Like many people out there, we were blown away when we first saw the concept video for Microsoft’s dual-screen Courier device. The idea was to allow users to interact with their information in new and exciting ways, enabling them to add web clips, maps, and contact information to rich, handwritten journals with a simple drag and drop interface. When the Courier project was canceled at Microsoft, followed by the exit of Xbox mastermind and project lead J Allard, we thought we'd heard the last of it. Luckily, two enterprising engineers decided to make the promise of rich documents and deep multitasking a reality on the iPad, turning to Kickstarter for startup capital and grabbing a little advice and investment cash from J Allard himself.
The metaphor for Taposé is simple. When holding the iPad in landscape mode you’re given two side-by-side windows housing one of five internal apps: Journals, Web, Maps, Contacts, or Calculator. Dividing the two windows is a Slide Bar, which can be moved laterally to give one of the windows the fullscreen treatment, or up and down to expose or hide the Control Hub — a tray housing the apps mentioned above. When you want to assign a new app to one of your two windows, you simply drag its icon up from the Control Hub. Moving the Slide Bar up is a little difficult to pull off cleanly, and we would have preferred it if the developers used a different gesture like a double tap.
The fundamentals are there, but it's lacking polish
Taposé content is created in the app's Journals, which are designed to look like paper notebooks, and can hold handwriting and sketches, typed text, images, videos, voice recordings, web clips, maps, and contacts. Handwriting offers a useful zoom box that blows up a portion of the page (similar to apps like Note Taker HD), allowing you to write much smaller than otherwise, and includes a good variety of pen sizes and colors (no brush tip selection, however). Rather than relying on text boxes, text entry in Taposé always begins at the top of a Journal page, requiring the user to use taps of the "return" key for accurate placement, and making it more difficult to mix text with other content in your journals. This reflects a design decision found throughout the app — the focus is more on being able to quickly pull a wide array of content into the journals than it is on making really good-looking documents.
Aside from text and handwriting, Taposé also lets you add audio recordings, photos, and videos, either from what’s already available on your iPad or from within the app itself. Using the built-in tools you can also grab a selection from a web page, map, or another journal; add a contact’s vCard; or add a location link in Maps. The overall effect is the ability to quickly throw a wide variety of data into your journals without having to leave the app, offering what the developers call "worldclass multitasking." Once you've completed a journal, you have a variety of sharing options, including email, Dropbox, and Evernote, but you can also choose to open the journal up for collaboration with other Taposé users. It's worth noting that while the app comes with a limited amount of free storage on Taposé's servers, $29.99 a year gets you unlimited sharing and collaboration.
Handwriting is the core of the app, and it needs some work
So does Taposé fulfill the promise of bringing Courier functionality to the iPad? The answer isn’t so simple. At first glance, most of the core functions from the original Courier videos are more or less in place (save for handwriting recognition), but there are a lot of bugs to be worked out and the user interface can be frustrating at times. This is particularly true when working with the pencil tool; what could be considered the core function of the app. The lack of undo and erase within the zoom box is an obvious oversight that requires the user to pinch-fix-pinch just to correct mistakes, which occur often. We also got stuck a couple of times trying to remove stickies (getting thrown into a never-ending sticky vortex), encountered some bugginess with bulleted lists, and experienced a lot of good old first-version crashiness. To be fair, the app's developers have announced that a 2.0 version of Taposé is in the works, which hopefully addresses a lot of these problems, on top of adding new functionality.
In the end, while any expected productivity gains from in-app multitasking are almost certainly offset by bugs and UI issues, if you’re interested in putting together rich documents incorporating a wide variety of data types on your iPad, this app could be the ticket. Taposé is available now for $2.99 from the App Store.