iPad user guide (free)

This user guide focuses on different aspects of the iPad, to help you get more from your digital workflows. Please note: it is not a beginner’s guide on how to use the iPad.

Adding custom fonts

Most note-taking apps support using custom fonts, so it’s essential you know how to add them to your iPad. I am assuming you already have your font downloaded and saved to iCloud.

For this tutorial, I am using AnyFont, but Fonteer, iFont and other font apps will also do just fine.

1. Open your Font application (in my case AnyFont).

2. Go to the plus sign at the top of the app and add your font (from your Cloud service). Mine is saved to iCloud Drive.  

Adding custom font in AnyFont that is already saved to iCloud Drive
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3. Tap the font you just added > install > allow > close.

4. Now exit the app and go to your iPad Settings.

5. Go to General > Profiles.

Your added font is at the top of your already installed profiles.

Downloaded font on top of already installed profiles on your iPad
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6. Tap on it > install > put in your passcode.

7. Tap Next, and install that profile. 

You can now use it in your note-taking apps that support custom fonts. Notability, GoodNotes 5, Noteshelf, ZoomNotes, Notes Plus and uPad all support custom fonts.

Markup like a PRO!

Ever wanted to share quick thoughts on a picture or poem with a friend? Nothing complicated, just a few sentences noting a few suggestions? Here’s how you can do that (with Markup) on the iPad.

Screenshots 

Screenshots are the easiest way to share instructions with your not-so-techy loved ones. You might be trying to explain how they can add words to their dictionary in Nebo. All you have to do is take a screenshot and add simple instructions for them. Markup has all the tools you get in Apple Notes and more. You can even add:

  • Handwritten notes
  • Shapes and arrows
  • Description
  • Text
  • Signature

Once you are done, you can send the screenshot and you don’t have to save it on your device. This is one of the best things about sharing feedback with Markup. You can send copies that you can immediately delete if you don’t need them. It will simplify your workflow.

Photos

In Photos, you access Markup when editing a photo. Photos have similar tools to those you get for screenshots. You can Markup an image and share it. You can even do this in Messages, before sending an image. It would be great if we could Markup photos sent to us without needing to save and send them back. We hope to get those capabilities in future updates.

Third-party apps

When exporting PDFs from an app, you have a Markup option. For example, in LiquidText (PDF reader) I have to share these notes with Uncle Dan. I will ask him to check for grammar and spelling errors and then send it to him on Messages. If I don’t want a copy of this, I can Delete PDF. But if I wanted to keep a copy, Save File To saves it to Files.

Books

In Books, Markup is available only for PDFs you have imported into the app. It won’t work for PDFs you download from the Book Store. You get more features in Markup for PDF reading and these are similar to those in Books, Apple Notes, and Files. Which app will work best for you, really depends on your workflow. There are a few advantages to using one over the other.

Apple Notes

Apple Notes uses Markup for PDF reading. The app saves the PDF in your notes (as attachments) and opens them in a separate window to read and annotate them. You don’t actually need to bring a PDF into Apple Notes or Books to annotate it on the iPad because you can do that in the Files app. Especially when you want to share feedback, it’s simpler and faster to do it in Files.

Files app

Files can annotate both PDFs and photos. The setup in the app allows you to quickly navigate through different documents, which is handy. Here are some Markup features you get for PDFs only:

  • Hyperlinks ease your navigation through long documents. You can skip pages, which saves time. The trick is knowing where the hyperlinks are in your PDF. It does not recognise outlines in documents though, something we hope to get in the future.
  • Interact with the text in your PDF to:
    • Highlight with five colour options
    • Underline
    • Strikeout: there are no colour options for underline or strikeout.
    • Add comments
    • Copy, Select All, Look Up, Translate, Share
  • Interact with pages to:
    • Delete the page
    • Scan Pages to add them to your PDF. The scanned pages take long to load and their quality is terrible, sadly.
    • Insert from File to add photos to your PDF and Markup adds them as independent pages. You can’t import PDFs though. It would be better if we could.
    • Insert Blank Page to add a plain paper template between pages of your PDF. We hope in the future we’ll be able to change our paper templates.
    • Rotate Right/Left

We hope Apple can give us the ability to duplicate pages in Markup, or at least copy them for pasting.

Safari

In Safari, you can Markup web pages, which is great for research. For a better look, you want to make your article Show Reader View to remove ads and make the article look more like a PDF than a web page. Then you can Markup the PDF like you would any other PDF. When you’re done, you can save it to your iPad or share it.

If your PDF reading is simple, you might not need to buy a PDF reader. Before exploring third-party apps, we recommend trying native apps to see if they are not enough for your workflow. They might surprise you. Learn more about the apps mentioned in these articles:

Multitask like a PRO!

The iPad is a productivity powerhouse, especially if you start taking advantage of some of its built-in features to quickly get to the apps you need. With the iPad’s ability to multitask, you can run multiple applications to work faster and more efficiently.

Split view

Split View lets you use two apps at once. You can have your research document open on one side, and take notes (in a different app) on the other side. It works better on bigger iPad Pros though, because you can use the two apps without needing to zoom in.

Picture showing how to multitask on the iPad using Split View.

When working in an app, tap the three-dots icon on the middle top of your screen to split view. Select the Split View icon to pick any app you want from the homepage or App Library. You can also search for an app you need. Searching is faster than scrolling through your iPad apps. You can also do this with a quick gesture, drag the currently opened window to the side of the screen (depending on the side you want your new app).

The Doc at the bottom of your iPad screen houses your frequently used apps so you can access them from any app. It is easier to add them to split view from there. Simply drag & drop from the doc.

Split View supports drag & drop across different apps, which is faster than copying & pasting (which would require several steps in both apps). You can quickly copy the following items across different apps:

  • Images
  • Handwritten notes
  • Text
  • Documents (PDF, audio files, videos)
  • Weblinks

You can adjust the sizes of each split. The feature supports two percentage ratios:

  • 25:75 Sometimes, you want one side bigger than the other. It is great to have that flexibility.
  • 50:50

Replacing apps in split view is also very simple. You can either close the split view to find a new app or simply drag down the app you no longer need. Any app on your Doc can replace either window with one simple gesture.

Slide over

Slide Over opens apps in small floating windows, which don’t interfere with background apps. It is convenient for quick referencing information in other apps. It is the third option on the three-dots icon (top of your screen). Opening Slide Over this way has one problem; the currently opened app becomes the slide over the window. It would be better if the iPad opened the new window in Slide Over while keeping the current app in the background.

A better way to open an app in Slide Over is from the Doc because you have a lot more control over which app should be in Slide Over. You also decide the side of the screen you want it on. Your windows can either be on the right or left side. You can quickly navigate through the open windows using the black bar at the bottom of the screen or see all the apps you have opened in Slide Over.

When typing in a Slide Over window, the keyboard tends to cover your screen, which can be distracting. You can resize the keyboard to make it smaller so it fits the Slide Over window, leaving your screen free to continue using the background app. Like with Split View, you can drag & drop items across the two apps.

App switcher

You can quickly view all your open apps to switch between them. There are two more gestures you can use for that:

  • Swiping up takes you to the homepage, but if you swipe and hold for a second you can access the app switcher without going to the homepage first.
  • Pinch your screen with the five-finger gesture

This window displays all the opened instances of all the apps that are opened on your iPad. That is, all Split Views and Slide Overs, which is fantastic. You can also create and change Split Views as well as Slide Overs. It lets you organise your multiple instances faster.

You can quickly switch between apps and windows by swiping the bar at the bottom of your screen. For a smaller iPad without the bar, you can still swipe the bottom of the screen, though the motion is slightly different. On both iPads, you have the option to use the four-finger gesture, which we feel is not very convenient. The single-finger gestures are easier to use and more intuitive.

Shelf

If you open an app that has two or more windows open, a shelf appears at the bottom of your iPad screen with thumbnails of all the app’s open windows. In case the window you want to open is already open, it helps to check the shelf first.

Centre window

The Centre Window is the worst multitasking feature in iPadOS 15. It’s not well-thought-out and just makes your workflow cumbersome. It only works if you’re already using the app and feel like you’re opening an already-open app again. It works with Apple Notes, Mail, Messages, etc. It’s an unnecessary extra step that adds little to no value to your workflow.

Picture in Picture (PiP)

Picture in Picture is a mode for playing videos in a popup window while performing other tasks, provided you are using Apple TV or Documents by Readdle. You can:

  • Move the video to any corner of your iPad.
  • Temporarily hide the video and continue watching at any time.

Sadly, this feature is not supported by any popular video players: YouTube, VLC and not even Photos support this feature.

Master your iPad widgets

iPad widgets give you important information on your home screen, without opening an app. For example, you can quickly see your battery information without going to your iPad settings. Other apps’ widgets act as shortcuts like the Gmail app gives you shortcuts to search or compose emails.

Adding iPad widgets to the home screen

To add widgets, long-press any empty space on your home screen, then tap the Plus icon on the far left corner of your screen. You get Suggestions of the widgets that you can add and a list of apps on your iPad that have widgets. Not every app has widgets, because some developers haven’t created any for their apps. To work faster, you can search for whose widget you want to add to your home screen.

Let’s add a widget for Apple Calendar. Each app has different sizes you can choose from as well as different purposes. Apple Calendar displays your:

  • Upcoming events in four sizes
  • Monthly calendar in one size
  • Lists your upcoming events in one size
iPad Widgets for Calendar app

Let’s add the biggest Up Next widget to our home screen and see what other options you get. You can move the widget anywhere on the home screen.

Editing a widget

Tapping on a widget opens up the app. To change something, long-press it for a popup menu to:

  • Remove Widget
  • Edit Home Screen to change the widget’s position or remove some apps from your home screen or iPad.
  • Edit Widget to change what it’s displaying. These editing options also depend on the app. In our case, you can turn on/off the options to Mirror Calendar App or Hide All-Day Events. When you’re happy with your settings, tap any empty space on your iPad to stop editing your widget.

Today View

If you don’t like seeing widgets on your home screen, you can add them to the Today View. That’s what Apple calls it. They basically replaced the strip we had in iPadOS 14 with this full screen that can house your widgets outside your home screen. The Today View houses the older widgets from iPadOS 13 (under Customise) as well as the newer widgets. You can Edit to add your widgets.

Older widgets

Some developers haven’t upgraded their widgets so their apps’ widgets are only found here. If you’ve been missing widgets from the following apps, this is where you find them:

  • Any.do
  • Contributor
  • Dropbox
  • Google Keep
  • Kindle
  • Noteshelf
  • Shopify

The old widgets remain grouped. Once added, you can’t rearrange or remove the widgets in Today View. You have to go back to Customise for that, which is a bit of a hassle.

New widgets

You can also add the new widgets to this old setup, which limits all your widgets to this small column on the right. Today View doesn’t support the bigger widgets introduced in iPadOS 15. Now we are just wondering when Apple will phase out the old widgets? The new widgets are better, easier to access and more flexible. The Today View in 2022 just doesn’t make any sense.

Widget Stacks

You can group widgets of a similar size to create stacks. Drag & drop one widget over another. You can group a maximum of 10 widgets, which is not bad. You can swipe up or down to navigate your stacked widgets. There is no way of telling apart stacked from single widgets unless you try to swipe up/down.

You can edit a Stack by long-pressing it to get options to:

  • Edit the current widget
  • Edit Stack to turn on/off Smart Rotate and Widget Suggestions. Without control over the rotation, smart rotation is useless. It’s better to turn this off, that way you have more control over the app showing on your stack. We’ve not figured out how Widget Suggestions work, so it makes no difference if you turn it off.
  • Edit Home Screen
  • Remove Stack and delete the group and all its apps.

Smart Stack

In iPadOS 15, Apple just threw the word ‘smart’ all over the place. We got smart lists in Reminders and smart folders in Apple Notes. So far, none of these smart items has actually been smart. Smart Stack is no different.

You can create it by turning on smart rotate on a normal stack, which we’ve already shown. When you create it from the widget’s window, you can only choose the size of the widget. You have no control over the apps you add to it. Those you can only remove or add from the home screen. What is smart about such a widget?

Shortcut widgets

Some developers are creating widgets with shortcuts to help you work faster. The first app we’ll talk about is LiquidText, a PDF reader, it has a widget that lets you scan a document directly from your iPad home screen. Since it uses the native iPadOS scanning technology, you can choose to:

  • Auto or manually scan
  • Colour, Grayscale, Black & White or Photo your scan
  • Adjust the edges of the scan
  • Retake or Keep Scan

Save to add the scan to your documents. You can then Insert Picture to add photos to the scan, or Scan Document to add another scan. Import Document to start working with the same. You can either Add To New File or Add To Existing/Current File.

Another app with useful widgets is Microsoft To Do. It has an Add Task shortcut widget that takes you to the app to quickly get started with creating your to-dos. You can then add all the information for what you need to do. We have covered how to use the app here.

Optical Character Recognition

What is OCR?

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is a technology that helps computers recognise printed text characters and handwritten ones. It allows you to do the following:

  • Recognise the text in photos and scanned documents
  • Search through scanned documents
  • Convert handwriting to text
  • Search through handwritten notes

OCR in photos and scans: Live Text

Live Text is a system wide OCR technology for the iPad that can recognise text from images in your Photos Library. Tapping the text-recognition icon at the bottom on the page highlights the field of text your iPad recognises. Immediately, an option to Copy All appears on the left bottom side of the screen. You can then select the text to do any of the following:

  • Copy
  • Select All
  • Look up to get definitions of the word you’ve selected.
  • Translate the word
  • Search the web for it
  • Let your iPad read out loud or spell it for you
  • Share it as text

The accuracy of your iPad’s recognition depends on how well you take the picture, of course. The photo must be straight, with as little distortion as possible. This matters most when you’re scanning paper documents or photos.

Live Text also works with handwritten notes. You interact in exactly the same actions as you do with text.

OCR in scanning apps

With Live Text, scanning apps can feel obsolete. However, when your photos are distorted, Live Text can’t pickup much from them. Its accuracy also dramatically reduces, and that’s where scanning apps come in. Scanner Pro, by Readdle, can adjust your scan to minimise distortion. It makes it easier for different apps to pick up the text in your document.

Scanning apps (Microsoft Lens, Adobe Scan, etc) also let you crop, and edit your scans to make them look better. It also improves OCR.

How to OCR a PDF

The use of OCR is now standard in most PDF readers. A scanned PDF can be annotated in the same way as any other PDF in apps like LiquidText and MarginNote. By and large, PDF viewers lack the capability to recognise handwriting. But there’s a workaround for that though. Find additional information about this here.

OCR in note-taking apps

Nebo remains (by far) the best app for converting your handwriting to text. If you prefer handwriting your notes and don’t want to type them afterwards, Nebo is the app you want to add to your workflow. Unlike most note-taking apps, Nebo offers ICR (Instant Character Recognition) which converts your handwriting to text in real time.

Most note-taking apps can accurately convert your handwriting to text in just a few steps. OCR also means they can search through your handwritten notes as well as scanned documents. A few apps even offer Math conversion (check out MyScript Calculator).

Scribble

Scribble is an iPadOS ICR technology that lets you handwrite directly into text fields. You never have to type anything on the iPad. The conversion is also in real time, and it works in most apps that have text input. It is awesome, for those of us who love handwriting our thoughts.

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