iPad Student Diaries #9: Feature war in note taking land

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One of the main issues with what I currently do at school is fragmentation- I use perhaps a dozen different apps to get everything done, and while I have no trouble doing that myself it confuses people when I start to explain how it all hangs together. There is another fragmentation going on though, internally in the note taking app segment.

Choosing a note taking app can be difficult, especially if you don’t require PDF import like I do. There are dozens of options out there, each with different features. Some of these features are pretty unique and useful, which makes it even more annoying to see that these features are spread across different apps. Here are my three favorite features that I wish would be in one app, but aren’t

Underscore Notify: Magnified mode

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Notify isn’t the only app with a magnified writing mode, but it’s the one that works the best in my opinion. Notes Plus’ similar feature drives me nuts, so it’s not just about adding the feature but making it be easy to use as well. Magnified mode lets you draw huge without worrying about being accurate, and then the resulting text is scaled down on the actual page. This means you can write very accurately without even trying to write small.

Penultimate: Speed detection

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Penultimate is a very limited note taking app that has gotten way more attention than it should. The only thing I really find neat about it compared to the much more advanced Notify and smartNote apps is the speed detection which sort of mimics pressure sensitivity. The faster you drag the “pen”, the thinner the line will be, and if you go slow, it will be a certain thickness. This is basically an emulation of how certain pen types act on certain types of paper, where the ink spreads out into the paper if you give it time to do so. The result of this feature is that anything written in Penultimate looks a lot more like it’s written with a pen rather than using a computer, which also makes it easier to read.

Notes Plus: Gestures

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Notes Plus’ most interesting feature is the gestures it uses to help you do certain things quicker without having to switch from the pen to other tools. Delete things by drawing a few horizontal lines over it as if you were crossing it out, select things by drawing circles around them and get some assistance in drawing shapes with a shape detector that straightens out lines for your when it notices you’re trying to make shapes. The gestures don’t always work, but when you get used to the exact motion it responds well to it is very useful.

The “problem” of having nice features spread across apps is caused by having lots of smart people each trying to make something themselves rather than working together. I guess you can’t really complain that there are so many options out there, but it makes you wish that someone would either copy all of them into a single app or buy all of them and create one app to rule them all. I only wish I could make apps myself, as I’d combine all the features I use in different apps (not just note taking apps) into one app that had scanner functionality, supported all sorts of documents etc- but maybe someone else will do it. I have my hopes up for what the Kno team can do on the iPad, but only time will tell if that’s going to be any good. Until then, you can get all three of these apps in iTunes: Penultimate ($1.99), Underscore Notify ($1.99), Notes Plus ($1.99).

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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