The combination of the Apple Pencil with an iPad Pro-based note-taking app like MyScript Nebo can provide a major boost to one's productivity.
I feel like an old fool (but where are we going to find one at this time of the day?). I've long disparaged the use of styluses for the purposes of taking notes on my iPad Pro, but my eyes have been opened by the combination of the Apple Pencil and the MyScript Nebo note-taking app.
Check out this short video to get an idea of what I'm talking about, and then I'll explicate, expound, and elucidate further (don’t worry, I'm a professional).
First, we need to set the scene a little. Let's start with the fact that I'm almost invariably working on something or other. Even when I'm sitting in our family room watching television, I'm thinking about articles (like this one) and book projects (like the Arduino series I'm currently writing). Thus, I'm usually to be found with a piece of paper and pencil in my hands, jotting down notes and sketching diagrams.
The same thing happens when I'm on an airplane. I usually travel in the meanest economy class where the chairs are so close together that my knees end up wrapped around my ears. This means there's no room to use my notepad PC, so -- once again -- I'm relegated to using pencil and paper.
One problem with this approach, of course, is that I will eventually have to laboriously transcribe my hand-written notes to Word running on a PC. I'll also have to either scan in my sketches or recreate them in Visio. Another issue is my modus operandi, which involves capturing random thoughts as they bounce around my noggin, and then going back and fleshing things out, moving paragraphs around, deleting some things, editing others, and adding new material as it pops into my mind. The end result typically involves lots of crossings out and forward/backward pointing arrows with instructions to myself like "Move this part to here" and questions to myself like "What the heck did I mean when I wrote this?"
Ever since I purchased my iPad Pro, I've longed to be able to use it to capture my notes, but I type at a snail's pace on its soft keyboard. By comparison, my wife (Gina the Gorgeous) is a typing diva on her tablet computer -- I wouldn’t have believed anyone could type so fast on a soft keyboard if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, but we digress...
Over the years, I've tried using a number of different styluses to capture hand-written notes, but the results have invariably been horrible. You know what I mean. It's like when you are at the checkout in a supermarket and you have to sign your name on the credit card machine's display and the result looks like you only learned to write earlier that day.
Then, about a week or so ago, I heard about two apps that are currently available for free in Apple's app store: MyScript Calculator and MyScript Nebo. I started with the calculator, which allows you to write your problems using your finger or a cheap-and-cheerful stylus. As you can see from this video, this really is an amazingly clever little tool, and it immediately became my calculator of choice for the piddling little calculations I typically wish to perform.
Next, I launched MyScript Nebo, and immediately ran into a problem, which was that it refused to allow me to proceed without my having an Apple Pencil. The bigger problem came when I discovered that the Apple Pencil costs a whopping $99, which certainly made my eyes water. To be honest, it was only the fact that I found the MyScript Calculator to be so awesome that caused me to throw caution to the winds and order an Apple Pencil from Amazon.
I had been vaguely aware of the existence of the Apple Pencil, of course, but I'd always assumed it was just another unintelligent (passive) stylus. I couldn’t have been more wrong. In addition to a much finer nib than I expected, this little scamp boasts pressure sensors and tilt sensors and suchlike, and it talks to the iPad Pro via Bluetooth. Mating the pencil with the tablet is a breeze -- you just remove its magnetically attached cap and plug the end of the pencil into the lightning connector on the iPad. After a second or so, you are presented with a prompt saying "Do you want to mate this pencil?" You click the "OK" button and you're done (you only need to do this one time).
The iPad Pro scans the pencil's signals 240 times a second with almost zero latency. The result is as close to writing with an ink pen on paper as you can imagine (or using a crayon or a piece of charcoal or a paintbrush, depending on the application). In the case of MyScript Nebo, the handwriting recognition capability is nothing short of phenomenal. It's much better than anything I've experienced before and way better than I ever expected it to be (it even corrects my spelling on-the-fly).
It's easy to delete letters, words, sentences, and paragraphs with a simple scribbling motion, and you can also insert additional material wherever you wish. When you are ready, a simple double-tap is all you need to convert your hand-written note into machine-readable text. Speaking of which, you can also search both hand-written and machine-readable text, which is very, very tasty indeed.
It's also possible to insert math equations into your document (using an embedded version of the MyScript Calculator), along with intelligent diagrams like flowcharts and hand-drawn sketches like the one shown below.
(Source: Max Maxfield)
In the case of a sketch, everything is captured "as-is" (you can use the eraser tool to rub parts out), which means you can see how bad my handwriting has grown over the years. The fact that the main app can actually work out what I'm trying to say is amazing to me.
You can create multiple documents, each containing as many pages as you wish. Whenever you are ready, you can export your Nebo document in HTML, PDF, or Word format and email it to yourself on your main computer.
Now, there are many other notepad editor applications out there. I'm also a big fan of Notes Plus, for example, which allows you to do all sorts of cool things, including embedding audio recordings in your notes. At the end of the day, however, everything I've played with has either been too limited in its capabilities or too complex for my taste. My personal feeling is that MyScript Nebo falls nicely in the Goldilocks Zone in the middle of these two extremes. In fact, its user interface is so intuitive that the learning curve is close to non-existent, and it's not often you'll hear me say that about any application.
The bottom line is that the combination of the Apple Pencil and MyScript Nebo provides an amazing productivity tool. Overnight, it's changed the way I work, and it's probably saving me an hour or so a day based on me not having to transcribe my handwritten notes. It's also saving me all the time I used to spend hunting for the various scraps of paper scattered around the house.
How about you? Is this old news as far as you're concerned? Are you already using some stylus-app combo to capture your notes? If so, I'd be really interested to hear what type of stylus you are using and which notepad app you favor. Alternatively, have you been shying away from taking the plunge based on past experiences or for some other reason? In this case, has reading this column changed your mind in any way?
For my next blog (for March) on embedded.com I have report on using Notes Plus (plus the Apple pencil and the iPad Pro) as a replacement for a project notebook. I do think it's sufficiently different from this blog to warrant going ahead with its publication, but since you're the editor you get to decide...
Watch for it in your inbox.
When and if it gets published I will add the link here.
@Antedeluvian: ...I have report on using Notes Plus (plus the Apple pencil and the iPad Pro) as a replacement for a project notebook...
That's wonderful -- I played with Notes Plus a year or so ago, but I was using my finger as the writing implement, which skewed my impressions.
My gut feel is that Notes Plus is the more powerful app, but MyScript is really easy to learn and use -- since you already have the Apple Pencil, if you download MyScript for free, I'd love to hear your thoughts, and I look forward to reading tyour column on Embedded.com
I'm about to get one of these. Heretofore I've always made copius notes on engineering paper. I spend a lot of time converting formulae to circuit diagrams with all the pipeline stages made explicit. I have to do this because synthesizer tools are still poor, which I used to complain about, but now see as job security. FPGA companies, please continue doing what you are doing. I like drawing these diagrams, but if I want to email them I have to scan them, I end up with reams of notes that are difficult to search, and major editing is difficult. The new iPad with the pencil comes pretty close to the feel of writing on paper. It's not as romantic, to be sure. Who imagines FL Wright with a big iPad at his drafting table, Claude Shannon taking notes with a stylus, or Hemingway tapping away on a screen?
Sorry--I meant I was going to get the iPad Pro, the pencil, and probably the applications recommended. i really just want to draw on grid "paper" and be able to tag the sketches with keywords, but if the app also turns my irregular blocks and circles into real rectangles and circles, that would be great. It would also be nice to paste timing diagrams, etc. into my notes, which now requires (literal) cutting and pasting.
I currently have an iPad, which I really like, but I decided I need to finish my flying license sometime and I'd like to take it along to use as a map. (When I last flew, I still had to find my location by triangulating VOR vectors with rulers on a paper map, which is really stressful when you're trying to fly.) But for some reason, the wifii-only iPad has no GPS, so I'd have to upgrade anyway. I went to the nearby Apple store to check out the pencil and really liked it.
I think it's good enough that graphic artists are using it now.
@Rajan Bedi: ...the Surface tablet also has a very nice digital pen which helps productivity...
I've heard good things about the Surface tablet -- but, as strange as it may seem, I've never actually seen one in the flesh, as it were.
For myself, I think I'm now committed to the iPad Pro based on my investment in apps and videos (like all of the Doctor Who Episodes since the 2005 reboot). Having said this, I'll keep my eyes open the next time I'm at Best Buy or whatever and try to get a "hands-on" with a Surface.
I'm really pleased with the Surface tablet and am using Nebo on it to write and capture my thoughts. For me, productivity is the main thing and not having to duplicate my work. It is also compatible with my Windows laptop, physically smaller and I can use it on planes during take-off and landing.
I did not like Windows 8 at all (sorry dad), but Windows 10 is significantly better!
A really nice device which helps productivity ....
I am very impressed at Nebo's recognition especially given that I often have difficulty reading my own handwritten notes. Being able to draw is also very helpful: I was on a flight last week and sketched the system architecture for an FPGA-based embedded system in minutes. Keep wanting to switch my Surface on to see what else I can do ...
A couple people at work have the Surface Book which is slightly heftier than the Surface but still very small and lightweight. I'm becoming tempted by the Surface. The ability to run the same Windows software that I'm currently running is a plus for me. The price of the Surface makes my eyes water so I'm still waiting for a good reason.
I occasionally write poetry and have found that I really need to write the first draft on paper. But then it has to be typed into a computer. Then sometimes I need to print it out and edit by hand. If Nebo can handle that type of write/edit cycle, I might be convinced.
@Elizabeth: ...If Nebo can handle that type of write/edit cycle, I might be convinced...
One thing about Nebo is that if you double-tap a paragraph of your hand-written text to convert it into machine-readable text (font, whatever), then there's no going back (apart from using the back button).
This isn't a problem in that you can still select that text and edit it -- deleting words and adding new handwritten words -- but... personally I like to see my original hand-written notes when I come back to edit.
But I think the Nebo would accomodate what you want as follows, You use Nebo on your Surface or iPad/iPad Pro to capture your hand-written notes. You use the "Export to Word" option (which auto-invokes your email) to send the document to your main PC -- this process automatically converts your handwritten notes to their machine-readable equivalent as part of the export process, but it doesn't change the handwritten notes on your tablet.
Then you print it out from the PC, mark up your printout, then return to your tablet to continue.
I use the Surface as a tablet and also as a laptop as the flip cover contains an integrated keyboard. It is expensive but improving productivity, avoiding duplication, having Office 365 and keeping the same PC environment were important for me. I give a lot talks and sometimes playing videos within Powerpoint on my laptop would start buffering and pixelating. The Surface and Windows 10 are much better at this!
Also, I can wirelessly or using a USB stick transfer files from my laptop to the Surface and it also allows you (although I haven't tried this yet) to extend the viewing area by connecting a second external display just like my laptop.
There are lots of Windows machines with active pens and Chromebooks have passive ones but i think the OS itself has support for active. The feature in Chromebooks is aimed at education and passive is better considering that kids would always lose their pens. In Android tabs and phones, Samsung has adopted an active stylus in some models for some years now. No need to spend on overpriced hardware like the ipad Pro or Surface.
Taking a pic with your phone and using an OCR software could work well enough too, without having to spend on any new hardware.
Edit: Not an ideal time to buy a Windows laptop as Intel is about to get some competition , starting tomorrow in desktop and later this year in laptop. Perf per $ and battery life might improve significantly.
Actually, the Surface Pro line isn't expensive...at least compared to the iPad Pro.
I've started to see a fair number of Surface Pro's in the wild, but not many Surface Books. (If I were rich, the SB would be my choice, since I normally use the keyboard, and love its very long battery life).
There are a number of Surface and Surface Book alternatives, but most aren't that much cheaper AND have a number of compromises compared to MS (like shorter battery life, much slower, screen not as good, etc).
One the cheap and cheerful side are low cost Chinese clones such as the Chuwi Hi13 (which is much cheaper than the SB at ~$450, but much slower, less battery life, fewer sensors, and such).
In my opinion it's extremely so. 800$ and up for dual core low clocks is silly for a PC. slower CPU than a phone. Maybe i am old school and still want for a PC to offer some computing.
If you want storage to make it usable as a proper PC, you pay for it and you also pay quite a bit extra for a keyboard that you can't quite use in your lap. The stand is wasting mechanical volume, battery life could have been a lot better without. As a tablet, Windows is the wrong OS. Can't quite agree with the design either, or any current tablet's design. For the last 3-4 years tablet design has been stuck and this one looks like a blunt photo frame.
If i need a basic convertible PC i'll get a Chromebook as paying 1000$ for Office apps and web browsing doesn't seem quite right. if i need a laptop i'll get a refurb as Intel has been pushing dual cores and you can't get a quad core based laptop at 400$ anymore - or 500$ with a 1080p display.
Hopefully AMD changes the game a bit this year and their Zen core appears pretty efficient. Oh yeah, you can't game on Intel SoCs either, not that the Surface has the storage for it.
It has a nice enough display but that's about it and that display is not worth the premium.
The iPad Pro is a tab trying but failing to be a PC and it's equally overpriced but that's the norm for Apple's products, although their tablets used to be a bit of an exception as Apple settled for lower margins in the segment.
In 100 years time, using a stylus on an iPad will seem like ancient technology
Sometimes people tell me that books will never disappear, because people prefer the look and feel of paper books. (I'm one of those who prefer books.) But I argue that in the near future, e-books will have the look and feel of paper books, if that's what you want. You can have a paper book, but you can switch out the content at will.