Category Archives: Personal Technology

Brainstorming on the iPad – Best Apps

This is my second post about iPhone and iPad apps as viewed through the prism of essential knowledge functions. My first post provides some background so if you haven’t read it, you may want to start here: Information Capture on the iPhone – Best Apps. Brainstorming is an essential knowledge function and often the first step when undertaking a knowledge project.

There are many brainstorming techniques. The four that I spend the most time using are all done fast: diagramming, mindmapping, outlining and putting ideas onto index cards and stacking/rearranging them. Plain freewriting is a fifth that is a mainstay but is something that can be done in any writing or notes app. More on that in another post.

Diagramming is often the first thing I try when in the definition phase of a creative project. I want to see the subject so I can figure out how to deal with it. I’ll start trying to diagram it and usually accompany those initial drawings with words that come to mind. Which app helps you do something like this on an iPad? I got started early with Penultimate and have kept coming back to it.  I favor the simplest, quickest app that acts like paper and gets out of my way. Right now Penultimate is the 19th paid app in the app store. That’s saying a lot!

Penultimate is all you need for brainstorming and doesn’t have extras that will lure you down sidetracks to make your brainstorming look prettier. Pretty is almost a drawback in this phase of creativity. We are looking for speed of output to capture things without the critical faculty censoring and limiting your outside-the box-thinking.

Mindmapping is my favorite technique when in the getting started phase of a creative project. I can type fast and get a bunch of nodes branching off of my project name or subject. Right now there is one clear winner in the iPad Mindmapping category: iThoughts HD. This app came out when the iPad was released and has been upgraded extensively.

Why iThoughts HD is at the top mind mapping tool on iPad:

  1. A full range of import and export options that will help tremendously as you move back and forth between knowledge functions and apps.
  2. Great integration with the cloud via Dropbox, MobileMe, WebDav and box.net.
  3. A little sister app for the iPhone that will allow you to create new and see your existing mind maps and tweak them when you are without the iPad.
  4. A powerful tool that reminds me of the premium quality swiss army knife of mind mapping tools on my Mac: Mindjet Mindmanager. The extras aren’t really important in brainstorming, but they come in handy for the presentation-quality versions you’ll want when putting the finishing touches on your masterpiece.

Outlining is another key brainstorming tool. Dash off lists of things that come to mind. With the aid of the outliner you can list items under items and group them as you go or later. I’ve been using Carbonfin Outliner for over a year with few complaints. It does the job for $5 and there’s an iPhone version for $5 as well. There’s also web access with additional functionality. Excellent value. But now, there’s a new luxury outliner that cannot be denied.

OmniOutliner. There are many outliners for the Mac, but OmniOutliner 3 has ruled the roost for years. Every upgrade was free – this is years we are talking! Now we’ve got the junior version for iPad which is actually better than the Mac version. Yes, better. Omnigroup spent a long time learning how to take advantage of the iPhone and the iPad and released some other apps: Omnifocus, OmniGraffle, and OmniGraphSketcher. Now they’ve released OmniOutliner and it is splendid. It is like a Rolls Royce compared to a Honda Civic. Both will get you there. You’ll need to pay $20 to get this one. But, then if you are a smart knowledge professional, you’ll want to avoid being pennywise and pound foolish. There’s already a Mac app. There’s sure to be an iPhone app. And we know Omnigroup keeps tweaking their apps.

You need an outliner for not only brainstorming but also for gathering and organizing – two other important knowledge functions. Don’t skimp here unless you have to. For the time being, you won’t get Dropbox support and the file management is pretty basic. Omnigroup has promised file management upgrades and looking at dropbox support. They are loving iCloud and I expect iCloud to soon trump Dropbox for Omnigroup and for the rest of us. iCloud is much more powerful than a simple service like Dropbox. On the plus side, you can import OPML files (like the ones you can export from iThoughts HD), interchange files with OmniOutliner 3 on Mac, export to MobileMe, use rich text styling and add extra columns to your outlines. This is the power outliner of choice. One last thing, you can insert graphics into outlines.

Index Cards. Another way to brainstorm is to write your snippets of ideas onto index cards. Paper index cards are the favorites of researchers and writers and have been for many, many years. They are small. They are interchangeable and stackable.

Index Card. This is my index card app of choice. Its big brother – a full scale writing app – is Scrivener for Mac ($45). Index Card may be the only pure index card app on the iPad. Drag cards around. Color them. Write on the back sides of cards. And, if that isn’t enough, put them into stacks. Stack cards one level deep. This is a lovely app. Also view cards as a list. $5. It’s an inviting way to get a handle on what you need to do or what the main pieces are in a creative project. Stacking and coloring let’s you organize these things as you progress beyond brainstorming. Limited syncing to Scrivener which has unlimited levels and images attached.

Information Capture on the iPhone – Best Apps

Personal technology today offers amazing advantages and unlimited possibilities to the savvy knowledge professional.

I’ve found it useful to look at Apple’s latest offerings and the apps that go with them through the prism of essential knowledge functions.

This week, I’m starting to look at these knowledge functions and the apps and devices that aid us in using them.

Knowledge Functions. I’m still exploring and articulating these functions. My short list includes Reading and Writing. I’ve also got Brainstorming and GatheringCapturing and Annotating. Don’t forget Organizing, Collecting and Staying Current.

I’ll take a first pass at Capturing today and talk about some of best iPhone apps that address this function.

Capture is a term used in productivity circles and is used prominently in the popular book: Getting Things Done by David Allen. I won’t limit myself to his definition, but in GTD, capture is about capturing the thoughts, tasks and information that you encounter or think up so that they can be remembered, retained and used later. The idea in GTD is to capture to a reliable system so you can stop trying to remember whatever it is and have a clear, zen-like state of mind. Capturing is that and more.

The iPhone. The iPhone is the quintessential capture device of our times. Five salient features make it so:

  • small enough to easily fit in a pants pocket so can be with you 24/7.
  • always connected to the internet.
  • a camera and microphone built-in.
  • a good on-screen keyboard and you can draw or handwrite on it too.
  • large storage capacity.

Much or all of these capabilities are available on similar devices but I’ll stick to the device I recommend and know best for now.

The iPad. Before I go into the capturing function more thoroughly, I’ll briefly examine the iPad as a capture device. It has similar capacities to the iPhone although it functions as a big iPod touch if you are using the wi-fi only model. It’s increased screen size – something like 6x larger than the iPhone screen, makes it more comfortable for typing, drawing and handwriting (the larger screen also provides room to expose app functions to the user).

The iPad’s size is also its worst feature, in that it is bulkier and heavier by far than an iPhone. At 1.33 pounds, of course, the iPad can be carried with you most of the time if you so choose. It’s like a day-planner in bulk and weight. But, like a day-planner, it is hard to use one-handed unless you have a special case designed for that purpose and it doesn’t fit in a jeans pocket — that’s for sure! Last, it has poor cameras compared to the iPhone.

The Mac. As a capture device, the Mac (and of course other PCs) has a built-in keyboard, trackpad or mouse and thus is great for text entry when you are sitting and can be where your Mac is located or take it with you if you have a laptop. If your location is proximate and you want to type, you are in luck and can capture your thoughts, copy and paste from large numbers of possible sources and have at it.

The Office. Our traditional way of knowledge-working over the last decades has mostly been sitting at a desk. That’s been changing as the laptop started making it possible to locate yourself – sitting – on the couch, easy chair, kitchen table, deck and airplane seat. I’m sitting in my comfy easy chair right now writing on my 3 lb MacBook Air.

The Apps. We have these amazing devices, but it is the apps that allow us to cash in on their knowledge function possibilities. I’ll go into these just as soon as I finish up on the capturing function.

Capturing. Briefly, you can capture information by photographing or scanning it if it is visible, by recording it in audio or video format, or by some form of writing it down. Capture implies that you now have that thing and can use it later.

As I was mentioning before, the iPhone takes the prize in this regard as the ultimate capture device. And the iPad comes in second (a smaller iPad would have probably beaten out the current 10″ version and perhaps a bit more mature 7″ Android Honeycomb device will eclipse the current iPad 2 in the future).

So let’s first look at iPhone capture apps. My favorites of the moment are: Camera+, Dragon Dictation, Simplenote, Catch, Nebulous Notes and Jotnot Scanner Pro. In brief here’s why:

Camera+ ($2). The built-in camera app may suffice. But, Camera+ is the best camera app available. Clarify is an amazing way to improve your photos. Camera+ can crop, rotate, border and stylize your snaps. Capture is a lot about speed of execution, you’ll frequently need to grab and go. From a knowledge perspective, capturing information may be the text on a sign like hours of operation, descriptions, instructions or directions. This is portable scanning on the fly – more on that with Jotnot in a moment. You can zoom in later if you don’t have the time right now.

Dragon Dictation (free). The best way to capture short bits of speech and have it converted for you to text and send it somewhere. Gotcha – it’s only 60 seconds worth of speech at a time. You’ll need a recording app if you want more. Dictamus may win here for longer recordings meant to eventually be converted to text by Mac apps like Dragon Dictate. The key here is that sometimes it is easier to record audio than write something down. Like when you are driving (road noise can be a problem) or walking. The free Voice Memos app does the job when voice recognition is not needed. One last thing, Dragon Dictate is a universal app and its big sister for the iPad is more powerful.

Simplenote (free – iTunes link not available today due to a technical problem). My go to note capture tool. It is a lightweight app so opens quickly and you can get a short note down by typing on screen in seconds. It supports tags now or later. Text only. Syncs to dropbox. Available via web. This simplicity and speed are what make it the write app for capturing against competitors like Evernote which is a bigger app that supports photos and takes much longer to open on average. A close contender (universal) app in this category is Catch (free) which supports adding a photo to your note. You are slowed down less than with Evernote (free and also universal) and you have the opportunity to combine text with photos – a useful combo when you have the time to do both – time that is often limited when capturing on the go.

The third star in this category is Nebulous Notes ($2) which is great when you have a little more time and all you have is an iPhone to write on (although bluetooth keyboards work well if one is with you). Nebulous Notes beats out all the other text-only writing apps here with its breadth of features, customizable extra keyboard row – and it is a universal app so works on iPad too! Instapaper ($5 universal app) and Evernote should also be in your toolkit for web clipping (another form of capture!) and for Collecting – discussed in a future post.

Jotnot Scanner Pro ($1). This little gem has some great competition on the app store. But has been around longest and is excellent. It works fast, is customizable for different uses like receipts and white boards, smart crops and gives you lots of options for exporting your work to multi-page PDFs, jpeg, PNG.

As we build our list of knowledge functions, we can better gauge whether any particular app should be in your toolkit. Choosing apps wisely is critical to assure that you don’t squander your time learning apps of marginal utility. You want to make your precious learning time as a knowledge professional worth every minute. My goal will be to help you see the possibilities of productivity apps and choose only the best in class. I’ll also be reviewing my favorite apps in depth from time to time – especially those apps that haven’t gotten the recognition they deserve.

Have iPad. Will Travel.


This blog is called Independent Knowledge Professional for a reason. It’s where the action is in our crazy global, info-everywhere world. Workers don’t necessarily work at work anymore. They work wherever they need to or want to. It just so happens that an iPad fits in really, really well in this environment.

Part 1 – Have iPad. The iPad is the Post-PC device Steve Jobs envisioned and created a year ago with the help of his awesome team at Apple. Steve hires the best of the best and they pretty much eat sleep and breathe the excellence cocktail Steve has brewed for them. Forget about the iPod and the iPhone for a minute. Those were a starter set of tools for our mobile selves.

Now we’ve got the big brother or sister of iPhone 4 to make our way in the world. The iPad and its newer companion the iPad 2, are personal devices. They aren’t really like the *big* computers we’ve grown up on.

PCs. I’ve got the smallest *big* computer I can think as my main Mac: the new Macbook Air. I got my first one in November 2009 and didn’t look back. The Air is a little like taking a sow’s ear and seeing if you can make a silk purse out it. I would say, Apple succeeded admirably with the Air. I liked the slightly limited gen 2 Air and now am in love with the 4th gen Air I’m writing on right now.

By the way, I’m writing in bed. I do have one of those chairlike pillows to lean up against, but this Air can do writing in bed quite nicely thanks. So, I don’t want you to think that you will never want to use a computer again. And, I want you to see that we aren’t in Kansas with a big honking desktop PC, chained to the desk – even before iPad.

Part 2 – Will Travel. We have moved on, out, around the house, on the bed, the sofa and the kitchen table. We’ve moved out to the local coffee shops of all stripes en masse.

Knowledge professionals working fulltime jobs (probably a minority but it still happens) often bring their own laptops to work and back every day. Some take the work laptop home if the company supplies nice laptops. The main point of all this is we are mobile in our computing and have been. Things just keep moving in that direction.

The word computer is getting stretched a bit thin these days. It is true that the iPhone, for example, is a computer. It’s small and sexy and has a phone and all sorts of sensors and extras on it, but its still a computer.

Most cell phones seem to be on their way to becoming smartphones. When smartphones grow up they become mobile computers that are also phones. Calling isn’t the only way people communicate these days. Look at those Blackberry folks thumb-typing to beat the band. They are into email and will talk to you on the phone if they have to. Texting is popular across the globe at this point. Social communications on tools like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and a whole slew of others seem to consume a lot of people’s time as well. This is going to keep getting more interesting as the phone continues to morph.

So, that leads to the question, what does the iPad have to do with any of this? Steve says its the car to your PC pickup truck. He says it can do a lot and is easy to keep with you all the time. That’s true by the way. I can testify that keeping an iPad with you almost continuously is something that is not only possible but desirable. The iPad is the daytimer or clipboard of our decade.

The iPad is new and Apple took the opportunity to make a new iOS with different rules and tools. They didn’t play nice like us lazy humans wanted. They didn’t do cool new stuff but also stick every single standard thing we’ve become accustomed to on computers into the container. They said no again. That darned Steve and his minimalism. He just won’t quit on that no stuff.

So, with an iPad you don’t have a USB connector at all!!! It is heresy of the first water to deny people of USB ports. What will we do with all our usb sticks not to mention the 101 USB devices we purchased with our hard-earned money? I ask you.

And forget about a file system you can navigate around in and set up folders wherever you want. No way. The file system is there but you don’t get to play in that fun little sandbox. Every app has its own place for files hidden in the back somewhere. All we get is a way to send files from App A to App B. To send email attachments to Apps that can deal with them. It is not seamless no matter what Steve says.

So, just take my word for it that you won’t be able to just run with an iPad as a smaller, thinner laptop sans the keyboard. You can’t. You have to learn new things and all the pieces are not perfectly synchronized yet. Remember how long it took to get copy and paste on the iPhone?

In spite of all that inconvenience, the iPad is a resounding mega hit. Apple sold so many iPads in 9 months that they almost made as much money there as they made selling all models of the Macintosh. Something is going on here and even Steve’s marketing and incessant commercials couldn’t do that if the product wasn’t pretty phenomenal.

I’m writing this on the Sunday after the international launch of iPad 2 in 25 countries on Friday. The lines were really long. And happily lots and lots of people brought home shiny new iPad 2’s. Even with Scalpers running amok buying up iPads to sell in the rest of the world that hasn’t gotten lucky yet.

I am starting to think that the PC as we’ve known it was longer in the tooth than we realized. The PC is 30 years old and sure its gotten faster, has bigger screens, has applications that can jump through all sorts of hoops. Maybe the time has come for something a bit off the charts. Something smaller, lighter, more personable and human-friendly. That’s the iPad.

13 Work Reasons to Buy an iPad

Updated with Photo of iPad 2

Six Months In. Here’s what makes the iPad so great for students and knowledge professionals of all categories:

  • Affordable quality. The iPad is a jewel of a device. Great design. Minimalism with power. And cheap considering its construction, capabilities, screen, speed and storage.
  • Amazing battery life. Makes the hassle of trying to keep your laptop alive for more than a few minutes go away. No worries. It just keeps working all day long if need be.
  • Lighter, smaller and easier to deal with than a laptop. 1.5 lbs. A whole different experience. Greatly increases the chances you’ll have it with you when at home or out and about. Sure you’ll break out the laptop for serious work sessions, but what about all those other brief opportunities to record a thought or check a fact? Yes, the iPhone might have you covered, but it may also be too much work to write much down. Valuable thoughts and knowledge go uncaptured.
  • Big enough for reading. If you are going to read for more than a few minutes, you’ll prefer a book-sized screen. The iPhone is too small for a lot of people – especially anyone who prefers larger type. The iPhone 4 does have more adherents due to the awesome 960 x 640 pixel display. Larger pages work great on iPad, not so great on the small screen. There’s a reason most books are bigger than an iPhone and smaller than a laptop.
  • A Better Alternative to Paper in our Digital Age. Rather than committing your thoughts or notes to paper, why not capture them easily in some digital form on your iPad? As our media goes digital, there is less reason to interact with paper. Paper starts seeming rather limited in its capabilities. Enter iPad.
  • Internet access. The large bright screen, fast processor and iPad version of mobile Safari make for an awesome web browsing experience. There may be an occasional Flash video you miss out on but the trend to replace Flash with HTML 5 continues. And you aren’t annoyed by intrusive flash ads.
  • In Meetings. An iPad is sociable and unobtrusive as it sits flat on the table. It’s great for sharing info with a couple other people on the screen or for taking notes and even recording audio while doing so.
  • Touch-based. More human-friendly, less abstract. Direct manipulation at its finest.
  • Very functional. The vast number of apps means you can do all sorts of things with it. And there might be an app for your special hobby or interest like say bird-watching or star-gazing. Not to mention even more specialized applications like a one-handed clipboard in the field or as an information pad for aviators.
  • Simpler to use than a laptop. Dumbed down a lot and simplified compared to a full-blown computer. Makes it effortless and more fun to use.
  • Travel and errands. Just as the lightness and simplicity of the iPad makes it something you’ll carry with you around the house. You’ll be carrying it with you when you walk, run errands and travel if you can possibly figure a way to avoid all the hassle of a battery-sucking, heavy laptop.
  • On the couch – comfy. A lot of people were keeping their laptops open while watching TV. The iPad is worlds better for that function. It’s less conspicuous too. Kind of fits like a magazine would. You may squeeze in a little more work on the couch when you can’t face cracking open your laptop. See? I told you these were work reasons.
  • In bed – comfy. If you want a big screen in bed, this is it. Beats the Kindle when you have little light. You can do some of your professional reading or actual work in bed. A lot of people like working in bed – makes it a little less like work!

I’m sure I haven’t thought of every good reason here. But this should get you started.