[tweetmeme]The screen is the user interface. How you arrange pixels beyond that is only limited by your imagination. It’s a serious argument against the whole notion of it being “a big iPhone”. The iPad is a serious content consumption device; this we already know. But people have been looking to see whether it can be used for any real work beyond just going through email. We’ve seen what the iWork apps can do, but now it’s up to the developers to take it to the next level. And how excited I was to see Markup and Gusto, early versions of site managers, for the iPad.
Before I go any further, I must mention that both apps are buggy and suffer from feature deficit. The developers are aware of this, and have even advised me not to “full review” them just yet. I wouldn’t suggest you buy them just yet either. This is just to give you a taste of what’s to come. I’m sure there’s plenty of changes in the offing from either side, and others, so this don’t consider this a final judgement.
Markup is much like Coda. Although not nearly as powerful, it has a thumbnail based site manager, an FTP manager, and a plaintext editor. You start by feeding it your FTP info, and it lays out your sites into large sliding thumbnails. Tap into one, and the FTP browser starts doing its work. Within minutes you’re browsing the entire site remotely, and tapping on any plaintext document—be it HTML, PHP, CSS— will load it up in the editor. You can preview the file in the embedded browser with one tap (no split views though), and publish the site with one tap.
The entire workflow is practically the same as on the desktop, and even in its current state is totally usable. As of right now, it doesn’t come with any kind of code colouring, or tabs, or any of the other features you would expect from a powerful site production tool like Coda or Espresso. There’s also no local storage for your files, so simultaneously editing more than one file is not even possible as of right now. And if your FTP connection is broken, it boots you out of the editing window and back to your sites. Again, early preview.
In many ways, very similar to Markup, yet different in the way it approaches your files. It has a thumbnail based project manager, which stores all your site info. Its smaller thumbnails way more efficient than Markup, especially if you have a lot of sites to manage; inversely Markup’s larger thumbnails look swankier and are manageable if you can count the number of sites on your fingers. Back to Gusto, tapping into a site loads up a local files list instead of your remote view. Gusto edits local files instead of from a remote server. To get to your remote files, you need to get into the FTP browser mode. Navigate around, and tap on files and folders to queue them in for download. Depending on how you look at it, this may or may not be a good workflow (will talk about that in a bit).
Gusto’s editor is really good. It beautifully blends native elements with custom UI, to create something really beautiful (Gusto also has an icon that’s designed). It’s not as buggy as Markup, and comes with with tabs, so you can have multiple files open. You can preview your site using the built in webkit browser, and upload your files when ready. Unlike Markup, you aren’t required to have access to your remote files; you can technically create and publish an entire website from within Gusto. Still, it doesn’t have code colouring, snippets, nor any of the other better features required of a code editor. It’s also ridiculous that’s it forgets its state when you quit, requiring you to tap back into the site bookmark. Thankfully it leaves those tabs open, and the documents are auto-saved. Maybe that’s the feature they advertise on the site? Yes I know I’m complaining about apps in their nascent stages; I know.
Can we work with this?
In their current states, they’re only good for minor edits on the go. You can expect to work on a site on your workstation at home, and then carry your iPad along at the client meeting so you can make any changes they require when you’re away. Insert the countless other scenarios that require minor edits. This is where Markup’s ability to edit remote files is nicer workflow. On the other hand if its sporadic quitting is to be considered, I’d rather work on a copy instead of the original.
Building a website from scratch, as is technically possible with Gusto, is a distant reality, if even possible on device like this. The onscreen keyboard can’t be used if there aren’t some excellent code completion features, and workflow feels restricted on the smaller sized screen. I still haven’t used either for any meaningful periods of time, or for real work, so I wont comment further.
Markup and Gusto both cost $9.99 at the app store, and if you’re looking to do some casual editing on the go, either one of these apps is a winner (they’re both going to get free feature updates soon enough). Gusto right now is seemingly less buggy, can handle more sites, has tabs, looks better, and you can work offline; Markup on the other hand can directly edit remote files, resumes state, and its UI is more focussed on single tasks. But I’d highly suggest you hold your money, because either of these apps, or something new, will get a more meaningful feature upgrade, and that’s when it all gets real. And we’ll cover them again when that happens.