Category Archives: Knowledge Functions

News Reading on iPad — Work Flow for Knowledge Professionals

We live in a world of apps and are beginning to move beyond the web browser. There’s a work flow to finding news of interest, skimming or reading it and filing it away in your reading stack or for reference some time in the future. Here’s a way to do it all on your iPad with great pleasure and efficiency. [Post Updated April 30, 2012]

1. Scanning for Interesting Stories, Cherry picking a few short stories to read now, dispatching some for later.

The first step is to go out and see if there are some important, interesting or exciting new stories just out. Actually, if you have an iPad and a good app or two, this doesn’t even require getting out of bed. Go to your easy chair if you must and get a cup of tea or coffee. Now, what has happened since the last time you checked?

I wrote about keeping current in January and covered the apps I think you should know about. You will want to use multiple apps to get the discovery, diversity, ability to focus on your interests and some input from social (what have they found today?). I recommend you try: Tweetbot for iPad, Zite, and River of News – each has a great user experience, customizability and allows you to dispatch what you’ve found for later use.

The Flow for my 3 Favorite Apps:

  • Tweetbot displays your full twitter stream by default but easily allows you to select a particular list. When big stories break, I consult one of my tech-oriented lists first. Otherwise, I start with my full twitter stream. Tweets are short but usually enough to decide whether to read now by tapping the link or to send to Instapaper by tapping and holding the link and selecting Read Later. Tweetbot let’s you read now in luxury with a choice of beautiful Readability themes built-in.
  • Zite opens to top stories with summaries with feature images. Stories are organized in sections. I usually read top stories first and then consult the sections I’m most interested in at the moment. Tap to read a story. Tap to send to your Instapaper (or now Pocket) reading stack, or Evernote for later reference. Thumbs up or down the article, tags, author and publication to further train Zite’s AI for next time.
  • River of News. Scroll through the stories in your RSS subscriptions in Google Reader. As you go, each post is marked as read. I like that feature. Double-tap to send to Instapaper, triple-tap to email full text, tap star to star, swipe to navigate. Efficient! Three other excellent RSS readers are Reeder $5, Mr. Reader $4 and Perfect Reader $2 on sale). Reeder has a companion iPhone app for $3 which makes it arguably better than River of News if you have both devices – synergy is good.

2. Reading in Instapaper

"Instapaper 4.1 Articles View"
Instapaper 4.1

You’ve stacked your current reading, especially long articles in Instapaper because this is where reading is optimal with different themes, fonts, brightness controls, adjustable line height, margins and auto-scrolling. Equal to the best eReaders except for annotation: no notes or highlights allowed.

On March 16, iPad 3 launch day, Instapaper added 6 great new typefaces. Elena is the new default and I love it. If you prefer sans serif, try Proxima Nova. These fresher, better faces are to die for on iPad 3 and eye-pleasing on any iPad.

Instapaper rules for saved for later article reading. Pocket is #2 (more graphical). Other amenities include file folders, archive, sharing to Twitter, email full text and more. If you want to annotate or have read enough to file for future reference, you can dispatch the article to Evernote.

3. Reading & Annotating in Evernote

Always with you. Reading is not at the level of Instapaper, but you get an even better always with you capability with Evernote. It is free on Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle and more. Instapaper doesn’t have a desktop app so you have to use a web browser to get there and the experience suffers as a result. There’s a high-end Evernote service that you can add for more storage and some other amenities.

Note Taking / Annotation. You can write a full article in Evernote and have that power including bullets, numbered lists, variable headings and more. This ability to write and annotate is a big advantage of Evernote. The trade-off is that it takes longer to get the full-text of an article into Evernote than it does to file to a folder in Instapaper. I save the really good stuff to Evernote so I can engage with it.

Annotation. Even more often than writing notes in Evernote, I will highlight key passages. I can also color text and style it as I can in writing my own notes.

This work flow is almost too easy and enjoyable to call it a work flow.  It works especially well on the iPad whose big screen and multitouch is wonderful for skimming, reading and annotation. I now know what this is like on an iPad 3 and it is really stunning.

Keeping Current – Best iPad Apps for Knowledge Professionals

Knowledge professionals live, prosper or die by their ability to keep current in their chosen fields. Besides your own knowledge niche, you need to keep current with events of the day that matter to your associates and constituents. A lapse in specialized or general knowledge reflects badly on you and may affect your ability to create value for your clients and associates. This is the fifth in a series of posts about using the iPad as a versatile mobile tool to accomplish essential knowledge functions.

We live and work in a mesh of people and information. Maybe there was a time when professionals just went to work and did their jobs. In these confusing, complex and rapidly changing times, important informal partnering and value exchanges occur constantly with our colleagues, vendors and clients. These major and micro-exchanges can make all the difference. But I digress.

This post begins the topic of Keeping Current and how you might best use an iPad to stay abreast of events and information in your field, your other areas of interest, your location and the world at large. Our focus today will be on News reading. My follow up post will finish up with Social News reading — with Flipboard leading the pack. Then I will get into reading after news capture with a discussion of reading apps like Instapaper and note/storage apps like Evernote.

Essentials of Keeping Current

Discovery. I want to be able to discover new news sources, authors and specific news items efficiently. I don’t know in advance what is going to be important. I want to be able to skim to sift through the new news.

Focus. I want to focus on the areas, sources and authors I find most interesting and valuable. This is in conflict to some extent with discovery but is equally important.

Diversity. Another value is that I want to see enough diversity in the news to get different view points that cause me to think and continue to refine my thinking and gain whole new perspectives and new concepts and knowledge.

Ways to Stay Current

There are many ways to stay current. Here are a few:

  1. Watching television news.
  2. Reading the morning newspaper(s) and weekly magazines via paper.
  3. Reading the morning newspaper(s) and weekly magazines via the internet or other electronic means.
  4. Creating your own aggregated set of news sources via RSS feeds and perusing the new entries that have come in since you last checked.
  5. Following news provided by those in your social or professional circles via means like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and new apps like Flipboard.

I’m going to skip over #1 and #2 as the dominant traditional means of staying current that have been losing share to electronic, internet and app-based methods. Further, I’m going to only cover #3 briefly as I think these methods are imitative of paper publications and are still finding their way as new media. I don’t think the biggest value add is here.

#3 News and Magazine apps on the iPad

I don’t know whether we are just in the era of rampant ADD or what but it seems in the last 15 years since web browsing began, we’ve become a nation of skimmers and surfers. Somehow the genie is out of the bottle now and I’m not willing anymore to be a recipient of news fed to me in a canned way, however literate, from one publisher. I am no longer interested in relying on the New York Times to find out what is going on. But, I am interested in having a newspaper constructed on the fly for me based on my interests and drawn from many sources not just one. That’s now possible and I find it desirable and efficient. If you like these single publication apps, go for it. Some other top publications like the Wall Street Journal and The Economist may serve you perfectly, but there is this new alternative that I really like…

Zite: Combo Custom News App

The new way to read like before but better is via an app like Zite. It has sections like the New York Times but there are distinct differences. You can choose among Zite’s standard sections to create your own newspaper and you can add custom sections. For example, I have separate sections for iPhone, iPad, Android and Kindle along with standard sections like Politics and World News. I like being able to my favorite topics front and center.

Even better, with Zite, I can thumbs up and thumbs down different articles and then have Zite give me more of what I liked and less of what I didn’t. So, for example, my Philosophy & Spirituality (a standard section in Zite) has gradually evolved to give me more about Zen and less fundamentalist Christian pieces. The Politics section has shifted to the Left.

Besides this customization, Zite respects my preferences in another important way. I can send the articles I want to keep to Instapaper or Evernote or email the full text. Now, every publication won’t allow Zite to do this, but most will one way or another (sometimes they require you to go to their website first). I resent apps that restrict me to email the URL to myself, Evernote or a colleague. I know they have to make a living too, but still. Zite recently introduced an excellent iPhone version that is excellent for reading news on the small screen.

RSS Readers

In the early days of blogging circa 2003 – 2005, bloggers used RSS readers. This allowed us to subscribe to each other’s blogs and browse new blog posts from the blogs we followed. I’m still doing it and it still works well but I have to admit to also using Zite and in a minute I’ll be talking about social news apps.

RSS Readers Defined. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, an RSS reader allows you to automatically received new blog posts from any blogs whose RSS feeds you’ve subscribed. The most popular RSS Reader on the web is Google Reader. You use a free Google email account to use Google Reader and add subscriptions there. All you need to do is enter in the url for the blog you want to add to your RSS reader. You can add or delete from your list of feeds as desired.

The essentials that RSS Readers excel at are Focus and Diversity. You can flood yourself with a ton of feeds that cover many subjects that you care about (Focus), and by subscribing to a lot of different sources within each subject, you get diversity. However, one key aspect of discovery doesn’t happen as well. You don’t get new sources and new topics as much. We all like a new discovery so you may need to go to Zite or social news apps for that spice.

There are several really good RSS News Readers for the iPad and I have my four favorites: Perfect RSS Reader, Mr. Reader, Reeder and River of News. All draw the articles from Google Reader, the web site. I’m not mentioning some other RSS readers like Byline.  If you want a more magazine-like experience, you may prefer Pulse, Pulp, Read or Newstream.

It may very well be that the days of these more traditional newsreaders is numbered on the iPad due to the appeal of magazine-like presentation. Of these magazine-a-likes, I’m currently reading Newstream the most. I’ve used it to go straight to some of my tech favorites like The Verge, GigaOm, MacStories, Monday Note, TechMeme and AppleInsider and the Atlantic. There is a wealth of good apps here that are furiously competing with each other and getting better all the time.

Perfect RSS Reader – $2 regularly $5. Newcomer whose aesthetics I like. What can I say I like the antiqued look. I like the split screen with articles listed with descriptions on the left and full articles on the right. With lots of functionality available with discrete buttons at the bottom. My current newsreader of choice. But you really should occasionally check out the competition because you never know when one will jump ahead of the others. I own all four of these.

Reeder – $5. King of the hill until really good competition took note and copied and then elaborated on what Reeder had done on iPhone and then iPad. I still prefer Reeder on my iPhone which is where I think it still dominates the straight RSS reader category. Besides being classy and great at what it does and innovative. Reeder has an wonderful Mac app which I like when I’m taking a quick news break on my Mac.

Mr. Reader – $4. Uber Powerful. Perfect if you like a list with some description for each and don’t want the full article except when you really do want it. This can work well if you mostly read elsewhere which many people do. You skim here and just hit the arrow to move the winners to Instapaper or Evernote in full when publication allows it.

River of News – $2. I used this app for probably a year and really enjoyed 2 key features combined. I could just spin through the river of articles and I set the preference to mark them read as I went through them. That feature alone can be helpful if you want to actually get through all your feeds. Simple clean interface without the column on the side. Worth your $2 if you haven’t tried it and think it sounds like something you might like. Simplicity is appealing and I may come back home here one of these days. I sure haven’t deleted this app from my iPad.

Social News Apps

Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – we will save for part 2. Twitter is the originator of the short status update and is the winner for social news for the knowledge professional. Twitter consists of 140 character blurbs of information-laden content shared publicly for others read. This service has proven so valuable that it has been adopted in a lesser form as Status Updates by Facebook, LinkedIn and many others. Sharing links to blog posts and youtube videos is dominant and thus forms a source of news that shouldn’t be ignored.

Status Updates on Twitter and elsewhere and tools that stand on the shoulders of these tools is a large and burgeoning area that I will address as a separate blog post. For now, just keep in mind that keeping current can’t be complete without the use of these tools in some capacity. On the iPad, I would start with Flipboard.

Kindle Fire and Kindle Touch: Best of Both Worlds?

I am fortunate enough to own both a Kindle Fire and a Kindle Touch. In fact, I also currently own a Kindle 4 and a Kindle Keyboard (K3). I expect to shed two of them in the near future, but before I do, I thought I would write up my thoughts.

Reading is one of the essential knowledge functions that every knowledge professional takes seriously. The Kindle Fire is more than a reading device — reading may be a secondary function here, but I doubt it. Does it make sense to carry both a Kindle Fire and a Kindle Touch? Where is each at its best? I’ll talk about e-ink vs lcd screens for long-form reading – what are the trade offs?

iPad vs Kindle Fire

Does it make sense to get a Kindle Fire when you already have an iPad? I have both for the time being. The reasons I went for the Kindle Fire were (1) I thought I would like the 7″ form factor for holding while reading and also for its portability, (2) I’m an Amazon fan and had heard the Fire’s integration with the Amazon store was superior to iTunes,  (3) I was curious about how the other half lived – the Android side of things and (4) it was cheap ($200) to find out. Here’s what I found out.

It doesn’t make sense to buy a Kindle Fire if you have an iPad and like it (unless you share devices in a household). Unless you don’t use all of the features of the iPad and aren’t depending on iPad apps that aren’t available on the Fire (yet). Keep the following in mind in making this decision. One option is to replace your iPad with a Kindle Fire and sell it to those who gladly consider a used iPad.

  • Yes, the integration with Amazon is better than iTunes so it’s easier to browse and access books, music, TV shows and movies. If you love Amazon like I do, that may be enough.
  • However, the Amazon App Store has only 1% of what’s on Apple’s App Store. Lots of really good stuff (Instapaper, Index Card, Flipboard, Zite…) is missing. The selection is thin. This will likely change over time but, as an early adopter, I know it isn’t much fun to wait for something to get popular (developers take time to write apps and currently make more money going the iOS route).
  • The Fire lacks cameras. The 2 iPad cameras don’t add much except video chat.
  • The Fire lacks Bluetooth. This means you can’t use an external keyboard with the Fire which could be a big negative for some. With some driver software, a wired USB keyboard could work.
  • The Fire lacks GPS. This will make map apps less valuable and other local apps such as travel guides and restaurant recommendations.
  • The Fire lacks cellular. Amazon’s promising cloud support remains merely a promise when wi-fi is not available.

The deal breaker for me, though, is that the Kindle Fire isn’t much easier to hold than the iPad. It is easier to hold in one hand. But it is twice the weight and thickness of an e-ink Kindle. It’s a brick, actually. Keep reading, though, there is more to this story.

The Kindle Fire is a great deal for what you get compared to the iPad. The iPad is an excellent, no-compromise tablet and worth $500. But, the Kindle Fire is a better value. It’s a great starter device that you can experiment with, learn on, consume Amazon content from and get basic app functionality out of like taking notes with Evernote. It’s quite a bit smaller, though thicker than I prefer. It also has a few quirks because it was a rush job and Amazon got a deal from the makers of the RIM playbook which allowed them to hit the bargain $199 price point. Other apps that are on the Fire and help make it a reasonable app-using device are: Dropbox, Pulse, AP Mobile, The Weather Channel, Goodreads and the Kindle app itself. Of course there are lots of games if you want to go there. The screen is really good. The operation is simple and while a bit slower to respond to touch than the iPad, you get used to it.

E-Ink vs High-end LCD Screens

Lots has been written about e-ink and its virtues. To sum it up, you get an easy on the eye screen that works really nicely as long as you have good lighting. Outdoors tends to be wonderful. By a window is awesome. The e-ink screen doesn’t refresh all the time. Instead it refreshes when you turn the page. Because of that, the eye enjoys the rest and battery life is much better. This means a great big battery doesn’t need to be put into the e-ink Kindles but does need to be in the Kindle Fire and the iPad and iPhone, et al.. E-ink devices are light and thin and that is a really nice thing when you are reading. Some people buy a case or clip on lamp for their Kindles to get light when they need it since there is no backlight.

The heavier LCD-screen devices need to be set on a table, on your lap. They can’t simply be held up for extended periods unless you are a really strong and large person. So, for long-form reading — books that is — an e-ink device is nice. Except that backlight can be a godsend when the light in the room isn’t good. Second, you get color — really nice color. Your screen can respond really rapidly and be more interactive. When you read books that include lots of pictures like children’s books and textbooks, the LCD-screen devices win.

What if you already have an E-Ink Kindle should you consider the Fire? If you don’t have an iPad and think you might take some advantage of apps, the Kindle Fire has a lot to offer as a compliment to an e-ink Kindle. You are already covered on music with your existing Kindle. But you have more room for music on the Fire and then you have TV, movies, email and web browsing too. When conditions aren’t great for the regular Kindle, the Fire can be used to read in low light and allow you to view books and publications in color.

The Kindle Fire as your only eReader. Is that a good option? This might be an individual decision. First, if it is your only eReader, you don’t have to decide which device to bring with you. That’s nice. With my plethora of mobile devices, it’s difficult… Second, some folks such as Eolake Stobblehouse of eReader Joy prefers LCD to e-ink because of its better contrast and other virtues. I have a preference for e-ink in good lighting conditions and I love the light weight and slender profile of these devices for reading. However, I have a pretty good time reading on the Kindle Fire too. It is nice also, you just have to prop it up on your lap or something after a while.

What about the Kindle Touch vs. Kindle 4 and Kindle Keyboard?

I am going to keep my Kindle Touch and use it when the light is good as a superior dedicated eBook reading device. Reading is important to me. I need to keep up with a lot of reading and a chunk of that is book reading. I also like me a murder mystery from time to time and an occasional classic. Also, you can take the 7 ounce Kindle Touch with you without a strain even if you already have an iPad or Fire in tow.

Is the Kindle Touch better than the Kindle 4? For me I had a good reason to favor the Kindle Touch ($99 wi-fi only). I wanted 3G cellular ($149). I had purchased a Kindle 3 (now the Kindle Keyboard) with wi-fi only after having had a Kindle 2 which is a 3G-only device. I missed the always connected nature of the Kindle 2 so when buying the Kindle Touch I opted to pay a one-time charge of $50 to have lifetime 3G even though the 3G on the Touch doesn’t work for web browsing. I can use my iPhone for web browsing if wi-fi is not an option. I know the screen is small but it is a Retina display and I shuttle things over to Instapaper if I need a better reading experience. The prices for e-ink Kindles are with special offers. You pay $30-40 more to eliminate the ads which you can always do later if they bother you. I don’t mind them.

If you don’t like to highlight and don’t take notes, don’t use text to speech and aren’t all that curious about the new x-ray feature only available on the Kindle Touch, you should get the Kindle 4 for $79. Less is more if you don’t need this extra stuff. The Kindle 4 is lighter (1.5 oz.), smaller (a little bit) and generally delightful. I like all that extra stuff enough to tear myself away from the Kindle 4 which was my main Kindle between September and November when the Touch came out. And, even though the touch experience on the Touch is a bit laggy compared to the iPhone or iPad or even the Kindle Fire, it is touch and I like using my finger, to go straight to the words I want to highlight or selection I want to make.

I am hoping the software for the Touch will improve over the next few months — there are a couple missing features right now actually. You can’t turn the touch sideways to view pages in landscape, for example.

What about the Kindle 3 (aka Kindle Keyboard)? This is a darned good device and is full-featured minus the new touch capability, x-ray only available on some titles and the faster page turns in the Kindle 4 and Fire. You don’t need to upgrade. I did but I’m a technology consultant and have an excuse. The faster page turns feature of the K4 and Kindle Touch comes at the expense of a slight degradation on the screen as you go for a total of 5 page turns without a refresh. The Touch is still a little half-baked and if you are used to using the 5-way controller, it’s not a sure thing you’ll like the touch experience better (yet – maybe with software updates the touch will be the clear winner compared to navigating with the 5-way). Also, the touch doesn’t have page turn buttons. I wish it did (but I haven’t found touching the screen for page turns difficult or problematic in terms of fingerprints).

All of the E-Ink Kindles are Great and the Kindle Fire could stand alone as an eReader. Take your pick. I am not ready to give up e-ink, so I go with both. Also, since I have an iPad, I have a hard time keeping the Fire. I will keep it for now since I’m a technology consultant and like learning a bit more about Android.

7″ iPad

A cheaper 7″ iPad could be amazing. There’s a gap in the 5-7″ space that has invited competition from Samsung, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. A 5-7″ iPad would likely be just as fast as the iPad 2 and easier to hold. I imagine it to be an exact copy of the iPad 2, but smaller. It would cost at least $299, I’ll bet. I prefer the traditional form factor of the iPad over the wide-screen Fire which is great for movies but a little awkward for writing since a horizontal keyboard fills the screen leaving little room to see your text.

Kindle Fire 2

The second version of the Kindle Fire will improve markedly. Although there is a rumor of a 10″ Fire, the 7″ size is the one I will follow. The 10″ is already dominated by iPad and I like the 7″ size which will get lighter and thinner gradually. Amazon will be able to hone it like they’ve honed the e-ink Kindles over the generations. Amazon has shown they care about design. And they’ve learned that price matters so Amazon will stay well ahead of Apple in the value department and will likely continue to build out their iTunes-beating cloud-based media services.

That’s it for this year of 2011. See you in the new year! All good tidings.

Organizing your Thoughts and Information on the iPad – Best Apps

The iPad didn’t fare so well in our last episode. Gathering thoughts and information is hard to do when you don’t have a way to search your entire device and have to jump through hoops to move data and docs from one app to another. The gathering function on iPad is a work in progress for sure so your best to go back to the Mac (or PC) as needed to fill any gaps. These limitations of the iPad should gradually diminish as the apps mature and the platform adds innovative file management into iOS5. I expect iCloud to be part of this fix.

Let’s assume you’ve gotten the gathering step together on your iPad with a little judicious help from your Mac or PC. First, we explore the nature of organizing as it applies to creative projects. Then on to the best apps available to take on this challenge.

The Nature of Organizing

We aren’t organizing our car, office or desk. We are organizing all that we know, have thought, are thinking and have gathered so that it will serve our creation process. Here are the pieces of this process:

  1. Grouping. Time to group up what you’ve gathered as best you can. Maybe you will find different kinds of things — you could put them into groups by kind. Maybe you have things that apply to your introduction, issues, examples. Try grouping them and you might get some more ideas with the added advantage that you’ll be able to find things more easily as you create your project.
  2. Arranging. Arranging goes beyond grouping and includes consideration of proximity and positioning. For example, you could put something in the center and other related items grouped around it. If all these things are on a table, a white board or a tool that allows this sort of layout, you’ll be able to see them. Items put front and center are central or more important than those put on the outside edges. What you are looking for here is a birds eye view of your problem/project. You want to see everything at once – grok it in its entirety in a glance or detailed perusal.
  3. Rearranging. This is the same as arranging but the extra point to consider is, how quickly and easily can you rearrange when you want to look at things differently?
  4. Identifying Relationships Between Things. This is another place where visual tools help. For example, you can draw a solid or dotted line between Idea A and Idea B. You could put an arrow head on both ends or one end of that line.
  5. Characterizing Items/Ideas. Here’s where size matters. Something really important might be larger than a less important detail. Colors could be used in color-coding or for the added feelings they bring. Photos and icons can be added to the mix to wake up the right brain.
  6. Ordering. This is the linear part of organizing and is most efficient if the app you are using can do outlines. A good outliner gives you a quick and easy way to sequence items and organize them under subheads. You can also hide or show elements of the outline to focus on certain pieces of the puzzle.
  7. Mind-mapping. Mind-mapping is a visual version of outlining with more emphasis on positioning and visualizing. The better mind-mapping tools will let you have more than one node, comments, icons or flags on items, colors and other capabilities more often found in a pure drawing or diagramming tool.

The Best Apps for Organizing

If you were relying on the physical world alone, you might do what detectives do and create a murder room for your project. You then can put all the books, files, charts, drawings, photos and what not together in this room and hang out there for inspiration. Breakthroughs can come from dwelling in, on, around, and amongst the problem/topic and its data. Scientists hangout in their labs. Let’s see how the iPad and its best app-makers handle this challenge.

Notebooks and Outliners

My three favorite notebook apps are Circus Ponies Notebook, Thinkbook and Noteshelf. I’m going to throw Omnioutliner in here as a fourth option since it is a pure outliner with some special qualities you may find useful.

Circus Ponies Notebook ($30). Best App. This ambitious full-featured app is still having some growing pains and will benefit from further refinement and dropbox or iCloud support to help you get things into it (gathering). As mentioned in my last post, there is a Mac version that is mature and amazingly feature rich that can be used in conjunction with the iPad version. That’s a big plus. Here’s the concept. You have a single portable container in which to create a set of pages in an outline and you can put images, attachments, stickers, text and outlines on pages. There’s a drawing layer and voice annotation. Text is styled and colored. You can do all the organizing I describe above, you can rearrange easily and it has awesome search capabilities. You want it all integrated and as of this writing, it doesn’t get any better than this. There is no complimentary iPhone app at this time and none is promised (implication: don’t leave home without your iPad!).

Thinkbook ($5). If you can live with text alone in a powerful outlining environment with some juicy and innovative features, this may be your app. Thinkbook offers slick touch manipulation, tabs, to do items, smart search widgets and an amazing controller called the slider. The slider, lets you quickly rearrange items and move them between notebooks. You can define pages, notebooks within pages or notebooks. Flexibility reigns supreme here. This is such a good app that it’s worth buying just so you can evaluate it for yourself. The price is right and the developer promises that images and full dropbox support are coming. Simplicity has its own pleasures and utility.

Noteshelf ($5). If visualizing is what you are after and handwriting with your finger or stylus is your idea of a good time, this could be your tool of choice. Excellent ink smoothing. Great free and cheap backgrounds for your pages. You can insert different backgrounds for different pages. I recommend something minimal like Penultimate for a handwriting tool in the brainstorming phase. But in the organizing step, you can take more time and the extra features like more pens, separate pages and highlighters are helpful. If you use Noteshelf regularly, use it for brainstorming too. The extra features won’t get in your way when brainstorming if you have mastered the app.

Freeform is the operative word. More like paper. If you can’t type well or you are in a setting where typing would be awkward, handwriting is your only option. If you are a fast typist on-screen, carry a small bluetooth keyboard, and/or prefer digitI like getting digital text and can type so using this kind of app when typing on the screen seems a bit much such when meeting with other people. But if you want to sketch out the big picture, you could do it here.

Three other Notes Apps with Visual Aspects: These other apps have other strengths listed in parentheses: Notes Plus (type text blocks, optional shape recognition), Note-taker HD  (type text blocks, insert wide variety of shapes, arrows and form items) and Notability (typing text is the main event, drawing and images added in dedicated popovers). I’ll do a Notes post soon. I promise!

OmniOutliner ($20). Rich and creamy iOS UI with excellent generic outlining. That’s about all for now. You can insert images via copy and paste but cannot resize them.


There are a few other mind-mapping tools on iPad, but there is one that seems to be in first place by a mile so I will simply recommend it here:

iThoughts HD ($10). Circus Ponies Notebook doesn’t do mind maps. So, if you are serious about your iPad and creative projects, you might want to toss this excellent full-featured mind-mapper into your toolbox (your iPad). It will let you spread out your ideas in a visual set of hierarchies. You can add color, icons, notes, separate items off to the side. Great exporting. You could always attach a PNG or PDF of your Mindmap to your Circus Ponies Notebook.


Omnigraffle for iPad ($30). I own it and occasionally try using it. Glad I have it to whip up a pretty diagram. But I like the other tools that include outlining logic or are a bit simpler like what comes in Noteshelf most of the time.

Index Cards

Index Card ($5). The preeminent index card app on the iPad is called Index Card. It is a great app for smaller, quicker organizing projects. You can’t put in images, but you can assign individual cards to any of 14 attractive colors. You can color-code and assign labels to the colors if you wish. You can stack cards into named stacks. You can rearrange those cards but not group them. The ultimate cards app is on Mac in Scrivener with its new (as of version 2) free-form card arranging mode. Either way, this can be just enough visualizing to help you get that birds eye view on small-scale organizing projects. Major extras: (1) exports to RTF and (2) Syncs card title and front text to Scrivener via Dropbox.

Update April 9 2012

Upon further reflection and further progress in the field of iPad, I have a few more places to point you. One conclusion is that, as Steve Jobs has said all along, simple has a lot going for it and often trumps fancier, more functional and grandiose efforts.

CarbonFin Outliner.  Consider using Outliner as an inexpensive and get-the-job done tool and save OmniOutliner, if you can pop for the price, for when you are in a slower mode or like the synchrony with its Mac counterpart. Has an iPhone counterpart and a website counterpart. [$5]

Lovely Charts. With not nearly the feature list of Omnigraffle, Lovely Charts replaces Omnigraffle on my home page for diagramming because it is more simple, agile and easy to use. [$5]

Paper. Designed to support creative thought more than anything. Still in very early days but with an Ink engine to kill for. An immense pleasure to use for those cocktail napkin diagrams that make all the difference. [free with 4 $2 tools as in app upgrades]

Corkulous Pro. I can’t stand the smiley face icon, but Corkulous has some advantages over and compliments Index Card. First, Corkulous has an iPhone version. Even if you don’t create on iPhone (which you can if a little on the cramped side), you can see your previously created or in progress cork boards. Its strength relative to Index Card, which I still love, is that the boards are huge but you can zoom in and you can have cork boards within cork boards ad infinitum. [$5]

Writing Kit. Not so much going on the visual side although you can insert photo links and view them in preview. But ambitious with built-in web search and web browsing with a queue and outlining via Markdown. Create a text document for your latest budding idea.  Well thought-out, ambitious app. [$5 ]