Paper: Beautiful, Basic Drawing for the iPad

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Harry McCracken /

For a product that never got out of Microsoft’s labs, Courier, the two-screen concept tablet, has certainly been in the news this week.

On Tuesday, an iPad app called Taposé — which tries to realize the Courier dream which Microsoft declined to pursue — hit Apple’s iOS App Store. And then on Wednesday, another iPad app, Paper, debuted. It was created by some of the designers behind Courier, and shares at least some of Courier’s spirit.

Courier was going to be a note-taking device which also let you sketch pictures. Paper is a drawing and painting program that also lets you jot notes. It enters a market that already includes numerous solid natural-media apps, including SketchBook Pro, Brushes, ArtRage and others. It has fewer features than any of them, but is still pretty spectacular — because its interface is so fresh and clever.

Like a real piece of paper, Paper lets you start with a blank page. (The art tools slide completely out of the way when you’re not using them.) Its art tools — especially the pen — are among the nicest I’ve used, with a fluid feel that helps compensate for the fact that the iPad doesn’t support pressure sensitivity. There’s a feature called Rewind that’s an imaginative, gesture-based approach to Undo. The app is ready for the new iPad‘s Retina display, so your creations look their best.

The overall interface, with Moleskine-like notebooks you can fill with art and notes, is one of the slickest things I’ve ever seen on the iPad. It’s gorgeous, minimalist and fun. You quickly forget you’re using an app on a tablet and just draw.

The only problem with Paper is that its minimalism extends to its feature set. You get five drawing implements and none of them are customizable. You can draw and paint in nine different colors. Period. You can e-mail your creations and send them to Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr, but there’s no way to simply save them to your iPad’s Camera Roll. You can’t even zoom in on the paper.

Then again, maybe Paper’s lack of features is less of a flaw and more of a conscious decision. If its creators shoveled in as much stuff as possible, the app wouldn’t have the simple, approachable personality that makes it interesting.

Still, I assume that Paper will get more powerful over time. I look forward to keeping tabs on it, and hope that it gets a tad richer without losing its personality.

Paper is free, but four out of its five drawing tools are In-App Purchases at $1.99 a pop, making the free edition more of a fancy demo. It’s certainly worth eight bucks, but I suspect some potential customers would be happier with a flat-fee, everything’s-included version.