Hands On: Pages on the iPad Not a Notebook Killer

As the euphoria of owning Apples magical” device wears off, people will actually want to get something done on their iPads. That’s where iWork might be of use. We’ve already done a Hands On with Keynote. So, let’s take a look at the Pages app to discuss its strengths and weaknesses. Does it have enough functionality to do serious word processing?

I decided to put Pages through the paces by leaving my notebook computer at home on Friday, my busiest word processing day of the week. I write the equivalent of three 5-7 page papers a week. If I want a work free Saturday, I have to get two of those papers finished on Friday. So, I tried to use Pages to finish them.

Apple’s Pages has promise for light word processing. It actually has some compelling features. However, the form factor of the iPad makes it less useful for creating content as it does for enjoying it after the fact. This is not a weakness of Pages as much as it is the iPad.

Pages has a helpful tutorial document just like the other iWork apps. I recommend that you go through it to familiarize yourself with the features of the application. Also, check out the online help site that is linked to under the Tools button in the upper right corner of the app.


Pages has a similar look to Keynote and Numbers, except that it can be run in both portrait and landscape mode. Keynote only runs in landscape. In the upper left is the My Documents button where you access the files on your iPad. When you select New Document, it shows you all of the templates offered by Pages. They are very basic templates that would appeal to home or educational users. I am sure most will just use the Blank Document to start from scratch, as the video below shows. If you want to open a file imported via iTunes, you have to tap the folder icon in the upper right, as I said in my Keynote review. Why do I have to open another screen to access these files? Why didn’t Apple just include them among the documents already on the device when you tap the My Documents button?


Once you have your document open, its time to set it up. There is a feature that is not highlighted in the quick start tutorial called Document Setup.. You can find out about it in the Help page under the Tools button.

In the Document Setup mode, you can set margins, add a headers, footers, and page numbers. You can also add media content like Photos, Tables, Charts or Shapes. If added to the document, they will show up on every new page in the document. The setup features are very limited. I wish you could change the built in Styles or choose from more than Letter or A4 document sizes. There is also a watermark feature which I demonstrate in the video below:

This is part 1 of the demo. Part 2 is below.

Notice the page is curled in the lower right corner. Tap it to select between the A4 and Letter sizes. I hope a future version will let you create other paper sizes as well as edit text styles.


When finished setting up the document, return to the Edit mode by tapping Done. Document Setup has a blue background and Edit mode has the grey background, which helps differentiate which mode you are using.

Entering text via the onscreen keyboard is acceptable. You cannot touch type unless you have very small hands, but hunt and peck typing is doable for short documents. The ideal situation is adding a Bluetooth keyboard. Warner Crocker wrote a great post about the iPad Keyboard Dock at Gottabemobile.com. He also found a wonderful tip for how to set your iPad at an incline using rubber stoppers.


From left to right in the top row
Info Button, Media Button, Tools Button, Hide Toolbar Button

In Edit mode, you can change the text style and other simple formatting options of both text and paragraphs. This is done via toolbar buttons or the Info button. Changing the spacing, font face or size, and adding columns is done via the buttons on the toolbars (see the buttons above and menus below). This is also the method of adding media via the Picture icon. Choosing which kind you want to add from Media, which is Photos, Tables, Charts and Shapes. The tutorial document shows you how to manipulate the media via pinching and twisting with two fingers to zoom or rotate.

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One big improvement of the iPad interface is the spell checker. When you have a misspelled word, it is underlined. You tap that underlined word and a menu of possible correct words pops up. Choose which one you meant to type or simply edit it manually. There is also an option to look up words that you have highlighted. Just tap the word and choose more from the popup to find the Definition. The popup also offers to replace the word with similar words. I wish their was a Thesaurus built in as well.

If you want to type in full screen mode, that is as easy as tapping the button with the two arrows in the upper right to hide the toolbar. Tap it again in the same region to get the Toolbar back. The ruler bar slides out below the toolbar when you tap the bottom border of the toolbar. The other way to hide it is rotate the iPad into landscape mode. It goes away and cannot be accessed in this mode, which is yet another weakness in Pages.

If you are editing a long document, you may want to quickly scroll to a page towards the beginning or the end. To do that tap and hold on the right hand margin and the scroll bar and Navigator appears. It looks like a magnifying glass with a page number in the right pointing arrow. Move it up and down to see a thumbnail in the circle and stop when you find the page you want.

012When you are finished with the document, then you can email it, send it to iWork.com, or export it to another document format. The supported formats are Word, PDF, Rich Text and of course Apple Pages. Exporting to these formats is only helpful if you don’t mind syncing with iTunes and taking it off the iPad via the add/remove documents feature under your Apps tab in iTunes. I will say it again: Apple needs to add wireless syncing of documents. And of course, the biggest weakness to editing documents on the iPad and Pages is the lack of built in Printing. Sure, there are printing apps for the iPad in the app store, but they don’t help with documents in Pages because there is also no file browser or Finder built into the iPad. You could use the system that Amy Zunk found and posted at Gottabemobile.com (see picture below). But, that’s not going to be convenient for most people.


If it was easier to get documents off of the iPad and onto another computer or even into one of the printing apps, then this would not be that big a weakness.

My biggest complaints about Pages are as follows:

  • No printing support
  • No wireless syncing of documents
  • Cannot change the built in styles or page sizes
  • Typing into Pages on the iPad, even with Bluetooth keyboard, is awkward for those of us with large hands

There are some good features:

  • The look of Pages is polished; it has that Apple style
  • It is simple to use and very easy to learn
  • For such a portable device there are plenty of features for simple document
  • Manipulating media content like pictures and shapes is very easy and text flows around them very well
  • The app is stable and responsive
  • The new context menus offering dictionary and spelling check or word replacement is a great feature

I have to confess that after a few hours, I quit using my iPad to write. I couldn’t take trying to create my documents on the iPad only, so I rushed home and finished on my PC. I did write this week’s sermon on the iPad. But now, I have to sync with iTunes, open the document sharing feature from the Apps tab, export it from iTunes and open it in Word just to print it. Maybe this is Steve Jobs’ attempt to save the forests from human paper consumption.

So to answer the original question: Does it have enough functionality to do serious word processing? No! But, it does have enough functionality to do simple, quick documents. In a pinch, you could do more. If I had to do so for any length of time, I’d be frustrated and longing for my notebook or desktop keyboard and multi-tasking. After the iPad is updated with mult-tasking this fall, we will see if that changes things.

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