Ad hoc custom templates in Pages for iPad

This morning I've been writing a longer post about the fact that I've not really been using my iPad as much as I expected. There are a few explanations, some more valid than others. One of them is that I love using Pages to add a touch of design flair to ordinary word processing documents, but the iPad's version of Pages has no way to define or redefine paragraph/list styles, which makes it really laborious to make attractive, consistently styled documents.

Put another way: I am a Pages power user (yes, there is such a thing!), and Pages iPad is more or less unusable for documents longer than a page or two unless you really, really like the built-in templates. (Which you shouldn't—like most of Apple's iLife/iWork defaults, they're pretty but too limited and way too kitschy.)

When I was describing this problem in my post I realized there were a few hacky solutions I hadn't tried. Mostly I just wanted to know: if you define a bunch of styles in a Pages document on the Mac, and you import that document into Pages for iPad, will the iPad app honor those styles? Or will it give you the same boring, Helvetica-ridden defaults?

I'm pleased to report that the answer is yes, Pages for iPad does import style information from the desktop version. And so, absent a way to set styles (or create document templates) on the device, here's some tricks you can use to make Pages/iPad a lot more useful:

  1. Create a skeleton Pages '09 document on your Mac and give it some sensible default styles. (If you're a regular Pages user and you have a template you like to use, you can just create a new document from that template.) You'll probably want to have most/all of the following styles set in the Styles drawer:

    • Title
    • A few levels of headings, at least Headings 1-3, plus subheadings if you use them.
    • Body and Body Bullet. I also created a "Body Numbered List" style.
    • "Header and Footer"
    • If you use list styles, go ahead and set them up too.
    • But don't worry about character styles—Pages for iPad doesn't use them.
  2. This part is optional, but after setting up your styles you may want to delete all the text from the document, leaving just one empty paragraph set to Body. Pages will import the styles no matter what, and if you leave stuff in here you'll just need to delete it again every time you create a new document on your iPad.

  3. Save the file somewhere (like the Desktop).

  4. Open iTunes and plug in your iPad. (You don't even have to be on the computer you normally sync with.)

  5. Select the iPad in the source list, then open the Apps tab and scroll all the way down to the File Sharing area. Select Pages from the list of apps under File Sharing. Click "Add File" (which'll open a file chooser dialog) and select the file you created.

  6. Now switch to the iPad. Open Pages, go to the My Documents screen, then tap the file-folder icon at the top right. You'll see the file you just copied over in the list that appears. Select it to import it. Your styled document is now in your Pages library.

After that, anytime you want to create a new document with these styles just make a duplicate of this one.

Yes, it's clunky. Yes, it would be better if Pages let you create your own templates, or your own custom styles. But it's better than nothing, and it will save you time.

You're welcome.