Is There a Clarify-Like App for iOS?

does pages plus skitch equal clarify?James Staples asked me a question on Twitter that I had trouble answering at first, but after a few days I kept coming up with more and more solutions. He asked:

Do you know of any apps that can markup a photo (e.g. Step 1,2) via iOS extension like Preview or Clarify on OS X? Would just love something with steps and an extension like @clarifyapp for iOS. My #ptbs is that i’m trying to be more iPad-centric and would like to produce 1-2 screenshot guides

I wanted to help James especially because he coined the hashtag #ptbs! I was at a loss though, what app would do what Clarify does but on iOS?

About a week after he posted the question I had an idea, and it’s surprisingly not awful. You can take screenshots with the iPhone simply by holding down the home and the power buttons at the same time. Then you can open the images in Skitch and annotate them. Next, and here’s the crazy part – use Microsoft Word to build the instructions! I know this is heresy but since Office is free for the iPad and iPhone now so I figured it was worth a try.

I installed Word on my iPad, and it asked me to authenticate to my Microsoft account. I’m sure a bunch of you are cringing at the idea of a Microsoft account but remember last week’s show? This is not your mother’s Microsoft! Somewhere along the line Word also gave me an option to connect it to Dropbox. That was cool but I have more storage available on OneDrive from Microsoft so I let that be.

I haven’t used Word in so long I can’t remember what it’s supposed to look like, but I easily found the Insert menu and within there was the option to access my photos library. I dropped in an image and then tested word wrap around the image and it worked just fine. Just as fine as Word ever did – sorta janky but if you fight with it long enough it gets the job done. On the iPhone though, you definitely want to stay clear of Microsoft Word. It’s tolerable and maybe even good on the iPad but it’s pretty much unreadable on the iPhone. Teeny tiny text, impossible to grab the corners of the images to resize them, incomprehensible menus. Other than that it’s awesome.

A few days after giving THAT advice I was on my walk and stopped in my tracks, hit myself on the forehead and said to myself, “What about Pages???” Odd that I thought of Word first, must be spending too much time with Chris Ashley. I did the same test using Pages and I have to say it was less annoying than Word and I was even using the iPhone. It was easier to format the image with a border or shadow and figuring out the word wrap nightmare was slightly easier. They’re both a pain to be honest but I’d give Pages the vote up here.

Now we have to back up in our work flow a bit. When I need just one annotated screenshot, I tend to reach for Skitch. It’s free, works on iOS and Mac and Windows and Android and Windows Phone. My one complaint with Skitch used to be that the text was always pink, with outlined white borders, so it looked super dorky. In the last few years they’ve modified it so it’s really easy to choose the color and get rid of the dorky outlining, and simply dragging the corners of a text field changes the font size. Easier than the more standard method of typing in a font size! Sadly they never have added sequence numbers which is one of the things we need in a tutorial. Instead they added stickers of smiley faces and arrows with x’s or check marks on them. Not sure what that’s all about. You’ll have to use Text to put the sequence numbers in and it doesn’t look all that great.

So our workflow is to take a screen snapshot, flip over to Skitch to annotate it and save it back out to our Photos, then flip to Word or Pages, hit the insert button and stick the image into the document and then tell Word/Pages how to wrap around the image. The good news is that with both Word and Pages, I was able to save them in the cloud automatically. OneDrive from Microsoft and iCloud from Apple immediately reflected all of my changes and I was able to open and view the tutorials on iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Again Pages had a bit of an edge here, the share button includes turning it into a PDF right in the menu so you don’t need yet another application to print to PDF.

Going through this exercise reminded me of why I’m such a fan of Clarify (and this isn’t part of an ad by the way). Clarify takes the screenshots, has the annotations, does the formatting and exports to shareable formats. If anyone out there has a better solution than Word or Pages + Skitch for doing tutorials on iOS I’d love to hear about it!

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