Where the iPad comes into its own

As time has gone on, I’ve found that my iPad has a few really useful affordances. The biggest is the battery life — which means that I no longer have to cluster with other laptop users round the few available power sockets. So I now take it to every meeting where I’m likely to want to take notes. I’ve also managed to get the hang of the on-screen keyboard, so I can type reasonably quickly.

There are now tons of note-taking Apps for the device, and so far I’ve tried quite a few: Apple’s (relatively expensive) Pages App; DocsToGo; Mental Note; Dan Bricklin’s NoteTaker HD; and Simplenote. Of these, I found Simplenote to be the most useful, because it automatically syncs to all my other devices — which means that a note can be accessed from anywhere. A few weeks ago, for example, I had to give a talk at a symposium, but didn’t have time to prepare a presentation or even print a script. So in the venue car-park beforehand I jotted down some notes on my laptop using the JustNotes program (which syncs with Simplenote), and then used the synced version on my phone as an aide-memoire for the talk.

This week I was a speaker at a Cambridge symposium on “The Digital Revolution and its futures” and — as usual — took out the iPad to begin taking notes. Sitting behind me was Andrew Gruen, a Gates Scholar who is doing very interesting work on Citizen Journalism and who is also an iPad & Mac user. He tapped me on the shoulder and said “Have you heard of Soundnote?” When I looked blank, he said “Try it: it’s really cool”.

So I did. At first sight it looks like any other notetaking App. But it has one magical ingredient: it can record audio and sync the recording to the typed notes. In other words, it does much of what my Livescribe pen does, but with none of the associated gadgetry — and cost. The Livescribe pen retails at around £120, and then there’s the cost of the special notebooks (you can print your own special paper, but life’s too short for that) on top.

And the cost of Soundnote? Why £2.99. For some people — those whose work involves taking minutes of meetings, for example — it would justify the purchase of an iPad. If this isn’t a Killer App, then I don’t know what is.

There’s an informative review/description of Soundnote here.