'Desktop' app turns iPad into split-screen toolbox

Is your iPad pulling desk duty? Then why not turn it into dual-pane widget panel? This clever app does exactly that, and for just 99 cents.

I've now been an iPad owner for exactly four hours. First impressions? It's heavier than I thought, and I'm furious with iTunes for hanging--repeatedly--during my initial sync attempts. (Weird workaround: After successfully syncing my iPhone, the iPad started syncing normally.)

Newspaper apps? Fantastic. JamPad? Dazzling. Netflix ? I think a tear escaped my eye. But you know which app I'll probably end up using the most? The ingenious 99-cent Desktop, which divides the iPad screen in half so you can run two apps at once.

Well, OK, not apps, but any of the 10 "applets" built into Desktop. These include a Web browser (complete with thumbnail-enhanced bookmarks, a nice touch); an e-mail composer; Google Maps; unit and currency converters; a calculator; a dictionary; and a weather monitor.

The 99-cent Desktop app for iPad lets you run two applets at the same time. Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

So think of it: when your iPad is pulling desk duty (resting in one of these five cheap/DIY stands , no doubt), you can keep, say, a browser and calculator running all the time. Or a unit converter and iPad stat monitor. It's your choice, and Desktop gives you the option of dividing the screen side-by-side or top-to-bottom. (You can also run any tool full-screen if you prefer.)

Great idea, right? Just one problem: Desktop lacks a few tools it desperately needs, and a few of the tools it has aren't fully baked.

For example, the calculator barely fills a quarter of its half of the screen. While making it "full half-screen" might slow down data entry, it looks awkwardly small the way it is. What's more, the weather applet is little more than a text-based list of temperatures. It could use some pizazz.

And where's the notepad? The world clock? The RSS feed reader? Currently, they're MIA, but you'll be glad to know developer Dan Yadgar says they're coming soon--along with a voice recorder and various improvements to the existing tools.

Alas, the one widget I really want--a photo viewer--can't be done with the current iPhone SDK, Yadgar says. That's a shame, as it'd be great to have a photo slideshow running on one half of the screen and, say, Facebook and Twitter updates on the other. (The latter will be part of the upcoming feed reader.)

Even so, Desktop is a worthwhile addition for anyone who keeps their iPad propped up on a desk or countertop. It's good now, and about to get much better.

 

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