Ideas, notes, of the trade

On Monday, September 5, 2011 0 comments

Livescribe Echo
In my write-up on the state of the tablet marketplace, I noted that I use an iPad for light note taking. This has lead to several people asking me about what note taking applications I use on the iPad. As it happens, my job requires that I spent a good deal of time on idea generation, brainstorming and documenting my thoughts/discussions. As a result I have spent countless hours and dollars in the pursuit for the perfect note taking/management solution. I have used traditional PC and Mac applications for note taking, word processing, collaboration, task list management, mind-mapping and white-boarding. Every conceivable mobile device such as Palm, Newton, General Magic's "Magic Cap", Treo and now smartphone and tablet get the idea.

And no solution is universal in solving my note taking needs so here is a breakdown of some key tools I use for documenting and managing my ideas today.

  1. Microsoft Office - I rely a great deal on Microsoft Word and Powerpoint to capture ideas and communicate them. Sure I can and do enjoy using Keynote (Apple's presentation software) for its slick and different presentation engine on occasion but most of the time I find Powerpoint is more appropriate for sharing and distributing a collaborative document with colleagues or others. 
  2. MindManager for Mac - I could write an entire essay on the power of mindmapping and its ability to communicate and align your thoughts and ideas. This is a tool I use during brainstorming to make sure I have captured everything. (Note to self: maybe this warrants its own blog or at least a more indepth writeup). I also run this application on my Windows PC and they offer a Mindmap viewer application for standalone distribution.
  3. Mindmap created by MindManager for Mac
  4. Curio - This is a strange but awesome beast of an application. I'll never do this product justice and strongly suggest you check out the demo. But here's a high-level summary of what the application offers:
    • It is a free-form white space (ie: a blank sheet) where you can layout blocks of notes, lists, flowcharts, mindmaps, pictures, PDFs and simple graphics tools.
    • Templates for managing your thought process, project templates, etc.
    • Data driven solution that includes meta-data, tags and search functions to make finding through thoughts/ideas/notes easier.
    • Project status and tracking
    • Supports Evernote...more on this shortly.


There are a wide assortment of note taking, list organizing, mindmapping, brainstorming apps for the iPhone and iPad. Everyone has their favorites. And I'd be remiss if I tried to imply I could talk about them all. There are some trustworthy apps I rely on to date and some newer ones I will mention as they show potential.
  1. Evernote is my all-around, go-to app for keeping notes and information in one place. This is one of the first note solutions built off the concept of cloud computing. The cloud is a virtual place on the internet where your information is stored and accessed when you need it. What is most wonderful about this application is the fact that you can access all your information from your web browser, native apps on Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad, Android devices, Blackberry, Windows Phone can even email information to Evernote! Save a wide variety of information such as notes (obviously), web clippings, photos and PDFs. The system is even smart enough to turn all your information into searchable items including words within images and PDF files. I will mention that you should not try to get overly fancy with your notes formatting as different platforms display your notes slightly different. Just something to watch.
  2. Pages, Numbers and Keynote are great apps for reading Word, Excel and Powerpoint type documents. Versions of these applications originated life by Apple for their Macintosh to have an alternative to Microsoft's Office suite. 
  3. Penultimate is a hand writing note app for the iPad and it was a great mock-up document solution for me but of late I have been using Noteshelf which is similar but infinitely more configurable able and supports more types of documents. I feel that the pen draw solution is substantially smoother and the variety of templates and the ability to mix and match templates in a document is key. It also supports Evernote and Dropbox
The Trusty Pen

While I have talked about all the digital solutions I rely on, you will quite often still find me with a pen and notepad. As many of you know, the old fashion pen and paper is still a killer app. It accommodates a wide range of data types and forms of communication. And nowadays we have some hybrid solutions that bring the best of both worlds.
  1. Livescribe Echo is a combination smartpen and specialized digital dot paper. When combined, the information written on the paper is also saved digitally in the pen for later download into your PC or Mac. The magic of the pen is that it can also record the audio in the room while you are writing your notes for later review on your computer. The playback of your "pencast" allows you to see what was being said as you wrote your notes. This allows for new visual search solutions to quickly playback specific audio. These notes can also be uploaded online, shared with others and is compatible with Evernote. There are a slew of notepad sizes and shapes available and Livescribe even has a solution for certain printers to be able to print out the dot paper. I love the small notepad that is not much bigger than a smartphone. I take this with me to most meetings nowadays and find I use it more than any other device for actually capturing what is in my head and what is being discussed.
  2. Inkling by Wacom. Wacom are the masterminds behind the graphics tablets for many computer artists. Their tools allow digital artists to apply different types of pen strokes and brushes in computer paint and photo-manipulation programs to create beautiful art. Wacom has now created a device to capture your sketchs within your own notepads and turn them into computer editable pieces of art. This is an exciting development and the product is due to be released in a few weeks. I'll be sure to cover it here on the blog once it hits the market. In the meantime, you can watch this clip...

Collaboration and the Cloud

You see a lot of mentions of Evernote, so its probably pretty clear that this is one of my two favorite catch-all solutions for making sure I keep everything important "with me". I know if I put the information into Evernote's cloud I will have many ways to access it including my ever-present iPhone. Very handy!

Another great collaboration, cloud-based solution is Dropbox. Simply put, Dropbox is a virtual folder on the internet that you can save and share access to any files you put into it. You get 2 gigabytes of free storage and can increase this with Pro accounts as needed.


This is a snapshot of my portfolio of "go to" applications. By my very nature I am always on the lookout for new and improved solutions to address my needs. But many of these applications have been with me for a couple years now and are staples. But I am sure there are countless more applications and solutions that many readers may enjoy or benefit from in their everyday lives and I'd love to hear about them. Please feel free to comment.



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