Paper App

Gabe over at Macdrifter wrote up a review of Paper by FiftyThree and I think this sums up his thoughts quite well:

I haven’t deleted it, but I will revisit it after updates to see if it gets any better.

I found that odd because I personally think that Paper is quite good. I actually love it.


Paper has one of the most cleverly intuitive and simple interfaces I have seen. If we take the app’s goal at face value — being a piece of paper — then I think it is hard to say that they have done anything but succeed. Because when you get right down to it, Paper is nothing but a sheet of blank paper. There is no UI chrome, as John Gruber said about such design:

The tension is between simplicity and obviousness. Eliminating on-screen chrome is simpler, more elegant and beautiful.

This is the reason why I think Gabe is struggling with the app:

However, Paper’s concerted effort to remove all chrome has created an app that makes users dumb. The drawing tools are only revealed after swiping from the bottom of the screen. This is not obvious. If a user misses the instructions at the beginning or forgets the gesture, they are left with an app that can only draw black lines.

I think though, that while confusing, there is a good argument to be made that this is exactly how such an app should work. Look, I am no fan of skeuomorphic design — and Paper is the epitome of such design — but I think it is fair to say that in this case the design is spot on with the function of the app. That isÚ Paper, works exactly like a sheet of paper, because last I checked there were no buttons for pen type, color, new page, or undo on an actual sheet of paper.

So while the controls may be non-obvious without instructions, they are also not hard to remember once you figure it out. Swiping up from the bottom to get pens really is not complicated or unique for an iPad user to remember. Nor is swiping for a new page, or pinching to go back.

In fact the only gesture I find cumbersome is the undo/redo action, but then again this is something that actual paper never comes with — it’s a pro level feature and is treated as such.

So yes, Paper is overly simplistic in the UI design, but that is actually the point of the app — it’s meant to be a sheet of paper residing in a Moleskin notebook. They succeeded at that.

In-App Purchase

I was actually really off-put by the fact that the app was free, but to get any of the useful tools you needed to buy them via an in-app purchase. It does seem shady to me, but at the same time I doubt Paper would have seen any success at $7.99 for the app.

So for all the shadiness that IAP brings, I also think it adds a nice upgrade path for users. You get to try out a hot app for free and add on to it $0.99 $1.99 at a time at your convenience.

It’s a tricky situation and while I don’t think Paper handled it perfectly, I do commend them for having a business model. I personally wish they just made the app $0.99 with IAP for additional tools — this would have set the expectation for the user that the app is not free.


Paper isn’t the best thing ever to happen to the iPad, but it is my favorite sketching app on the iPad. So much so that it actually gave me reason to finally order a Cosmonaut.

Originally posted for members on: April 5, 2012
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