FiftyThree, Inc. has released a fascinating new version of Paper™. Upon looking at it even for a few moments, my reaction was, “How brave!” The reason is that they have rather completely replaced many aspects of their product’s look and feel. In my opinion, overall they’ve dona a good thing, although I have some immediate concerns that I believe will be resolved in upcoming versions, I hope quite soon.

TL;DR, for someone who does not have Paper, I’d advise them to get it. It’s quite interesting, elegant, and valuable. Let’s look at some details, where I’ll discuss also the impact on me, an existing user.

Overall Model


The old model was journals full of drawings. All drawings were landscape, and the journal used two pages, facing, for each picture. It was a delightful model. You could move pages between journals, and you could rearrange the journals by dragging them around in the one-dimensional visual list.

Each journal had a name, floating separately from the “icon”, and under the name, Paper told you how many pages were in the journal. Each journal could have a cover pictures, imported from your camera roll. (And you could save from Paper to your camera roll, so it was easy to set the cover picture to a key picture from the journal, or to anything you found useful.)

I have well over one hundred journals, with well over 1,000 drawings. My journals are arranged in related clusters, such as the five different ones involved in creating my Nature book.


The new model is “Spaces”, full of “Ideas”. An Idea can be a drawing, a simple text, or a combination. Looking at all your Spaces, you see a one dimensional visual list as before, but each space looks like a slightly messy stack of paper. You can see the edges of some of the pages sticking out.

The cover picture from the old journal appears in a round vignette of the original. This often helps, if your original picture had something unique and attractive in the right spot. The new layout looks like this:

As far as I have been able to determine, there is no way to find out how many Ideas are in a Space. Instead of displaying that information in the list, Paper tells you whether the Space is private to you (which almost everything seems to be).

If you select a Space to open it, you get an array of small versions of the Ideas (pictures+) in it. You can hold and drag these Ideas as you wish, to rearrange their order. Very nice.


If you touch an Idea, it zooms up to nearly full screen. Some little icons let you rotate the Idea (this is new!), share it (export), delete it, or move it to some other Space. The Spaces for the move are shown as a text list of the names, which can be scrolled. When you touch one, voila! the Idea moves there.

Touching this nearly-full-sized Idea opens it for edit. I think you can set the default whether to open in the drawing view, which is almost exactly like the previous version, or in Text view.

Text view lets you create a text document with a very simple format: a large header, a to-do-list item, and plain text items. They look like this:

You can also add a text section to a drawing Idea or a drawing to a text Idea. When drawing, you see the drawing part. When typing, you see the text part. If there’s a drawing there, you can drag down and see a bit of it. In the mid-sized view, you see the drawing and a bit of the text. If you touch the text, the text editor opens on the text part. If you touch the drawing, you’re in the drawing editor. From there, there seems to be no gesture to see the text but the drawing box and its minimized bar show icons for Text (a T), drawing (a squiggle) and what’s this? A camera!

Photo Layer

FiftyThree has added a photo layer to each drawing. You can import any photo into that layer. The result looks like this cat, looking through a drawn chair:

You can also vignette a photo for annotation, which might make more sense than a cat looking at a drawn chair, like this:

You can remove the photo layer, which makes me think I could probably trace a photo and make it appear that I can draw better than in fact I can. I will surely try that later.

If there is a way to completely remove a drawing once it has been added to an Idea, I’ve not found it.


Drawing is mostly the same, with two important changes.

First, zooming used to give you a little ring that you had to drag around, like a magnifying glass. Now it zooms, and you move the picture by touching with two fingers and dragging. It works intuitively and well.

However, two fingers, rotating, used to mean undo. Now it just drags the picture around. How to do undo/redo? Two ways. There are little << and >> indicators on the drawing back, meaning undo and redo. Or you can two-finger tap on the screen, and get the two finger rotating undo back. The rotation clock / pie / whatever only stays up for a moment but it’s long enough that you can use the old way fairly readily.

At the level of seeing all your Spaces, you can only create a new space by scrolling to the beginning of the spaces (left on iPad, up on iPhone) and pressing a big plus sign. You can scroll to any existing Space. Some key spaces, like the provided spaces and the community space Mix, are at the end (far right on iPad, far bottom on iPhone). I emphasize far, because I have well over a hundred Spaces (journals), and it’s a long way from one end to the other.

With a few spaces, no problem. With a lot, problem. FiftyThree recognizes the concern and tweeted that they planned an update soon. They didn’t define soon, but I hope it matches my notion of soon fairly well.

Summing Up

There’s more, but this is a review, not a manual. Looking at the new Paper, I see a product that has a lot to like, with much more capability than the old versions. There’s very little not to like for the new user, and only a few bumps for an experienced user, and only one of those, handing a large number of Spaces, is significant.

With over 100 Spaces, I need to group together ones that I work with frequently. I will need to keep active ones down at the right-hand end, for quick access to FiftyThree’s items and Mix. I think this last is a mistake: I need to get to Mix from anywhere in my work, not just from the right-hand end of it. Given how the rest of it works, I don’t see a better, more intuitive approach, and it’s early days for me with the new version and for them with the new interface. I’m sure something good will happen.

I’m left where I began. This is an incredibly brave move on FiftyThree’s part, making such a huge departure from their existing interface. I feel sure it will work out well: had I started here, I’d have found it perfectly reasonable, and by the time I had a large number of Spaces, I’m sure they’d have done something.

Right now, I miss knowing how many pages I have, and miss being able to group things together. Maybe Spaces of Spaces would be a good thing for this, because organizing a hundred or so Journals had already made me want a file folder equivalent.

FiftyThree has made a great product better, not just incrementally but with significant new capability. And they have done it bravely, with a significant rethinking of their interface. These people are good, and it’s easy to see.

Rock on, people!