Our Thinking

The iPad as Productivity Tool – Fact or Fiction? (Part 4)

Posted by Martin Bajt on Oct 9, 2012 10:11:08 AM

More on Writing Notes

As I wrote in my last post, I’ve been relying primarily on an app called Noteshelf for making handwritten notes. It’s been well rated by other reviewers for its smooth responsiveness and ability to reproduce highly legible handwriting; with very little practice I found it to be almost as natural as writing with pen and paper. Its biggest drawback is that you cannot import PDF files for annotation.

Nearly all meetings I attend include agendas and other documentation that form the basis for discussion. More often than not, I view these in PDF format during the meeting. Which is great, because as I’ve mentioned before, it means I don’t need to print a bunch of paper that I probably don’t need once I leave the meeting. The problem is that I constantly need to flip between apps – I’m either viewing the PDF or in Noteshelf making notes.

Problem Solved… or is it?

Over the past few weeks I’ve started using an app called Notability. Similar to Noteshelf, you can connect to popular cloud storage services and create handwritten notes. Although it doesn’t use the “bookshelf” user interface concept, you can still organize your various notes into categories, making it pretty easy to find what you need. And of course, it has that one feature that’s sorely lacking in Noteshelf – importing PDF documents that you can then highlight and annotate to your heart’s content.

What Notability lacks, however, is the handwriting smoothness that makes Noteshelf shine. Even though I’ve been using it for a few weeks now, my handwriting still looks like I’m just learning how to write. It’s not that I can’t read what I’ve written, it just doesn’t look as good as I’d like.

Which one will I use? For now, I’ll continue using both, depending on whether or not I think my notes are enhanced by being combined with an accompanying PDF document.

The Amazing Flowchart Race

I’ve started looking at various diagramming apps; as a business analyst, creating diagrams, especially flowcharts of various persuasions, is a staple of the trade. Like any other category of apps I’ve looked at, the criteria include basic functionality, suitability to purpose, and ease of use – essentially: does it do what I need it to do in a simple, straightforward way. The additional twist on this one is that I’m also looking for something that will be compatible with Visio in some fashion. Love it or hate it, Visio is one of those de facto standard applications that every business analyst ends up using.

So far I’ve been trying three general purpose apps and one more specialized app:

  • Instaviz is a very simple app, with few frills or features. Instead of a library of shapes, it lets you hand draw on the screen and then convert what you’ve drawn into a lined shape. It has basic straight arrow connectors that will move with the shapes, and allows some very basic text labeling of shapes. As I said, it’s a simple app, but quite frankly a bit too simple. It only recognizes a bare minimum of shapes, and although the diagram resorts itself based on connections you make, it’s not necessarily in the way that you want. To be honest, I can’t see this one being a keeper, and like Grafio, there’s no compatibility with Visio.
  • Grafio has a slick interface and allows you to create very professional, polished diagrams, and has many features you’d want to see, including a library of shapes, smart connectors that will route as you move shapes, many choices of fonts and colors for text, and plenty of other options that make it a pretty robust tool. Like Instaviz, it will also recognize hand drawn shapes, but unfortunately this similarity also includes its lack of interoperability with Visio; I’m not throwing this app out yet, but I think its overall potential is dampened.
  • Touchdraw is an app that shows some promise, not the least of which is the elusive compatibility with Visio that I’m looking for. Having said that, so far I’ve found that only simple drawings can be exchanged between the two without it losing something in the translation. It uses the Visio VXD file format, which as I understand it, is a kind of XML based format. So far I’ve only tried exchanging files with Visio 2003; it’s on my list to try it with Visio 2010 to see if that makes any difference. Like Grafio, this app includes most of the things you’d expect, including a library of shapes, connectors, text, rotating shapes, as well as support for multiple layers. The interface is not as slick as that of Grafio, but it’s still highly useable. This one definitely stays on the list for now.
  • Last, but not least, is an app called Process Modeller and, as its name suggests, is focused specifically on creating process models. I’ve only started trying this one, but it’s got some interesting features, including the ability to assign resources to actions that are modeled in the process; the app can then resort everything into a resource based swim lane diagram. The app also has a place to keep track of process objectives, inputs/outputs, customers/suppliers, actors/roles, risks, and KPIs – in other words, classic process elements. At present, application output is limited to an image of the process model or sharing the process file with another Process Modeller app user.

I’m still evaluating these apps, and will look for other possible candidates. I’ll keep you posted on what I find.

There’s a Theme Emerging here...

Actually, it’s not so much emerging, as reconfirming what we’ve all seen before.

Using the note taking and diagramming as just two examples, it would be great if I could just combine the best of each app into one super app. That’s nothing new in the technology world we live in -- how many times have we or our clients wished to be able to combine the best features of a number of devices or software packages into one. Most vendors focus on making their product perform really well in one or two aspects, hoping that it’s enough to make people forgive the things that are just so-so. Like everything else in life, it boils down to deciding what things are most important to you.

As always, if you have any thoughts, questions or comments, feel free to get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.


Read all the posts in this series:

Part 1 - http://ig.obsglobal.com/2012/07/the-ipad-as-productivity-tool-fact-or-fiction/

Part 2 - http://ig.obsglobal.com/2012/08/the-ipad-as-productivity-tool-fact-or-fiction-part-2/

Part 3 - http://ig.obsglobal.com/2012/09/the-ipad-as-productivity-tool-fact-or-fiction-part-3/

Part 4 - http://ig.obsglobal.com/2012/10/the-ipad-as-productivity-tool-fact-or-fiction-part-4/

Part 5 - http://ig.obsglobal.com/2012/11/the-ipad-as-productivity-tool-fact-or-fiction-part-5/

Conclusion - http://ig.obsglobal.com/2013/03/the-end-is-near/


Topics: Professional Effectiveness

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