Legal Apps for the iPad: Initial Reactions

A few days before the iPad launch I profiled the apps and web services I was most interested in trying out once the iPad was launched. I’ve had a week now to work with these apps. Some passed with flying colors and some need to back to the drawing board for better implementation on the iPad (at least in the way I described in my initial review).

Couple things that surprised me, though in reflection probably shouldn’t have. Text entry on the iPad with an iPhone app uses the iPhone keyboard. You do not get the larger iPad keyboard. For some reason, I thought the iPhone app calls for a keyboard would give you the device’s default keyboard as opposed to a keyboard within the app. The iPhone keyboard does not take advantage of the iPad size and is less suitable for text entry.

The second thing had to do with scaling of iPhone apps. While I knew that certain image elements within apps would be jaggy when magnified, for some reason I thought the font scaling for documents would be agnostic to screen size and smoothly (just like it does when increasing the size of fonts on your desktop computer screen). In fact, the scaled fonts were jaggy, though in most cases were still very usable.

So, my follow up reactions to the items covered initially.

1. LogMeIn Ignition (iPad app | iTunes Link). The LogMeIn folks hit one out of the park here. They had an iPad specific version of this remote access app available on launch day and didn’t charge existing users more money to get the improved app. This app and a wifi or 3G connection allows you to control your home or office computer from wherever you are as though you are sitting in front of it. With the larger screen and more powerful processor of the iPad, it essentially becomes very usable rendition of a full PC or Mac. This app was usable in a pinch on the iPhone, but it is a powerful tool on the iPad.

2. Highrise (web app). No major problems using the web app in mobile Safari – except when I couldn’t get wifi, of course. A couple interface glitches (checkboxes in particular), but nothing that materially stood between me and my data. The 37Signals Highrise for iPhone also doesn’t allow offline access, but I’ll still probably keep it on my iPad for the time being. For those of you unfamiliar with Highrise, this is an amazing CRM tool. I use it for my business development but it has tons of applications. Give it a look.

3. Backpack (web app). This is my to-do list and everything else organizer and it works quite well on the iPad. I did experience some interface glitches when trying to check off items (which was a problem I couldn’t always reproduce). Data entry and navigation worked very well. Even though the web app works well, I will probably keep Satchel, my iPhone app of choice for communicating with Backpack, on my iPad because of its offline functionality. No word yet on whether 37Signals or the folks making Satchel will be pumping out an iPad app for Backpack (or Highrise, for that matter).

4. Google Reader (web app). The desktop version of Google Reader is not functional on the iPad’s mobile Safari. The mobile version of Google Reader works great on the iPad, even though it hasn’t been optimized to take advantage of the extra screen space yet like Gmail has. Stick with the mobile version of Google Reader for now or use any of the great iPhone readers. I use Reeder for its beautiful formatting of my feeds and offline access on the iPhone and recently began using NetNewsWire for the iPad (iTunes link).  NetNewsWire makes RSS fun and easy again especially with how the browser is implemented so seamlessly within the iPad app.

5. Dropbox (web app). I commented about this app the other day. While you can’t upload docs to the Dropbox website from the iPad, you can use it to get documents and spreadsheets into your iPad. Using the Dropbox iPhone app on the iPad gave me trouble. Most documents either refused to render or rendered so poorly as to be unusable. Stick with the web version for now. I see that the Dropbox team is expecting an iPad app in 3-4 weeks. I’ll give comments on that once I get some time with it.

6. Documents To Go Premium (iPhone app | iTunes link) and QuickOffice Connect Mobile Suite (iPhone app | iTunes link). Quick Office retained its core functionality. I did experience quite a few crashes of the app while trying to edit documents (something I didn’t experience on the iPhone). Like the other iPhone apps, text entry doesn’t take advantage of the iPad’s larger keyboard interface – you just get a larger version of the iPhone keyboard which less functional than the small keyboard on the iPhone. While the scaled documents had some jaggies, everything remained readable.

7. Zosh (iPhone app | iTunes link). This app is functional on the iPad, though no real benefit is gained by operating it in full screen mode on the iPad. If anything, scaling up Zosh to full screen on the iPad makes the signature pad tool a bit cumbersome. Again, document scaling was a bit of an issue revealing some jagged text – but on the whole it remained usable.

8. RightSignature (web app). Current version leaves much of the website’s desktop function inaccessible by mobile Safari. A person can access pending items to be signed and sign them using the RightSignature iPhone app (iTunes link). But, the process of adding documents to the library, creating signature and date fields, etc. (which I think is the true strength of this web app) isn’t accessible. Perhaps this makes sense given how the iPad manages files (even if the full RightSignature interface was available, I don’t think you could access documents on the iPad from Safari to upload them to the service). I understand that the RightSignature folks are working on an iPad app, so I’d expect this to be remedied very soon.

9. Stanza (iPhone app | iTunes link). This iPhone app works as expected. While the larger screen gave the iPhone app some troubles rendering the text in really small text sizes (jagged text affecting readability), it was very usable at most text sizes. I’ll continue to use Stanza to read statutory compilations, cases and other legal materials I consult regularly because of its ability to annotate – a feature the iBooks app currently lacks. I do not know whether the Stanza team is planning an iPad app.

10. iWork Suite (iPad apps | Pages iTunes link | Numbers iTunes link | Keynote iTunes link). I posted a quick reaction to the typing feature in Pages on launch day. My opinion is essentially unchanged. I believe Pages on iPad is a highly functional word processing program that permits productive work on the go where a laptop wouldn’t be available, practical or fun to have around. Not that everything is perfect. No, the .doc export struggles with much beyond basic text. Imports of .doc with complicated formatting – footnotes in particular – will frustrate as many of those features are lost. Automatic numbering, especially in documents imported from Word, also rendered improperly on the iPad. So, if complex formatting is a need, the iPad won’t be helpful. But, recognizing that many lawyers have assistants who help with document formatting and delivery, the formatting limitations and .doc export troubles of Pages on iPad may actually be non-issues to many lawyers.

I am going to hold further review of Numbers and Keynote until I can give them a more thorough run down. There are lots of folks writing about these apps already, but I want to put them through some trials of what I think will be lawyer specific use cases.

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