I may be succumbing to the dark side

Remember when the Apple iPad came out? Remember how completely let down you were about what it was, and its intended function? I do.

I was in my machine learning 10-601 class in the spring of this past year, eagerly watching updates scroll by on my iPhone. Awaiting news of an Apple tablet: the leaders of touch technology announcing a tablet that would completely do away with all the notes I was furiously scribbling on paper, eliminate the need to print out hundreds (perhaps thousands) of research papers to mark up, and essentially condense all my paperwork into a single, lightweight tablet.

Man, I was excited. Man, I was angry when I saw what the iPad really was. And what they named it.


Begging the question.


But now – horror of horrors – I may be reconsidering my previous position.

The windfall came this past week while I was attending ApacheCon (which was a BLAST…I’ll update later about it). I can’t count the number of people I saw with Apple laptops, iPads, iPhones, iPods, iVacuum Cleaners, and iRacks. However, toward the end of one of the sessions I was attending (a Mahout/Lucene/Solr session by none other than Grant Ingersoll), I noticed another attendee with an iPad…and he was taking notes on it. With a stylus!

Upon the conclusion of the talk, I immediately introduced myself to this individual, and asked him 1) which apps he was using for taking notes, 2) how they worked, and 3) if he liked them. He showed me two separate apps, gave me the advantages and disadvantages of both, and told me that, overall, he really did like them.

So since then, I’ve been doing a teensy bit of research into this. My needs for a tablet of some sort were and still are:

  • The ability to download, read, and organize research papers (PDFs), and annotate them thoroughly by hand.
  • The ability to take notes by hand, annotate and organize them by subject, and perhaps even index them by specific search terms (though that last part is optional).
  • The ability to email/print/download the papers and notes I take.

When the iPad first came out, it was billed as a “consumer” of content, not a “creator”. Hence, everything except the third option was pretty much out. However, since talking to the guy at ApacheCon, I’ve come across these items:

  • iAnnotate: Mark up PDFs: highlight, underline, scribble handwritten text anywhere. Save and email them out (though according to this review, that functionality is still a bit iffy).
  • Penultimate: Take notes by hand, organize them by subject, convert to PDF and email out.
  • Note Taker HD: An alternative to Penultimate (this is the one I remember the guy at ApacheCon showing me) that seems to be just as good, with a different UI (some screenshots).
  • Pogo Sketch stylus: This is what the ApacheCon guy was using, and across the web it seems to be the most highly recommended for use with an iPad.

My only concern is using the Papers app on the iPad. This is a gem that one of my fellow PhD students recommended to me for my MBP, and ever since getting it I’ve been amazed at how much easier it has become to organize, archive, and even annotate the research papers I have to read. Getting it for the iPad would be wonderful, but its by-hand annotation powers are almost nonexistent, and I’m not sure it would play nicely with iAnnotate.

Still, I’m leaning rather heavily toward placing this on my Christmas wish list, or at least an iTunes/Apple Store gift card to help offset the cost. It would help immensely with my organization of notes and lecture slides, even allowing me to merge the two at will without having to print things out and organize and keep track of physical paper. I could also continue to read research papers the way I know I do best: with the paper in one hand and a pen/pencil in the other to underline, highlight, and annotate. And best of all, I would be able to bring all this information with me wherever I go without resorting to the gargantuan three-ring binder I’ve been using the last two years to organize my hard copies.

Organization is becoming difficult.

Still, though, I can’t get past the name. C’mon Apple, you couldn’t have used something better, like iSlate?

Any thoughts on the matter would be welcome!


About Shannon Quinn

Oh hai!
This entry was posted in Academics, Hardware, Holidays, Real Life, Technology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to I may be succumbing to the dark side

  1. Colin says:

    I have an iPad. I felt shame when I opened it up like I was doing something wrong.

    I bought the 16gb 3G version and whenever I’m on the road and need a little data for whatever reason, $15 for 250mb is pricey but it’s a lot more convenient than trying to do something on my phone.

    I mainly use it to read books and surf the web in front of the TV. And the MLB and NFL apps for it are totally awesome.

    • magsol says:

      Well, I wouldn’t ever need a 3G data plan, because 1) I’d never use it for work, and 2) I’m way too poor to have something like that just for fun. And I wouldn’t use the MLB or NFL apps, either. Reading books, maybe; I might get into it if only as a bleed-over effect from its primary function of reading research papers.

      But yeah, first I need to get over this very dirty, dirty feeling of simply considering it.

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