Whilst the majority of technical folk I know continue to despise the ipad, there's no doubting its popularity with the general public and sales continue to rise, even as the rumours of the iPad 2 start to do the rounds on the internet.
I don't think anyone can successfully argue against it's abilities as a toy. In fact some people use this word as an insult, but even at 33 (going on 34) I still like to have a toy and the iPad is one of the best I've ever had, but it's abilities as a tool continue to be questioned.
It's the iPad's abilities as a tool that I find most interesting. Sure it's no revolution in functional terms, but an iPad is so convenient compared to the small laptop I carried around with me before. Yes, it cannot completely replace all computing, but it can certainly replace an awful lot of it. At every office meeting, whilst others hide behind their vertical laptop screens waiting for them to boot up before they start noisily clicking away, the iPad is on and connected instantly, flat on the desk ready for me to take notes, refer to documents and forward emails in relative silence.
For the last few months, I've become so confident in the iPad's office abilities that I've made a concerted attempt to 'Go paperless' and for the most part, I've been quite pleased with the results. Emails don't need printing at all, and other documents get printed to PDF files and kept in GoodReader for review and annotation. Even paper that I have been given can be scanned and emailed back to myself, so I'm never without a single document wherever I go.
The keyboard does an admirable job for note taking, especially as it's relatively quiet (I can type away in meetings in near silence without disturbing the current speaker) - but there are times when I still miss pen and paper. The two main issues are firstly when I want to quickly copy a diagram that I'm being shown and the second is when note taking during a telephone call. It's probably the result of years of conditioning, but I simply cannot type as well as I can write and contribute to a phone conversation. Scribbling on a pad is much more natural to me.
So can my £500 iPad replace my £2 paper pad? Well, yes it can as it happens.
Enter 'Penultimate'. At the time of writing, it's number one in the App Store having been reduced to a dirt cheap 59p.
Essentially Penultimate is a note taking application where you can create a complete library of notebooks, each with as many pages as you like. Rather than typing you 'write' either with your finger or with a stylus (more on that later).
It's a beautifully put together application. On the first time you open it, you'll be automatically sent to the 'Welcome to Penultimate' notebook, where you can 'thumb' through each of its ten pages and learn about its features.
The best thing is it's all very simple. You get a 'pen' which can do six different colours (if you count dark grey and light grey!) and three different thicknesses. You also get an eraser and the option to clear a page completely.
Completed notebooks can be emailed to colleagues (either in Penultimate's own format or as a PDF) or individual pages can be embedded into the content of an email. Finally you can push them to your ipad photo album and move them out with iTunes.
Apart from that it really is what you make of it!
I have truly horrible handwriting. Not only have I been in IT for years, so almost everything is typed (including personal letters, sorry Nan), but I'm left handed and always smudge everything I write! And yet, somehow my scribble all looks rather lovely on Penultimate. It's makers describe it as 'bold gel ink' and claim it looks 'spectacular'. Well, I wouldn't go that far with my handwriting, but my better half did remark that my handwriting seems to have improved when I showed it to her, so I'd say that must prove their point!
So it's pretty obvious that Penultimate is worth it's current 59p price tag and I'd happily have paid a fair amount more for it, as I know I'll be getting the use. However, writing with your finger is weird and I decided now might be a good time to risk a stylus purchase!
The ipad is not a natural when it comes to the stylus. You may have handled touchscreens over the years that come with a stylus and found them to be very responsive. These screens are of a 'resistive' type and you might have noticed they're none too good at recognising a prod of the finger and completely useless at registering gestures like a swipe across the screen. Well the iPad screen is of a 'capacitive' type and is designed from the ground up to be operated by your human finger - unfortunately this means it won't recognise a traditional plastic stylus at all!
Introducing the 'Griffin Stylus'! Recommended by the makers of Penultimate and price floating around £10 online and £15 on the high street, there seemed to be enough positive opinion of it on the likes of Amazon etc to make it worth a look.
First thing you notice on getting it out of the box is that it does not look like a pen. The 'tip' is of a rounded rubber compound designed to protect your ipad screen whilst registering touches accurately. So how good is it? Well, very good actually!
Initially I found myself holding my hand above the screen whilst trying to write, so as to not confuse the iPad's screen with contact with my wrist, but after finding the 'wrist detection' setting in Penultimate, I began to settle into it, find the right pressure to write at and start scribbing away. Within 2 minutes it felt natural and I get the feeling that the ipad has replaced yet another function of my office life. Being able to choose between lined paper, graph or plain is also useful depending on what I'm up to. I did occasionally find the wrist detection had failed to detect a very slight touch of my wrist (whereas a confident press of the wrist is detected and ignored every time), but given that this is for scribbling notes, this is no big deal and didn't interrupt my flow.
Many of my colleagues turn up to meetings with a single notebook (notes transferred by hand to correct location later) and project files on paper. I turn up with my iPad with a digital notepad (one per project) and all my documents on tap - they still tease me and call it a toy and yes it's much more expensive if I drop this than a paper file (and no more fun with the shredder!), but the convenience is worth the compromise and so long as I resist the temptation to play 'Angry Birds' when no one is looking, I reckon this is only going to help my productivity.
It's also worth noting (no pun intended) that of course the stylus works with all applications, so PDF editing with iAnnotate or GoodReader becomes even more useful than it was before and also, if you're using the ipad outside with gloves on (freezing in the UK as I write!) then you can use this and keep your fingers warm!
All in all, the Griffin Stylus is an essential purchase for anyone trying to be more productive with their ipad and Penultimate makes an excellent partner for it!
update: Since posting this article, I've moved from the Griffin stylus to the Adonit Jot Pro, a new generation of stylus that gives you the feel and accuracy of a real pen! Review here:
update 2: A sequel to this article is now available, where I pitched Penultimate against its rivals including Notes, Notability and Noteshelf:
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Photo Credits (Source: Flickr (Creative Commons License))