The iPad has been touted by many as a consumption device. People on the other side of the fence who say that it is a productivity and creation device generally have to go out of their way to make their point. At the end of the day it becomes quite clear that while the iPad may primarily be a consumption device, everyone can find those one or two apps that make it a productivity device for them. The app that helped me extend the potential of my iPad, is Noteshelf.
In my day job I am a sales person. I spend a lot of time out of office meeting clients and prospects. Every meeting is an opportunity that needs to be documented. This used to happen on notepads and notebooks. I have a stack of notepads that are a testimonial to how much there is that needs to be documented. Using notepads and notebooks is fine, however, finding that one page quickly among the hundreds of pages of notes is some not a nice experience. Noteshelf has now replaced my need to carry, store and worry about notebooks.
Noteshelf provides an easy way for you to take notes on the iPad and maintain multiple notebooks for multiple clients/events/meetings or what ever else. But wait, before you go any further, let me clear one thing up. Noteshelf is not for typed notes, its for handwritten notes. Also, it works best with a stylus. Stylus, you ask? Have we gone back in time where Bill Gates is king and everyone uses stylues/stylii? Didn’t Steve Jobs say that if you need a pen/stylus, you have failed? Well, they were both wrong.
When it comes to taking notes, there is nothing faster than pen on paper. Also, there is nothing more irritating than a person sitting in front of you, furiously typing away on a laptop while you are trying to have a conversation with them. We have already decided that we don’t want to use paper notebooks. Noteshelf addresses all these issues. One, the notes are digital, two, making notes on the iPad does not distract the people around you and 3 its as fast as taking notes with a pen on paper.
The Noteshelf interface is just that, a shelf. A shelf where you can store and display all your notebooks. You can have groups of Notebooks that can be inside a folder. For example, a “Clients” folder in which you can have all your client specific notebooks. But that’s enough about the part that doesn’t really matter as much. You would definitely expect this kind of organizing ability in any application of this sort right? Right. So lets move onto the meat of the application. The note taking.At the end of the day, the ease of note taking is what really sets Noteshelf apart. The note taking screen can be customized with many choices of paper layouts. Quite a few of them come with the application and you can choose what paper to use for any page. You also have the option to import any image of a page layout into the application and use that as your paper. Once you have made your choice on the paper, you can start the writing.
The main issue with trying to write on the iPad with either your finger or a capacitive stylus is that you wont be able to write as finely as you would on a real notebook with a pen. For the writing to be anywhere close to what your real handwriting is like you will have to write bigger than you normally would. Noteshelf addresses this by providing you a “Zoomed-In” view of the area that is currently being written to. Whatever you write in this zoomed-in area will appear the normal size on the page. This really helps a lot.
The writing is smooth and you can replicate your real hand writing after a little bit of practice. Once you start, the speed comes naturally. Apart from the zoomed-in writing area, the other great feature is the wrist protection. The most comfortable way to write on the iPad (or anywhere for that matter) is if you are able to rest a good part of your wrist on the writing media. We all know how handwriting is affected once you reach the last few lines of a page. With the zoomed-in writing area, you are basically writing in only one area of the iPad screen. This area is just below the center of the screen and doesn’t change if you don’t explicitly move it around. Just below that area, Noteshelf provides you with a wrist protection region which prevents the screen from recognizing any inputs in that area. This allows you to comfortably rest your wrist on the iPad while writing.
The third well thought out feature is the auto advance feature. The auto advance area is a designated area that automatically shifts the zoomed-in area forward when you reach it. When you come to the end of the line, the auto advance moves the zoom to the next line as well. This is a very useful feature and allows continuous writing and ensures that you don’t have to manually shift the zoom area every time you reach the borders of it.
Any of the notes in Noteshelf can be exported from the app via email or synced to various service like Dropbox or Evernote. The pages are converted to either PDF or an image to send them. You can also backup the either Noteshelf database from iTunes.
Apart from the features mentioned above there are also a lot of small things to enhance your note taking experience. You can insert images from either your library or take new ones directly from the app. You can use icons from an extensive list to annotate your notes. You can highlight text in various colours. You also have a lot of colours to choose for your note taking. You can also change the size of the pen that you are using. The developers of Noteshelf have also informed me that features such as inserting shapes and actually typing out parts of the note are features that they are working on already.
A note on the stylus and the scratch guard. I use a capacitive stylus with a flat tip. You also get styluses with rubber tips, but these will not be the best for note taking due to the excessive friction. A scratch guard on the iPad screen is a good idea too. Preferably a matte one, since I found that it gives a more papery feel when you are writing.
There are also various in-app purchases that you can do to make your shelf or your notebook look nicer. Noteshelf is available from the App Store for $4.99.