Notability + Bamboo + iPad = Paperless Note Taking

RELATED POST: January 25, 2014

Pencil 53 Product Review

Original Post Starts Here

I have been a collector of notebooks for decades. I love them. They’re portable, come in all shapes, thicknesses and sizes. Some have lines, others are blank for sketching and still others offer a grid. I have been a devoted user of the Moleskine for many years and very much enjoy the visceral experience paper affords. Although I enjoy the paper, it is difficult to find something you wrote months before, as it’s buried in the stream of pages.

When the iPad came along I thought it would be cool and easier if I could use that as my notebook. But taking notes on a tablet is tricky business. First you need a good app. I immediately begin trying different apps for taking notes. I downloaded and experimented with Draw Pad Pro, Noteshelf, Idea Flight, Design Scene, HelvetiNote, Penultimate, Adobe Ideas, Simplenote and of course Apple’s Pages. Some of them are not very good at all, while others do some things well, but none of them really bring it all together in a way that leverages the multimedia features built into an iPad. I wondered if I would ever get off paper.

There are three ways to get content on an iPad. You can use your finger, a stylus or a keyboard (interface or external). It you choose the external keyboard then you’ve got to carry that thing around and keep it charged. I’ve spent $200 on two keyboards and don’t use either one. Just not comfortable to use. I did come across what looks to be a very cool keyboard on Kickstarter. It’s called Brydge and it looks splendid. I’ve become a backer of Brydge but must wait until October to get one. One’s finger does not work that well because you can’t place things precisely on the screen. The stylus is getting better, but most have ignored ergonomics and balance in favor of rushing to market. I’m a bit of a pen snob and spend lavishly on writing instruments, so I was horrified when I purchased my first stylus. I’ve got a drawer full of failed attempts at finding one.

Then I found the app Notability and the Bamboo stylus. This combination is fantastic. After about two months using this together I’m happy to report that I’m off the paper notebook.

Notability provides:

  • Quick toggle between internal or external keyboard
  • Several line thickness and colors
  • A highlighting feature
  • Numerous choices of tablet styles and colors
  • Ability to embed voice notes or photos
  • Create, organize and file various notebooks
  • Simple to use interface
  • Auto synch to Dropbox and other storage systems
  • And so much more

The Bamboo stylus feels like a finely balanced writing instrument vs. those cheap plastic pens. It has a narrow tip that can be replaced if worn or cracked. I’ve found this to be the best choice for writing and sketching. All I carry to meetings now is my iPad and Bamboo stylus and I love it. Now, what to do with all those notebooks I’ve collected.

The Printed Word: Why Books Will Survive the Digital Age

I’ve always been a book person. No, I mean a BOOK person. Collector, curator, lover of the dust jacket, size, shape and smell of the printed word on paper. I know how books are paginated, printed, bound, packed, shipped, and how to write a publishing contract. My first career was the general manager of an 18 bookstore chain in the midwest. It was a great experience. I learned retail merchandising, finance and inventory management as well as the fine art of book buying. Publishing and book selling were a gentlemen’s sport at that time and full of mutual respect.

Of course the best part was I got lots and lots of books.

My collection grew out of hand in the late 1990’s. When I was about to move again I realized I’d need to buy 120 packing boxes for my books alone. You see, they don’t compress very well. Enough was enough, so I donated about half to the local library. They couldn’t believe it when I pulled up in my friend’s minivan. That was a nice day.

Fast forward to the digital era. I didn’t have an allergic reaction to reading on a screen, but it took me a while to buy my first book in the digital format. Much like my transition to digital music, time passed before it become a ritual activity. But there are so many benefits to digital books that I’m happy to say they have earned the right to coexist alongside my analog collection. Not replace it, mind you. Oh no, let’s not get crazy.

The biggest benefit of digital is I’m now reading about twice as many books as I did before I got my iPad, and here’s why.

  • It’s backlit, so you can sit in any chair in your home and read comfortably
  • Since you don’t need ambient light you won’t intrude on your wife’s desire to sleep while you read
  • You can carry hundreds of books with you without the weight and bulk
  • In the mood for something, or want to pick up on where you left off, no problem; just a few taps and you’re there
  • Virtual bookmarks never get misplaced which means you can find your favorite passages in a snap
  • No more driving to Barnes and Noble or waiting for Amazon to deliver
  • Trial is easy, as samples are free from the iTunes bookstore
  • iCloud allows you to push the content to all your Apple devices instantly, which means my wife can read the same book at the same time I’m reading it
  • The technology is great, allowing for a choice of font styles, sizes and backlight controls
  • If you come across an unfamiliar word, simply tap it and get the definition instantly
  • Packing for travel is a cinch; all your books come with you, automatically

The reading doesn’t stop there. Magazines, periodicals, professional journals, are all accessible digitally. I believe that magazines on the iPad far exceed the book experience. Just look at Wired or The New Yorker to see why.

Digital is great for traditional fiction and nonfiction works, but I don’t think it holds up for art books or other publications that are graphic rich. You no longer have the burden of carrying the book, but digital homogenizes all volumes. The physical shape of a book, trim size, thickness, paper stock, makes a book a book. Large books need to be large so you can rest them on your lap and enter a new world. Digital books are forced to fit onto either portrait or landscape. The fact that books come in countless physical forms makes them even more interesting.

There’s another drawback to digital. You can’t have a library in your home if you are all digital. There’s something very satisfying about entering a room that has wall lined bookshelves and stroll past the spines to see what’s there. When I visit someone’s home for the first time I immediately look for the books. You learn a lot about a person by what they read. It also becomes a catalyst for discussion. Can you imagine me grabbing their e-reader and asking for the passcode?

I think it’s critical for young children to see lots of books and be able to explore them in a tactile fashion. This is how they learn to read and how stories get told. From bath books and board books all the way up to chapter books, the book experience grows alongside the child. Try giving a 2 year old a digital book to keep them occupied in the tub.

I have some shelves filled with classics, Moby Dick, etc. I show them to my seven year old from time to time and give him a brief demonstration of why they are great works by reading a few sentences. He has something to look forward to and gets excited about it. “Dad, can we read that whale book again?”

Then there are bookstores. In the stores I ran, square footage was scarce, so we didn’t have comfy chairs and coffee bars. We wanted people to come in, browse, buy and leave. Then come back of course. The giant bookstores didn’t come along until a decade later, adopting a location platform modeled after the local library, but without all the shushing. That was a master stroke and I believe added years to the vitality of books and bookstores.

Of course the local library still stands as a hearth of knowledge in a community. My village recently passed a referendum to invest $12 million in a complete renovation and updating of our library to begin this spring. Some argue that we should abandon libraries, but for many people this is how they get their first exposure to the world of books. I’m happy to see libraries and hope we continue to invest in them for many years. I’ve thought it would be a nice concept to combine a library and a bookstore in the same space. The lending side would be much larger than the selling side, because most of the purchasing would be digital and no physical space is required. Creating commerce would provide additional financial support for the library.

It would be interesting to have the option to buy the analog book and the digital book at the same time, packaged together at a great price. I could add what I wanted to own as books while affording me the convenience of reading it on my iPad. Digital books are fantastic and I’m so glad they’re here. But book books will survive the digital age.

Apples will Continue to Fall from Trees

It’s not so much that Steve Jobs has stepped down as the head of Apple that saddens me, it’s the reason why he is stepping down. Cancer invades so many people’s bodies and it’s a ruthless scourge. Regardless of which side of the technology war you are on, no one should be happy about the fate that has befallen Mr. Jobs. Go ahead and despise Apple, but keep Mr. Jobs on the good side of your thoughts. I had a brush with cancer a couple of years ago, but was one of the lucky ones. I am completely cancer free now and expect to remain that way for a very, very long time thank you.

With or without Steve, Apple will continue to grow and thrive. It’s not simply a computer manufacturer any longer. It has evolved well beyond the days when Macs were found in the occasional household. Apple has transformed the music industry and the personal computer industry, redefined the handset into a smartphone, remade retailing and introduced the tablet.

How did they do it? They broke with conventional wisdom and overcame the inertias that weigh down firms and industries. But the main ingredient of success in my opinion, is they made products that worked with people’s daily lives. Seamless integration and updates. No tribal language code. A near flawless user experience that are beautiful to look at. Not always plug and play, but pretty close. If you make products that people can use and fills a desire they have, you are more than halfway there. Apple actually went the full mile, closing the last 50% by making what they delivered emotional. They then amplified those products with superior positioning and marketing.

But most of all, they never gave up. No matter how dark the investor and pundit predictions were, or how large and dominant Microsoft became, they came in everyday and worked at it. Admirable.

Remember when no one wanted to copy Apple? Now everyone covets and races to copy them. Was this in large part the work of Super Steve? You bet. But there is no way he did this alone. It takes a village, and he has built a really big one.

Tim Cook, now the leader, did some amazing things. He got Apple’s on hand inventory down from months to days and is credited with being the supply chain wizard that allowed the firm to bring out so many products so often and quickly. Does he have the vision of a Jobs? No, no one does. But he does have a vision, and Steve is not walking out the door. He will be around and he will have more ideas and the wise folks in Cupertino will listen. His fingerprints will be on things for quite some time. It’s quite possible that not being CEO will give him even more time to be creative. That could actually accelerate Apple’s momentum. Perhaps he should have resigned sooner.

Don’t write off Apple or Mr. Jobs.

Blackberry Playbook Has Promise

The guys from Blackberry were in the office today showing off the new Playbook. Like most companies we carry Blackberry devices for corporate email, so we chat with our friends from RIM from time to time. I got to play on it for about 20 minutes. Here are my first impressions.

  • It’s nicely sized and easy to operate with one hand
  • Has some nice heft, but won’t fatigue your arms
  • Right thickness
  • Rubberized back casing makes it less cool looking than an iPad
  • The viewable screen is surrounded by a fairly large black bezel
  • This Bezel is important as it is the starting point for swipe gestures that activate the keyboard and change tablet modes
  • It’s very, very fast
  • Only comes in WiFi, but I don’t see that as an issue
  • No native email, but it has a pretty slick bridge (Bluetooth) to the Blackberry I already carry. They claim it’s a security thing
  • When you cut off the bridge function none of your firm’s data, or documents stays on the tablet. Big plus.
  • It does Flash
  • You can connect to a projector for presentations or directly to HDMI
  • Video is 1080p and very crisp
  • You can have programs running simultaneously and simply swipe from one to another and they continue to run
  • Runs versions of Word, PowerPoint and Excel without the issues one sees on the iPad
  • Priced at $499, $599 and $699 based solely on storage capacity
  • No simple program like iTunes to help manage getting content from your hard drive to the Playbook

It’s not an iPad killer, but it will turn some corporate heads and probably increase their dominance in this important market. It will serve as a choice for consumers, as the iPad is not for everyone. All in all I think it’s a great opening shot for Blackberry.

iPad Fits Nicely into a Social Lifestyle

It’s been about six weeks since I took possession of my iPad 3G. From the conversations I’ve had with people and the chatter read on the net, there appear to be two camps emerging. One group doesn’t see the value of investing in the iPad because it’s not a computer and it’s too big to carry. The other guys, where I am, have placed the iPad into a very comfortable space resting exactly between a desktop and a smartphone and we’re not concerned about the size, in fact the size is the best part, because we plan on keeping our smartphones.

Having an iPad has freed me from spending so much time on my desktop computer in the office. I don’t use a laptop at home, except for work, and so that means I spend a lot of time in my office, sequestered away from my family. The iPad allows me to do a lot of things I used to have to go to my computer for, and it turns out these are the things I do most frequently now.

It breaks down like this. I use my iPad anywhere in the house (or patio) for e-mail, calendar, contacts, browsing the web, enjoying photos / videos, social networking and light note-taking. When I analyze the time I spend doing that vs. heavier computing tasks, it comes out to about 70% of my screen time can now be on the iPad.

Using the iPad gets me reacquainted with the other rooms in my home. True there is no hard drive on the iPad, but that means no waiting for a boot up. I use Penultimate  and HelvetiNote to sketch and capture ideas. Each of these apps allows me to email the content I create to myself or anyone else, making incorporating it into ongoing or new projects easy. The 3G works great when you are in an airport and want to make the wait time more productive.

We have been using smartphones for a while now which makes transitioning to an iPad a breeze, with nice upgrades. A large, beautiful screen and easier to use touch keyboard. Factor in photo and movie enjoyment and the iBooks application (Apple has captured 22% of the eBook market in just 65 days) and we have an appliance that we didn’t even know we needed. That’s the magic of Steve Jobs. He sees the possibilities ahead of most of us.

Which brings me back to the two camp mention at the top of this post. I’ll wager that most of these people in camp one haven’t experienced the iPad and as such, still don’t know what it can do. Bottom line is the iPad fits neatly into my lifestyle, like so many Apple products have done in the past. Can’t wait for the iPhone4.

Mobile = Shift For Designers and Consumers

Humans have always been obsessed with what they need to “take along” whether it’s going to work or play. The advances of mobile phones and apps has led many of us to shift activities we once did exclusively on a desktop/laptop to our smartphone. This is naturally followed by an increase in the number of places we carry out basic computing tasks; now in the car, at a restaurant, waiting for a flight, watching a child’s sporting event, etc. It’s growing quickly partly because people are relieved of trying to remember what they need to bring with. As long as you have your smartphone (Swiss army knife) you feel better prepared. I have been reading, debating and thinking deeply about mobile these last few months.

I attended two mobile sessions at the recent South by Southwest Interactive track (SxSW) in Austin. The first was entitled The UX of Mobile, with Barbara Ballard of Little Springs Design, Scott Jenson from Google, and Kyle Outlaw of Razorfish. I’ll cover the second panel called Time+Social+Location with Naveen Selvadurai from foursquare, Josh Babetski from MapQuest  and Greg Cypes from AIM in a later post.

This post mashes together notes from those panel sessions with what’s been brewing inside my brain and recorded in my Moleskine since last fall. It all runs together which makes it hard on the attribution front. The shape of my thoughts was obviously influenced by what’s out on the web and what was shared at SxSW. Thank you to all mobile thinkers.

In The UX of Mobile, the moderator kicked it off by asking each panelist to define user experience:

  • Allow users to reach goals
  • Think about the whole system, SMS
  • It’s everything that causes a user to not want to use your product; scrolling, buttons, etc.

Mobile today is hyper-focused on apps because the mobile browser is lacking (and because of Apple). When the mobile browser catches up to the app experience, there will be a monumental shift away from apps. The mobile web will be where things will get interesting and play out. But simply trying to put the web onto the phone (miniaturization) is not where the value lies. Mobile screens are a new window into the Internet. It’s the closest thing we have right now to wearable computing and so designs needs to account for mobility as well as personal connection. Design for interoperability, take advantage of mobile cache and leverage the cloud. One should design for the “mobile moment.”

  • Design knowing that interruptions are inevitable (the waiter comes to take your order)
  • A phone in your pocket can also be useful (vibrate to signal when you need to turn right or left)
  • Don’t bring the web to the mobile phone, bring the browser (Safari with iPhone/iPad, Chrome)

Mobile demands that you design for the screen. A smartphone has many more features available to the user than a desktop. Barbara Ballard ticked off a great list of things to be considered when designing for the mobile experience. Notations after → are my additions.

  • Gestures   Human
  • Accelerometer  →  Framing
  • Bluetooth  →  Extension
  • Camera  →  Pictures
  • Microphone  →  Voice
  • Location  →  Mapping
  • Address Book   →  Social
  • Calendar  →  Schedule

The mobile phones of today are closer to traveling ecosystems than operating systems. As such, usability testing for the small screen becomes more critical than browser designs. Designers/developers need to test in context, including social context; in short the real world. For me real world testing will mean getting out of the lab and test in cars, libraries, retail stores, restaurants, sporting venues etc. Internet connections are fairly reliable now; always on and fast. The cell phone carriers are not there yet. It’s better than the 9600 baud days, but not yet comparable to the speed we enjoy with today’s modems. When 4G arrives, we will be a heartbeat away from moving everything the mobile device. That will be a watershed moment.

The iPad is a Roaming Device, Not a Mobile Device

Pick up the April 2010 Wired magazine (I’d include a link but the paper version gets to me before the digital version; go figure) and turn to page 75. There’s an extremely insightful article by Steven Levy, Why the New Generation of Table Computers Changes Everything. In it he talks about how Steve Jobs is “writing the obituary for the computing paradigm” and how desktops will vanish and laptops will be used “primarily as base stations for syncing our iPads.”  While at SxSW I spent a lot of time with Ian Magnini, principle at MCD Partners in New York. We work closely on strategy, design and visioncasting. He turned to me and said.

The iPad will replace the magazine rack in your home. There will  be one in the kitchen, one in the bathroom and one in the bedroom – Ian Magnani

I think he’s dead on. The iPad has a huge mobile drawback in that it can’t fit in your pocket or purse. So maybe it’s not cell phone mobile, but it could be the perfect “roaming device.” I can picture people using the iPad to read magazines, newspapers, books, then launch the browser to order groceries or do online banking all while sitting in a comfy Barcolounger. Battery life is 10 hours and taps return instantaneous responses. Keypad will be the big challenge.

As always, Jobs will ensure that the design experience will be outstanding. I have heard that there won’t be a calculator on the iPad at launch because he didn’t like the experience. It doesn’t matter. Once it’s right, it will be included in a future version.

Much more to come on Mobile.

Apple iPad Purchase Intent Poll – Are you Buying?

Now that we’ve had some time to let the idea of the iPad sink in, I can’t help but wonder where we are on the purchase intent scale. At first I was solid on getting one. But now that I have done some extensive thinking on how to leverage it for business (it’s not clear to me), I am having second thoughts from a personal perspective.

Please take a moment to let me know where your head is right now through this simple poll. Thank you.

The iPad Experience will be the Difference

The last thing the world needs right now is another blog post about the just announced iPad from Apple. But I feel compelled to put in my two cents, and here’s why. Newly announced Apple products are typically polarizing. The enchanted swoon and the disenchanted spew bile. It happened with the iPhone and it happened again yesterday after Steve Jobs left the stage. I reviewed the blogosphere at length and noticed there was a new and sizable population of neutral observers. They pretty much said that it looked like an enlarged iTouch, and asked, “What’s the big deal? One of my staff told me that he believes that it really was an iTouch and Steve Jobs had shrunk himself to make it look larger.

Like all exceptional Apple products, and they aren’t all fantastic, it’s about the experience. When they get it right, like they did with the iPod and especially the iPhone, it delights beyond imagination. I truly believe that the reason some people felt it was a let down yesterday is because it looked too familiar and too simple. They were expecting a miracle (the danger of hype) and felt cheated.

Apple engineers and design experts think deeply about how humans use products and software in their daily lives. But they don’t stop there. What sets them apart is their products are designed for their place in space and time. Mr. Jobs fully expects his products will become obsolete, that’s why he keeps reinventing them. He matches evolution with revolution. Macs continue to sell and gain market share because they fit naturally with how people live their lives today. Photos, movies, social connections, calendar and the web all converge in people’s lives. Having a device that can work seamlessly to help you organize and optimize a complex world is very attractive.

When you listen to Jobs describe the iPad and he says “It’s the best browsing experience you’ve ever had,” he means it. Simple is always better and unique experiences are valuable. That’s Apple. They live on the corner of main and main. I say wait till it comes out and give it a try. Then fall in love or not.