I fairly realized why Apple used so many times the word “revolution” and its different variants when they talked about the iPad and the iPhone. However, after I was given an iPad on Christmas 2011, I was surprised to see how well done the device is and how versatile and dynamic it is. Moreover, after discovering several useful apps especially designed for education, I must admit that it came to replace many of the tools I originally use as a student. For example, PDF readers and annotators are just awesome when you need to review a paper; the agenda is well designed and is automatically synced with the cloud; there’s even an official app from my Uni (Bocconi) which keeps me updated of my classrooms, exams and university communications.
But none of these “features” is a novelty (compared to what I can do with a browser or a normal PC). That’s why the really striking feature of the iPad for me was the capacitive screen in conjunction with a note taking app. Originally I’ve got this idea from a good friend, who was already using it when I got my iPad. He recommended some apps for Note taking, but I finally decided to go for Notability.
Pretty much all note taking applications follow the same simple idea: You write in the screen with a capacitive pen as if it were a big piece of paper and the app offers you the possibility of changing the style of the pen, changing pages, adding a background, etc. Many apps offer also automatic uploading to the cloud, voice recording and even conversion of the notes into PDFs. But what really made Notability shine was that, apart from all these features, it offers a seamless handwriting experience: you zoom into one spot and write in big letters and they appear as normal (smaller) handwriting when you zoom out (no need to buy an additional expensive pen) and it scrolls automatically when you have finished the space. It’s simple, easy and assures that the transition period between physical and virtual notebooks is smooth and quick.
Here are some examples of handwritten notes:
This note is from the class of Time Series Analysis, download the whole PDF: Lesson Mar 12, 2013
This is a note taken in my class of “Comparative Financial Systems”, to see the whole PDF: Lesson 25-feb-2013
Now, I must point out some concerns: First, as with any technology, this will never be free of bugs, although Notability is quite stable, don’t expect 100% reliability. This doesn’t mean that it will hang every 3 minutes, in fact, of my almost 2 years of usage, the software has frozen a couple of times (and has promptly saved my work so I would loose anything of what I’ve written); Second, I still find it hard to do Math exercises on it, specially when there’s a lot of algebra and I need to go back and forth pages constantly. In this case I’d opt for traditional pencil and paper. Third, it seems that technology is moving fast and that new devices are being designed to enhanced the virtual note taking experience, eg. the sony super big 13.3 e-ink notebook, soon to be launched in Japan and that is already in proofs in three Japanese universities, so if you are not an early adopter, I would advise you to wait.
-Download Notability here.
-A good pen (although somewhat expensive): Adonit Jot Pro