image When I first saw the Shared Paper app from Dazzle Labs, I noticed a unique quality about the architecture of this powerful sketching and note-taking app; its canvas is huge. You can create a drawing, and then zoom out until it’s just one pixel on the drawing canvas. Likewise, you can then create a drawing with great detail and image granularity around the pixel and zoom back in – brilliant.

The canvas approaches infinite dimensions, although I’m sure there’s some practical boundary. This is similar in design to Prezi, a non-linear presentation system that has attracted the worlds best speakers and advocates of bulletless presentations.

Use Cases for a Large Canvas

With a near infinite canvas there are sure to be many use cases where a drawing tool with this agility comes in handy.

  1. Situations where macro and micro views of ideas are key to conveying a deeper understanding.
  2. Drawing challenges where detailed granularity must be expressed in the context of a complete image.
  3. Using a single draying to convey many views and details.

The third use case is key for creating simple presentations. All too often we tend to add complexity to our presentations by adding more displays, more graphics, more, more, more. But more is not always the best way to create a compelling idea. Sometimes less is more, and Shared Paper provides the tools for creating contextual understanding. When you see a professionally produced video animation that drills into the details of a diagram, you can quickly grasp the ideas more effectively. Presentations based on Shared Paper drawings provide this core ability, albeit sans video output (more on this later).


User Interface

The best way to describe Shared Paper’s interface is “sparse”. It’s always there but never in the way. Menus and options appear in a simple and straightforward way but do not linger, making this app easy to embrace. You can see that the designers care passionately about one dimension of the user interface – it’s all about the drawing. I liken this approach to a new crop of simplified text editors – the screen is virtually 100% devoted to the task of writing. Shared Paper has similar traits that seem to help you focus on your drawing tasks without distractions.

image Auto-Shapes

So check this out – you can create shapes free-hand with the grid on or off. With the grid off, your shapes are drawn without any corrective influence from the app. When the grid is on, the shapes are refined automatically allow you to draw a perfect circle, a square, or a rectangle. Very clever.


Pinch and touch gestures provide an ideal framework that conspire with the canvas to provide rapid development of sketches. I had to get accustomed to panning with two fingers (or thumb and forefinger), but this is an easy adaptation and a common gesture in the drawing app genre. The ability to pan and pinch is also very useful for positioning while adjusting the zoom level.


Holly tagalicios Batman! This is a great feature – the ability to tag views of your drawings. By simply tagging important views of a drawing, the infinite scale of the canvas suddenly becomes a manageable and a highly productive environment to work within.


I think this is where Shared Paper is underrated and certainly underestimated. The ability to leverage drawings to create compelling presentations is one of the key features that any idea-based iPad app should possess, and Shared delivers on this promise. As I’ve written many times at iPadCTO, iPad is ideally suited to make a point; Shared Paper brings a simple yet powerful model to creating documents and then effortlessly assembling views for an audience of one or thousands. Fade transitions are automatic, and the display output of the slides are crisp and smooth.

One thing that’s missing in this otherwise stellar app is the ability to export to video, animated GIFs, or even a shareable Shared Paper format (perhaps XML would be a good implementation choice). I think business users would benefit by being able to exchange Shared Paper drawings (i.e., make a copy and load it onto another iPad with Shared Paper). I would love to take a series of slides, narrate them on iPad, and produce a complete video presentation. Just dreamin’.

Two Very Big Thumbs Up!

When I decided to look more closely at this app, I was skeptical – yet another drawing app [yawn]. But the more I used this tool, the more I became convinced that this one is a keeper. Drawing apps, for the most part, are basic tools; they give little thought to the possible use cases that drawn information can be employed in. Shared paper was designed with thoughtful attention to how people can use sketched information to make a point.

UPDATE: I totally missed this in the discovery process … it is possible to export in Shared Paper format using the mail symbol on the home page. The mail recipient then can right click on the mail attachment and open it right away on their iPad in Shared Paper (which is presumably installed). All the bookmarks (tags) and slide settings are also shared, so it is presentation ready when exported through this means. Also when you collaborate wirelessly with your team, those same settings are also shared and all the collaboration users can save their own copy. Sorry for missing this – it was too obvious. ;-)

But this leads to another idea that I’m pretty sure I haven’t missed – the ability to share a presentation to a read-only app. Certainly you can export slides and images and open them in a variety of iPad apps, but what about a functioning version of the app that provides zooming, slide shows, tags, etc? One of the things that often slows adoption of  apps with their own native formats, is the need to buy the app for everyone in your company even though many of them need only see what was produced. In my view, any app that is capable of producing a format native to itself, can benefit by also producing free (or very inexpensive) version of the app that has no ability to create new drawings. This will allow the app to proliferate across the organization at a low cost or friction-free approach.

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