncluttered. It's fast. It has some limitations, but for the purposes of brainstorming and doing quick sketches, it's fine.

Jot! is delightfully intuitive. It's meant to replace a pencil and yellow pad of paper in a meeting, or even the Expo markers and whiteboard at the front of the conference room. It doesn't try to do more than that, and that focus on simplicity is the key to its success. And then the fact that you can share Jot! sketches with other Jot! users around the globe, or that you can email them as PDF files to anybody in the world, serves to make it universally useful.

A Jot! screenshot. Yes, it really is that simple.

Jot! comes in three flavors:
  • Jot! for iPhone, $2.99
  • Jot! for iPad, $4.99
  • Jot!Free for iPad
Then I thought I might like something with more features and more horsepower than Jot!. After snooping around for a long time (way too long) in the App Store, I found SketchBook, from Autodesk. It also comes in several flavors:
  • SketchBook Mobile, $0.99 for iPhone/iPod Touch
  • SketchBook MobileX, free for iPhone/iPod Touch ("X" for "Express")
  • SketchBook Pro, $7.99 for iPad
  • SketchBook Express, free for iPad
I had no idea that big companies like AutoDesk were writing stuff for iOS. If you're familiar with the full-size SketchBook Pro on the Mac OS X, then it should come as no surprise to you when I say that this is the best app I've seen yet for the iOS platforms. This is a well-crafted application, and once you get to know it, it does almost everything that the full-size version does.

The "Express" versions of SketchBook go far beyond Jot!'s simple capabilities. I like both Jot! and SketchBook. They were written for different purposes: Jot! for simple sketching tasks, and SketchBook for serious artistic creation. There is considerable overlap between the two.

The current "Express" versions of SketchBook also have a couple of serious bugs. For one thing, if you try to import a photo into SBX, or SBMobileX, the app crashes. Eh. So don't do that. If you pay real money for the Pro version (come on, only 8 bucks for the iPad, one buck for the iPod), you avoid those limitations entirely.

The SketchBook user interface takes some getting used to - about ten minutes the first time you use it, and about two minutes every time after that. That's not much. Serious artists may be frustrated by the limitations of the software, which are naturally dictated by the limitations of the hardware. Eh again. Go find a real Mac with a full-size screen.

iPhone Screenshot 1
A SketchBook screenshot. The real thing looks a lot better than this.

Jot! is from a two-person company called Tabula Rasa Labs. I know it's not even fair putting them in an article alongside Autodesk. That's like putting a jet ski in a photo next to a cabin cruiser - or an aircraft carrier. Honestly, I sat down to write an entry extolling the virtues of SketchBook Pro, and Jot! just kept working its way into the article. So even though the title of this entry is "One great app," I'm not averse to endorsing two great apps which, on the surface, do pretty much the same thing but which, after a closer look, are vastly different in scale and horsepower. I say get 'em both.

p.s. Remember, I'm not a shill. My opinions are not for sale. I only write what I feel like writing. See my "blogging for dollars" entry if you're not sure you believe me.

p.p.s. Friday, March 18: After using Jot! at home last night, I revised this article this morning. The more I use Jot!, the more I like it. I still can't believe I sat down to write an article about SketchBook Pro and ended up with this article.

1 comment:

Zyzmog said...

Yesterday, I was using Jot! in a meeting. I was drawing pretty fast, and I noticed that Jot!'s curves were pretty choppy, as if it couldn't keep up with the speed of my finger. Before my brain had time to acknowledge my disappointment with this lousy performance, Jot! did the cubic-spline magic trick on my curve and smoothed out all the choppiness. Give it a try: draw a circle or a curve, really fast, and watch it do its magic.