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Oh My Tech!: Write the Great American Novel, on your iPad

Published June 27, 2013 9:51 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I have an iPad 2 that I like very much. I am planning a project that would [involve] writing and saving many pages, revising them later and maybe printing them. I don't have a laptop and would like to use my iPad, but as it is configured, it would not be too useful. Do you have any suggestions on [an] upgrade, and how about a keyboard? — Kay A. Bené, West Valley City.

When the iPad first came out in 2010, it was clearly meant as a content consumption device, not for content creation.

In other words, users could view Web pages, watch movies, listen to music and read books — not to write. Three years later, I think that's still the case.

Today, the most writing you ever really want to do on an iPad is for emails, texts, Facebook postings or writing nasty comments on a newspaper story (please, be gentle). Writing on an iPad also can be distracting. You'll never get to that novel if you're constantly being tempted to play "Angry Birds" or watch Netflix.

Having said that, you can do some things to make it more of a writing machine, starting with the right physical keyboard. After all, you don't want to have to type long passages with the iPad's virtual keyboard — you would leave so many fingerprints on the screen, it would look like someone smeared Vaseline all over.

For keyboards, I've been a big fan of the offerings from ZAGG, and not because it's a local company.

ZAGG makes of the invisibleSHIELD, a plastic protective film for smarpthone screens. The company also makes a lineup of portable wireless keyboards for the iPad that I recommend highly.

There are two main models, the ZAGGkeys PROfolio and the PROplus ($99 to $129). The PROfolio is a foldable case with a built-in wireless keyboard that connects through Bluetooth. With the PROplus, the keyboard is separate and also acts as a screen protector that fits over the iPad. With both products, you rest the iPad on the keyboard, and in both models, you now can get a version that has a backlit keyboard.

Mind you, these work best on a desk, and not on your lap, because the weight of the iPad would cause it all to fall over.

ZAGG keyboards are best because they are comfortable, not cramped, and the keys have a nice feel. The devices also have a long battery life, allowing up to a few weeks or so of constant typing on a full charge. The downside is they're not particularly pretty, but they are thin and don't add a lot of weight.

The next step is finding a good writing app, and that's where your personal preferences will come into play.

The big problem here is that Microsoft Office, the standard for all word processors, is not available for iOS devices (except a very stripped-down version for the iPhone that requires an additional annual subscription).

Of course, there is the Apple-branded word processor app for iPad and iPhone called Pages ($9.99) that is powerful and comes with a variety of templates.

Other reviewers have suggested such writing apps as iA Writer (99 cents) or WriteRoom ($4.99). If you're already writing in Word on a desktop computer, you might to consider CloudOn (free), which allows you to access your Word document in the cloud and make changes from your iPad, although it requires an Internet connection.

For research, you might consider getting Evernote (free), the popular app that lets you save pictures, articles, lists and more for offline viewing. It also syncs with all iOS devices so you can save something on one and read it on another.

As for printing, there are two ways to do it from your iPad —by using an AirPrint-capable printer or a third-party app.

AirPrint is a feature in iPad that allows you to wirelessly print from the tablet, but you will need a printer that is compatible. Apple's site has a list of AirPrint-capable printers.

The cheaper route is to buy a third-party app for your iPad such as PrintCentral ($7.99) or Print n Share ($9.99), both of which will print anything on your iPad to any kind of wireless printer, even if it is not AirPrint-compatible.

If you have a tech question for Vince, email him at ohmytech@sltrib.com, and he'll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to http://www.sltrib.com/topics/ohmytech.