Category Archives: iPhone


Information Capture on the iPhone – Best Apps

Personal technology today offers amazing advantages and unlimited possibilities to the savvy knowledge professional.

I’ve found it useful to look at Apple’s latest offerings and the apps that go with them through the prism of essential knowledge functions.

This week, I’m starting to look at these knowledge functions and the apps and devices that aid us in using them.

Knowledge Functions. I’m still exploring and articulating these functions. My short list includes Reading and Writing. I’ve also got Brainstorming and GatheringCapturing and Annotating. Don’t forget Organizing, Collecting and Staying Current.

I’ll take a first pass at Capturing today and talk about some of best iPhone apps that address this function.

Capture is a term used in productivity circles and is used prominently in the popular book: Getting Things Done by David Allen. I won’t limit myself to his definition, but in GTD, capture is about capturing the thoughts, tasks and information that you encounter or think up so that they can be remembered, retained and used later. The idea in GTD is to capture to a reliable system so you can stop trying to remember whatever it is and have a clear, zen-like state of mind. Capturing is that and more.

The iPhone. The iPhone is the quintessential capture device of our times. Five salient features make it so:

  • small enough to easily fit in a pants pocket so can be with you 24/7.
  • always connected to the internet.
  • a camera and microphone built-in.
  • a good on-screen keyboard and you can draw or handwrite on it too.
  • large storage capacity.

Much or all of these capabilities are available on similar devices but I’ll stick to the device I recommend and know best for now.

The iPad. Before I go into the capturing function more thoroughly, I’ll briefly examine the iPad as a capture device. It has similar capacities to the iPhone although it functions as a big iPod touch if you are using the wi-fi only model. It’s increased screen size – something like 6x larger than the iPhone screen, makes it more comfortable for typing, drawing and handwriting (the larger screen also provides room to expose app functions to the user).

The iPad’s size is also its worst feature, in that it is bulkier and heavier by far than an iPhone. At 1.33 pounds, of course, the iPad can be carried with you most of the time if you so choose. It’s like a day-planner in bulk and weight. But, like a day-planner, it is hard to use one-handed unless you have a special case designed for that purpose and it doesn’t fit in a jeans pocket — that’s for sure! Last, it has poor cameras compared to the iPhone.

The Mac. As a capture device, the Mac (and of course other PCs) has a built-in keyboard, trackpad or mouse and thus is great for text entry when you are sitting and can be where your Mac is located or take it with you if you have a laptop. If your location is proximate and you want to type, you are in luck and can capture your thoughts, copy and paste from large numbers of possible sources and have at it.

The Office. Our traditional way of knowledge-working over the last decades has mostly been sitting at a desk. That’s been changing as the laptop started making it possible to locate yourself – sitting – on the couch, easy chair, kitchen table, deck and airplane seat. I’m sitting in my comfy easy chair right now writing on my 3 lb MacBook Air.

The Apps. We have these amazing devices, but it is the apps that allow us to cash in on their knowledge function possibilities. I’ll go into these just as soon as I finish up on the capturing function.

Capturing. Briefly, you can capture information by photographing or scanning it if it is visible, by recording it in audio or video format, or by some form of writing it down. Capture implies that you now have that thing and can use it later.

As I was mentioning before, the iPhone takes the prize in this regard as the ultimate capture device. And the iPad comes in second (a smaller iPad would have probably beaten out the current 10″ version and perhaps a bit more mature 7″ Android Honeycomb device will eclipse the current iPad 2 in the future).

So let’s first look at iPhone capture apps. My favorites of the moment are: Camera+, Dragon Dictation, Simplenote, Catch, Nebulous Notes and Jotnot Scanner Pro. In brief here’s why:

Camera+ ($2). The built-in camera app may suffice. But, Camera+ is the best camera app available. Clarify is an amazing way to improve your photos. Camera+ can crop, rotate, border and stylize your snaps. Capture is a lot about speed of execution, you’ll frequently need to grab and go. From a knowledge perspective, capturing information may be the text on a sign like hours of operation, descriptions, instructions or directions. This is portable scanning on the fly – more on that with Jotnot in a moment. You can zoom in later if you don’t have the time right now.

Dragon Dictation (free). The best way to capture short bits of speech and have it converted for you to text and send it somewhere. Gotcha – it’s only 60 seconds worth of speech at a time. You’ll need a recording app if you want more. Dictamus may win here for longer recordings meant to eventually be converted to text by Mac apps like Dragon Dictate. The key here is that sometimes it is easier to record audio than write something down. Like when you are driving (road noise can be a problem) or walking. The free Voice Memos app does the job when voice recognition is not needed. One last thing, Dragon Dictate is a universal app and its big sister for the iPad is more powerful.

Simplenote (free – iTunes link not available today due to a technical problem). My go to note capture tool. It is a lightweight app so opens quickly and you can get a short note down by typing on screen in seconds. It supports tags now or later. Text only. Syncs to dropbox. Available via web. This simplicity and speed are what make it the write app for capturing against competitors like Evernote which is a bigger app that supports photos and takes much longer to open on average. A close contender (universal) app in this category is Catch (free) which supports adding a photo to your note. You are slowed down less than with Evernote (free and also universal) and you have the opportunity to combine text with photos – a useful combo when you have the time to do both – time that is often limited when capturing on the go.

The third star in this category is Nebulous Notes ($2) which is great when you have a little more time and all you have is an iPhone to write on (although bluetooth keyboards work well if one is with you). Nebulous Notes beats out all the other text-only writing apps here with its breadth of features, customizable extra keyboard row – and it is a universal app so works on iPad too! Instapaper ($5 universal app) and Evernote should also be in your toolkit for web clipping (another form of capture!) and for Collecting – discussed in a future post.

Jotnot Scanner Pro ($1). This little gem has some great competition on the app store. But has been around longest and is excellent. It works fast, is customizable for different uses like receipts and white boards, smart crops and gives you lots of options for exporting your work to multi-page PDFs, jpeg, PNG.

As we build our list of knowledge functions, we can better gauge whether any particular app should be in your toolkit. Choosing apps wisely is critical to assure that you don’t squander your time learning apps of marginal utility. You want to make your precious learning time as a knowledge professional worth every minute. My goal will be to help you see the possibilities of productivity apps and choose only the best in class. I’ll also be reviewing my favorite apps in depth from time to time – especially those apps that haven’t gotten the recognition they deserve.

New iPhone/iPod Touch tool to keep up with your Reading

I now have a way to see my latest reads in progress which is great because sometimes I forget I have them.

Readmore lets me view my list of books in an attractive format where I can easily identify books by assigning colors and textures.

I can manually organize the list by using the Edit button shown and then just drag books to the position I want.

It makes a game out of getting my reading done. It shows me when I’m likely to finish reading a book and percent completion. It gives me a simple structure to help me stay current and get some of the more challenging books read.

I want to be able to finish reading these books and this app helps me get the job done. As a knowledge professional, keeping up with my reading is important the way keeping up with my fitness is important in my personal life. We now have a Runkeeper for reading. At $2, this structure can’t be beat! The iTunes link is: Readmore.

Writing with your iPhone 4

I just hooked up my bluetooth keyboard to my iPhone 4. Saw a guy at my local Starbucks doing it and he raved about it.

All this is wireless — no dreaded cables at all. Ever. Just 3 AAA batteries to power the keyboard which is surprisingly light at about 10 ounces. Lighter than carrying an iPad.

Here I am at the Caffe Acri in Tiburon writing a brand new blog post. I’m using the WordPress app which has crashed a couple of times already. Not to worry, though, it saved all my work anyway.

If you have an iPhone, you may want to get on this brand new bandwagon. It started after a recent iOS4 update that enabled bluetooth keyboards to work with iPhones, not just iPads.

I’ve got my iPhone 4 in a vertical position tilted up against a coffee cup. I guess I will photograph it with my iPhone 3GS that’s still kicking around. The keyboard is on my lap where it belongs. It works on the table but isn’t really very ergonomic that way.

The reason to have a keyboard with your iPhone is to do some serious keyboard input. It’s not for twitter, but when you want to write in paragraphs, this keyboard is a godsend. I didn’t realize how light it is.

It is a lot more comfortable on your lap than a laptop — even a MacBook Air! Even an iPad which is more than twice it’s weight and fiddly — you don’t want to drop your iPad.

So, what can you do? You could write email if you must. But I would suggest writing in your journal or simply writing in Momento, 3Banana Notes, Awesome Note, Simplenote, Evernote or even the built-in Notes app.

I love the 3Banana Notes app for its responsiveness, ability to add a photo to your note and the excellent hashtag keywords feature that lets you make keywords in your notes on the fly which subsequently act as hotlinks to all notes containing that keyword. I think 3Banana is better than Simplenote. Evernote lags from my point of view because it tends to be sluggish and sometimes that looks like unuseable if you need to get your note entered without delay.

I have greatly enjoyed the Momento journaling app for its great tagging, photos, UI and more. It works great on iPhone but a big upgrade has been in the works a long time and many of us are getting impatient for the promised new features.

In all these apps, all you need to do is type and won’t find it difficult to occasionally touch your iPhone screen when you need to press a button. I found a list of keyboard shortcuts at theappleblog:

You can find detailed instructions on how to pair the Apple wireless keyboard in the iPhone User Guide PDF. See page 48. I’ve heard other keyboards work with the iPad, so I’m guessing they will also work with iPhone now. If you want to write and travel light, this combo can’t be beat!

How I’m Using my iPhone 4 for Productivity, Part 1

Updated: Aug 29 2012. I’ve tweeted extensively about my new iPhone, but haven’t written up a blog post yet. I love iPhone 4. The ultra high rez screen is a glorious sight to behold. I love the two glass sides even if that glass back may be a bit impractical. I bought Apple’s black bumper on day 1 and haven’t seen a scratch anywhere yet. Update: I’m now on the iPhone 4S and enjoying iOS5. I’ve updated the ends of several paragraphs below with more current information. See the italics sections for the updates.

The iPhone 4 is a wonderful partner to my new iPad. Its iOS4 is a big upgrade. Multitasking was just what I needed to make using lots of apps a lot easier and quicker. So, iPad now has only a size advantage for viewing and typing. I’m waiting as patiently as I can for multitasking there which will be a huge improvement.

But the iPhone 4 is back in full swing and I choose it often for my needs, even book reading when its size and weight feel more comfortable compared to the comparatively bulky and much heavier iPad. iPhone is wonderful when lounging in bed, when in line and whenever comfort is of utmost importance.

The Camera. Still photos are my specialty. I’ve taken a couple of videos but that’s an area I’ve yet to explore in depth. I use the iPhone as the best camera I’ve got with me on most days and get quite good results. For productivity, though, the camera serves to take great scans of information I encounter including business cards, signs, book passages, magazines and newspapers. There are lots of apps that take advantage of the camera including a number of good portable scanning apps like jotnot. Update: The iPhone 4S camera is even better and more effective in all capacities. Jotnot is still really good. Evernote has just added some of these capabilities in its new Page Camera feature.

Reeder. I love Reeder on iPhone as an RSS reader. Its key to success is the efficiency with which I can scan, read and dispatch articles. I feel like I have the best tool available to stay abreast of the news in my fields of interest. I can star articles, save them to Read it Later or Instapaper, or email the full article to Evernote to archive it when that option is permitted by the blogger. Reeder is excellent on the iPad as well. Update: Reeder is still number 1 but you should also check out Zite, Newsify and Flipboard which all work on both iPhone and iPad.

Read it Later and Instapaper. I’m currently on a Read it Later jag and am using it as my primary, read later tool. It has the same kinds of pass it on features and the most frequent one I use there is to send the full article to Evernote. Unlike Reeder, I can use Read it Later’s website on my Mac to read articles. Read it Later is also on my iPad and is even better with a big screen. I haven’t done a feature by feature comparison between RIL and IP so I am not sure which will ultimately be my favorite. Update: ReaditLater is now Pocket and a strong competitor to Instapaper. I’m now more entrenched with Instapaper so recommend it above Pocket for its better fonts mainly.

Twitter. I have been a big fan of Tweetie and really wish it would have stayed independent. But, I’ll still take the renamed and slightly modified Twitter as my favorite Twitter app for iPhone. I like to use Twitter as a complement to Reeder in learning about what is hot and happening in my fields of interest which include technology as you know. Twitter adds other sources from my 600+ person hive mind (the people I follow). If my favorite blogs aren’t covering something hot out there, my hive mind will let me know. Twitter lets me send articles on to Read it Later (or Instapaper) for reading later as well as emailing full articles to Evernote. Update: Tweetbot is the rightful successor to Tweetie and is my strong preference for iPhone, iPad and Mac (in Alpha right now).

Evernote. I’m not as happy as I could be with Evernote for iPhone but it has saved me a few times when I needed to grab a piece of crucial information saved to Evernote. My main complaints about Evernote for iPhone are that (1) it’s often too slow to update or search and (2) it doesn’t let me edit notes — there are good reasons why but it is a fairly big limitation. Still, I’m grateful that I can get access to all the 5000 or so entries I have there from my iPhone anywhere and time. Update: Evernote has gotten much better and now allows editing of notes from iPhone and iPad!

3Banana notes. I was using Simplenote for a long time as my *quick note* capture tool, but I think 3Banana is better in a couple ways. I can add or take a photo and combine that with a quick note. This is huge. I can photograph something and write a note right there about what it is and what I want to remember about it. Both Simplenote and 3Banana are text only besides that. But 3Banana has another nice feature. You can use hashtags. If you enter #ToDo, for example, you can then click on any #ToDo to see all of your notes with that hashtag. Just add the # in front of a word and you have a hashtag on any word in the note. Also, 3Banana syncs to a cloud-based version that is available on any browser for editing, accessing or creating notes and of course as a backup of your notes and way to sync notes between devices such as iPhone and iPad! Update: 3Banana notes is now Catch notes and still a strong app for note-taking.

iBooks and Kindle. Don’t leave home without your whole book collection. At least your ebook collection. I love having my reference ebooks available and often have the non-fiction and fiction items I’m reading on iPad here too. I prefer iBooks because of its multi-colored highlighting and great fonts which I like to indulge in. If I weren’t so enamored of those features, I would probably prefer the Kindle app because it then allows me to read an ebook on my Kindle, iPad and iPhone 4. At the moment, my infatuation with the iPhone 4 is keeping me from picking up my Kindle 2 so that’s not a big issue. Update: I’m back to buying eBooks at the KindleStore and then using Calibre with a plug-in to convert them to ePubs. I than drag them over to my iPad and iPhone.

More to come soon. There are quite a few more tools in my iPhone kit.