Mobile notes

Although this post is about taking notes on a mobile device, I have to admit to using my Mac Book Pro to compose it. My apologies to all purist readers.

I am prompted to write this after reading Col Hawksworth’s recent blog post and subsequent comments. http://mindmug.wordpress.com/2009/12/04/take-note/. Half way through my reply to his post (and Jame’s agreement with Col’s frustration) I realised that I had the makings of something to say that might be useful to others. My post is not entirely unrelated – but not about the iPhone undo function – which Col has solved.

I used to be an avid note taker. At meetings, conferences and throughout my various University courses I took notes. Lots of notes. These helped me later to form ideas, plans and write reports for managers. All were on paper – at the time it would have been impossible to take a laptop with me (or in earlier times the slate and chalk) :-). When I received my first Palm PDA (back in 2002) I begun to realise that this could be a useful device for taking notes. After struggling with the script writing software I quickly updated to a WM-OS iPaq. Now this was great, all I had to do was tap away at the screen with a stick and at the end of the day synch the notes up to the PC mother-ship and there were my notes; in Word ready to spell check, add to and move on. But something was missing. As the keyboard became smaller (actually, the keyboard remained the same – but my eyesight deteriorated) it became much more frustrating to use. And – have you noticed the position of your arm when you’re tapping away with a stylus? I eventually stopped taking notes on a mobile device and resorted once more to paper.

Over the intervening two or three years my handwriting (never my best feature) had, like my eyesight, deteriorated. My scrawl was hardly legible and therefore hardly any use so, over time I became more reliant on memory: never the best of all human features. I tried laptops (sometimes too heavy, no battery life, too big for use in some places – sometimes just too laptoppy!) and thought that all my note-taking ships had come in at once when the Asus eee popped onto the market. But I fell out of love with that too.

So now what?

Well, I’m currently using the iTouch to take down my reflections on train journeys. And I’m loving it.

Why?

I think that it’s a combination of ease, of software choice and Web 2.0 connectivity. Thanks to Lilian Soon and Ron Mitchell, I’ve been persuaded to use Evernote. This sits nicely on the iTouch and on my Mac. I suspect it will also work on one of my other laptops but I’m not currently speaking to them (long story). I’m also using Dropbox on both (all actually) devices. So, I now have the ability to grab, capture and compose bits and pieces on any device and with the magic of Web 2.0, knit them all together later when I have the time and patience. But (and here, finally is the link to Col’s post) the main convenience is the finger tappingly good interface on the iTouch. Despite aging eyes, despite the screen size (which for a mobile device is excellent) I’ve found that I can manage to tap out a convincingly long piece of reflection without a problem. My Penzu personal reflections (prepared for IfL) have never been so good. My blog posts (apart from this) are often formed via Evernote and the iTouch. And why is the iTouch ok and the iPaq not so good (for me)? Because I use my fingers. Simply that. It’s tactility makes it the tool for me. I can increase the text size by spreading two fingers on the screen, I can tap away at a reasonably sized keyboard and (most importantly) my brain can keep up with my fingers in a way that it could never keep up with the stylus on my iPaq. So, now that hand, brain and device are in synch – I seem to manage perfectly well. And also because of this, I’ve not (yet!!!) had the problem James and Col describe of deleting the whole damn lot.

And finally, why am I using my Mac to write this instead of my iTouch? Well, there’s a real keyboard and it’s the right tool to do the job. The iTouch is perfect for impromptu note taking, but there’s no need to use it all the time.

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