The answer to this elementary school riddle used to be something called a newspaper, but the new answer is 37signals latest product for the iPad: Draft.
What does Draft do? On a black background you can draw with your finger in white or red, email your draft or post it to 37signals’ Campfire. You can undo, use an eraser, or delete a draft. And that’s it. For (a relatively expensive) $9.99.
Best app I’ve bought yet for initial interface prototyping on the iOS4 platform, maybe any platform.
Up to yesterday when Draft hit the App Store, I’d been using Interface (also $9.99) – a great app that will let you prototype an interface and export it to Xcode:

… in about a thousand taps.
With Draft, with 37signals ruthless simplicity approach to design, I can draw out enough of an interface so I can start defining the idea, picture it, imagine how it will work, wrestle with it – all the good things you should do during the first stage of prototyping.
Now this Draft may (will) mean nothing to you, but it externalizes about a dozen design/interface ideas for a iPad productivity app that have been bouncing around my head like a dozen dropped ball bearings on a kitchen floor. And it took under three minutes from turning on my iPad, to drawing it out, to getting it via email and dropping it into this post. That is awesome.

Yes, there is a million features I’d like to see (Jason – multiple levels of undo and double-tap for a text note!), but that’s the point: by paring down to the most minimal of features, the user can and has to use the app to do the one thing it was meant to do: drafts.
We are so used to a software world where every tool has to be multipurpose because it costs time, brain cells and money to acquire any facility with them. So starved for the right tool to do a specific job that companies use Excel to project manage multi-billion dollar bridge retrofits and developers use the Google command line to manage their lives.
Note I turned on my machine, opened the app, did the work, leveraged the value by sharing it (with myself), closed the app, turned off my iPad in under three minutes. That’s a whole new ball game for software developers and a huge opportunity for startups and microISVs willing to let go of the old paradigm.

12 Comments

  1. You’re oblivious to Adobe Ideas, right? The free app that does the same thing, except on a white canvas. You can pick more than just black/red, but the basic functionality and simplicity are the same. You can even email it to yourself. The one big thing you can’t do is auto-export it to your 37signals account – so they’re serving their audience there. It’s not an app for non-37signals users though because the same funtionality exists free already, with no complexity hurdle either.

  2. Or you could just use the free Adobe Ideas. I see some value if you’re using campfire for remote development.. the integration there is nice to have.

  3. Bob Walsh Reply

    Adobe Ideas is a nice [very nice] app, but I tried it for sketching out an interface and it got in the way of trying with my meager drawing skills of actually getting something drawn. Just reloaded it to my iPad, tried to sketch out my idea:
    Found I had to make the following decisions: what do I tap to get a page, what is the “right” line width of black to use, how do I draw in red, which red should I use, should the red be the same thickness as the black, what about opacity and size – what do they do, what’s the crossed arrows do, is that an undo icon under it and what’s the wavy line icon for?
    That’s 11 decisions at least – 11 decisions wasted on fiddling with the tool instead of deciding what I was doing. And IMO the attention I need to spend making those decisions lowers my “attention balance” – you only have so much attention to give.
    I paid 37signals my $9.99 to take away all those decisions – and “spent” them on the idea itself.

  4. Bob Walsh Reply

    bflo – it is indeed – and it is rated *higher* than free Adobe Ideas even though Ideas has an extremely well known brand behind it. Why is that? I’d say from reading the comments on iTunes a) fewer features, b) at least one unique feature that makes it easier to use the tool – the wrist brace and, c) developer is small, scrappy startup without Adobe’s baggage (How much do they want for CS4!?!).
    The wrist feature sounds good enough in and by itself to justify my $2.99 🙂

  5. This seems like a really stripped down app that would have no chance of success without a huge following. 37signals will make this work, of course, but if an unknown developer built the exact same app a few months ago I think they would get very few sales.

  6. Bob Walsh Reply

    I don’t think so Rob. Obviously 37signals rep got it attention (techcrunch) an unknown developer would not have gotten. But that dev would start picking up attention and reputation as people tried the app and word spread. Longer, slower, but the same win.

  7. Bob Walsh Reply

    But it’s minimal function, well-crafted, just what you need and nothing more kool-aid! 🙂

  8. Michael Sullivan Reply

    @Aszurom For the Adobe Ideas, are you oblivious to the fact we are talking about an *iPad* here?
    Yes, we know, there are probably a bazillion drawing programs out there, I think one of the funniest comments was that this was the demo program from Microsoft’s Visual C “Getting Started” manual, simply called “sketch”.
    Does anyone remember the original Macintosh? It had a drawing program that was incredibly simple to use. What a novelty, in the day and age of DOS with it’s complex keyboard commands and computer manuals, to simply start drawing with the mouse. As already mentioned, another distinguishing factor is ease of use.
    Granted, this is one of those simple ideas where everybody says “Why didn’t I think of that?”.

  9. @Michael Sullivan
    quote: For the Adobe Ideas, are you oblivious to the fact we are talking about an *iPad* here?
    I’m pretty aware. Adobe Ideas is an *iPad* product.
    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/adobe-ideas-1-0-for-ipad/id364617858?mt=8
    I like 37sig’s business philosophy a good bit. This app has some utility for their subscribers. Acting like they invented the concept of minimalist utility applications is douchy. This minimalist app just happens to have their branded color scheme and a hook into their webapp.

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