Apps

Roundup of iOS Text Editing Apps

Great round up of text based note taking apps by Dr. Drang comparing Simperium’s Simplenote (iTunes link) , Hog Bay Software’s Plaintext (iTunes link) , Second Gear Software’s Elements (iTunes link) and Nuclear Element’s Nebulous Notes (iTunes link). His comparison looks at cost, sync, support for Smile Software’s TextExpander Touch (iTunes link), fonts, searching, sorting, full screen mode, word count and misc. features. While he is evaluating these apps on the iPhone, his comments are generally applicable to the iPad versions of these apps as well.

I use a combination of these apps. I use PlainText for most of my legal writing and note taking on the iPad. When I’m writing for this blog, I use Elements because it previews HTML and Markdown. Simplenote is on my iPad, but I don’t write with it much. I’ve found the sync dodgy from time to time but I can’t isolate why – may be all in my head. I will copy and paste text into Simplenote on my desktop browser as a way to quickly sync that text to my iPad.

(via Daring Fireball)

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Soundpaper: Notes + Audio on the iPad

Soundpaper

There is no shortage of note taking apps for the iPad. Soundpaper (iTunes link) by David Estes distinguishes itself in this crowded space by pairing audio recording capabilities with its basic type entry notetaker in a unique way.

The interface for Sounds pretty standard:  a file list in the left pane and the note pad in the right. Soundpaper’s notepad is supplemented with a “Record” button, a time counter and a playback slider. Unsurprisingly, tapping “Record” begins recording audio. Smartly, Soundpaper suppresses the clickty-clack sound effect generated by the iPad while recording. This also suppresses other iPad generated audio. (this may be a multitasking limitation and/or for copyright reasons as much as anything else). As such, it isn’t possible to play a podcast or song in the iPod and take notes about it using Soundpaper.

Soundpaper Recording Slider

In playback mode, you can tap on a word in your notes to immediately jump to the portion of the audio that was happening when you typed that portion of the notes. The jump is instantaneous and accurate. This is useful to review a speaker’s precise comments, when you doze off or if your notes can’t keep up with the speaker.

I used this pairing of audio and text to “bookmark” a lecture I attended recently. Rather than typing extensive notes on location, I simply noted the start of each of the main subjects covered by the speaker. Later, I was able to use these bookmarks to review the comments of the particular sections I was interested in. I found I could use the app this way while standing or at in a dining room where taking extensive notes wouldn’t have been practical.

Audio files recorded with Soundpaper can be exported from the app as high-quality AAC formatted 64kbps mono mp4 email attachments. The developer says that a 30 minute file is around 15MB. The audio and text integration can only be used in the app, however. Files can be exported via email or shared with a computer via wireless local network. Note that when accessing the mode for sharing via local network, any other computer on the local network could access your Soundpaper files (this is true for many apps that allow for local network file sharing, but would require someone to be actively “looking” for your iPad on the network at the time you invoke local file sharing capability to be able to access your files).

Soundpaper doesn’t allow insertion of images, handwriting or formatting of typed text. For me, this is OK but I can see where some of see other choices would be helpful, especially in a classroom setting. The ability to capture handwriting (and match with audio) would be the first of these features I’d like to see if done well (i.e., like Penultimate).

Soundpaper is a special purpose app. I think a typical lawyer would have limited use for the app on a day to day basis, but when needed it handles it’s job admirably. I can see this as a killer app for law students or when conducting an interview. A paired Bluetooth keyboard would improve the usefulness of this app by allowing for more comprehensive and speedy notes. There are desktop apps with this same functionality (notably Pear Note and Transcriva), though to my knowledge Soundpaper files (at least the pairing of text and audio data) aren’t compatible with these apps

Of course, don’t forget to check applicable law and copyright issues before recording someone without their consent.

Soundpaper is available in the App Store for $2.99.

Track Changes on the iPad – An Update

A short followup to my post yesterday about recommended Word compatible word processing apps for the iPad. A commenter on that post quickly pointed out that I didn’t talk about the ability to create and manage tracked changes. Quite correct, and I should have. I’ve more or less written off tracked changes support given previous coverage of the subject so didn’t think to mention it. But I’m glad the commenter did, as I can provide an update.

What hasn’t changed is that none of the Word compatible apps can create or manage (i.e., accept or reject) tracked changes and comments. What has changed is that I’ve been able to confirm that Documents to Go Premium (iTunes Link) can display tracked changes and comments. I mistakenly told the commenter on Monday’s post that this functionality only worked with .docx files but in doing some additional tests today, I was able to display tracked changes and comments made in .doc files as well. The screen shot below shows how tracked changes and comments appear.

Viewing Word tracked changes in Documents to Go

The ability to display but not create or manage tracked changes and comments is a nice feature but as the commenter mentioned yesterday, isn’t really a solution. Because the tracked changes can’t be accepted/rejected, this feature doesn’t change my overall preference for QuickOffice Connect Mobile Suite (iTunes link). Just like for footnote compatibility, I’ll keep Documents to Go around, but will continue to use QuickOffice as my default app for Word compatible writing and editing (when I’m not using text).

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Upcoming App: Paddock by ManyTricks

Take a look at this video demo of an upcoming app by ManyTricks called Paddock.

Though the speed of the iPad minimizes lost efficiency in switching between apps,  (say from Safari to Mail), a windowed work environment could prove to be very useful in certain circumstances. I often draft a document or compose an email while referring to a pdf. The ability to have both on one screen would be more like how I work at my desktop. It would seem that use of an external keyboard would be ideal in these situations to avoid chunks of the screen being taken up by the virtual keyboard.

Looking forward to this in the App Store!

Word Alternatives on iPad: Documents To Go Premium (with a caution)

Documents To Go for iPad

Just a quick note to point out that DataViz has updated its popular Documents To Go app (and its Premium counterpart) to be universal apps now formatted for the iPhone and the iPad. Documents To Go allows users to create, edit and view Microsoft Word and Excel compatible documents right on the iPad. The Premium version of the app adds PowerPoint functionality as well.

I’ll give the app some time for a full review and post my experiences later. I see from the App Store comments that some users are experiencing problems accessing some of the remote disk options. In the few minutes I have used the app, I’ve not experienced this problem. I am experiencing a problem viewing files in other apps that were created or modified in Documents To Go. While I was able to open a basic MS Word document easily in Documents To Go, once I saved it back to my Dropbox, I was unable to view that file in Dropbox or any other iPad apps (trying GoodReader, Office 2, Pages) getting an error about an unrecognized file format. I was able to open the file on my desktop just fine.

For now, I would recommend not using Documents To Go with any critical or time sensitive files. I’ll test the app more fully and report as well as continue to monitor the comments of other users.

Some users are reporting being charged for this app even though they are already owners of Documents To Go for the iPad. This is an upgrade of an existing app and should not result in a charge. To avoid a charge, I’d recommend the following: If you have the iPhone version of the app installed on your iPad, an update over the air through the App Store on your iPad should get you the new version without additional charges. If your copy of Documents To Go  is not currently installed on your iPad, I’d recommend updating the app through iTunes on your desktop, connecting your iPad to your computer, add the app back to your iPad using iTunes and then syncing (this is what I did). Do not click on “Buy App” in the App Store to upgrade. This may be the reason some people are reporting being charged again (typically when you try to buy an app you already own, you are not charged twice – the app simply downloads again – perhaps something in the upgrade to a universal app is preventing existing owners from being recognized when tapping Buy App in the App Store).

Let me know in the comments any early experiences you are having with Documents to Go.

Documents To Go is available in the App Store for $7.99 for the regular version (Word and Excel) and $11.99 for the Premium version (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and some other features). These prices are 20% off the regular price until June 4, 2010.

This Time for Real: The iPad as a Legal Pad for Attorneys

If you have been wanting to use your iPad as a legal pad, go and install Penultimate right now (here’s an iTunes link to get you on your way). In a nutshell, this app turns the iPad into a very functional notetaking app. No fancy OCR or conversion of handwriting to text here. Just straight notes organized into notebooks. Notes you take are easily exported to pdf as an entire notebook or a page at a time.

Below is a sample of a short note I took using Penultimate. I found that I could write almost at full speed – I think my handwriting was only slowed from using my finger rather than a stylus.

Note from Penultimate

I’ve also attached the pdf export of my note to this post so you can see the actual export from the program. The app uses the familiar interface from the iWork suite for opening a new note and paging through existing notebooks. Instead of “My Documents” at the top of the screen, you see “My Notebooks.” Penultimate has a multiple undo feature, an eraser and a command to erase the entire page.

I love the real pen and paper feel of the app. The app uses earthy brown tones and has a natural or recycled paper feel to it – like a Moleskine. I found my handwriting to be just as legible (or illegible) as when using paper. I especially like how the app renders handwriting as though put down with a nice pen full of ink. No jagged curves, just smooth writing. You can select either grid, lined or plain paper. Though I would prefer not to carry around a stylus, I think a stylus is truly necessary to be able to write full speed.  I did not have a stylus available during my testing of this app – but I have a Pogo Sketch on order now.

I only have a few qualms about the program. First (and this isn’t Penultimate’s fault), the pages are sorta small. Consider the notes you take on a legal pad in a typical meeting. You should probably double or even triple your page count. Even though the iPad device is very close to the size of a legal pad, the writing surface is about 2 inches slimmer and 3 inches shorter.

Second (again, not a Penultimate problem), when you rest your palm on the iPad while you write at the top of the page, your palm “smudges” will sometimes register rather than the tip of your finger or stylus. So, you have to hover slightly when writing at the top of the page (especially in portrait mode).

I’d also like the ability to move pages around. Currently configured, this is exactly like a Moleskine notebook. Short of pulling pages out, you can’t move them around in the notebook. Of course, this is easily solved inside a pdf editor. Perhaps some page management will be available in a future version.

Finally, I might like to change ink colors sometime. This is a small nit, as I don’t use it when taking notes in a client meeting very often, but I can see where the option might be useful.

Those of you who caught my post this morning about Note Taker will note that I hastily declared the absence of functional note taking apps on the iPad. Shame on me. Penultimate was released over the weekend and has quickly climbed to the top of the charts in the Productivity section of the App Store. While I’m excited to see what Note Taker will look like on the iPad, I’m convinced that Penultimate is the ultimate note taking tool on the iPad right now. Get it while they have $2.99 introductory pricing in the App Store.

PDF export from Penultimate.

Word Processors on iPad for Lawyers: Word Compatibility Shootout (Part II – Pleadings)

This is a follow up to the post I did a couple weeks ago about the Microsoft Word compatible word processing apps for the iPad. In that post, we compared how the different iPad apps handled some basic Word formatting that a lawyer would use in notes, correspondence, memoranda and the like. In this post, we’ll see how the different iPad apps handle pleading specific formatting.

Once again, our four major contenders are:

My methodology for this test was the same as the first test. First, I created a basic pleading on my desktop using Microsoft Word 2003. I made sure to include the major types of formatting one might find in a pleading: line numbering, caption, case citations, a text box, a footer and footnotes.

Click on the image for a larger view of the original file.

Once I had an original, I imported it into four iPad word processing programs. Within each app, I made a change to the document to ensure that the file was being saved anew by the app. I then exported the file from the iPad back to Word on my desktop. I created a pdf of the resulting output for use in this post.

A quick note about WYSIWYG performance. The iPad version of the file and the ultimate output often bore no resemblance to one another. While the ultimate output from a couple of the iPad apps was very good, you wouldn’t know it from looking at the iPad screen. In other words, the iPad, while having Word compatibility, does not provide a WYSIWYG experience. To highlight this, I captured a screen shot of the iPad screen of each app as I was editing the. Those images are also pasted below.

QuickOffice Connect Mobile Suite (iTunes link). QuickOffice did a great job. All formatting elements in the final product appear to be intact. Footnote preserved (even though not visible while editing on iPad). No WYSIWYG on the iPad. No line numbering, no text box, lost the footnote.

QuickOffice final output

QuickOffice on iPad

Pages (iTunes Link). Far from great. Caption has been moved around a bit and a bunch of extra space has crept in beneath the caption. The pleading now takes up a page and a half rather than one page like the original (only first page below). Footnote was also lost. Pages is closest to WYSIWYG on the iPad. Line numbers and text box made are showing up, but some formatting and spacing problems have already crept in distorting it from the original.

Pages final output

Pages on iPad

Documents to Go Premium (iTunes Link). About tied with QuickOffice. Caption, line numbering, case formatting, footnote, text box all appear intact in the final product. Terrible WYSIWYG performance (no line numbering, butchered caption, no text box), but gets top marks for final output.

DTG final output

DTG on iPad

Office2 HD (iTunes link). Sadly, Office 2 HD turned in dead last. Lots of formatting changes, caption is a wreck, line numbering lost, line formatting lost, pleading pushed onto a second page. Oy. Far from WYSIWYG performance on the iPad.

Office 2 HD final output

Office 2 HD on iPad

Verdict. As before, the ultimate output from Documents to Go Premium and QuickOffice Connect Mobile Suite are best. Both of these apps preserved line numbering, the caption box, case citation form and the footnote. Sadly, the output from Office 2 HD and Pages isn’t even a close second. Interestingly, the app that provided the best WYSIWYG experience on the iPad was Pages by handling the line numbering successfully.

I have all of these apps on my iPad for testing purposes, but QuickOffice Connect Mobile Suite (iTunes link) is the one that I use when I need Word compatible functionality. Even though the final output is on par with Documents to Go Premium (iTunes Link), I find the file management capabilities of QuickOffice to be superior (or at least easier for my brain to understand). That said, I am still muddling around in these apps a bit. I do most of my iPad writing in SimpleNote, so I haven’t had the experience with the full  featured word processing apps on the iPad to learn all their respective quirks yet.

Next in this series I think we are going to tackle contract drafting. I think the most notable formatting element there is use of outline numbering of various styles (each with differing indentation) and automatic cross references. Let me know in the comments if there is something you’d like to make sure I address.

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iPad Apps: How TabletLegal Surfs the App Store

I was just responding to a reader e-mail and thought the question and my (non-)answer would be worth sharing here. Reader Tom asks:

Do you know of any reviews of iPad time tracking apps? I cannot remember if I have seen any, and I am interested in looking into one for my practice. I searched the 3 iPad law blogs I know and I didn’t find anything so I thought I would sent you a quick mail to ask.

Thanks,
Tom

Because of the systems my firm uses to track time, this hasn’t been a need for me. As a result, I haven’t investigated this very legitimate use for the iPad. Like any good lawyer, I turned the question into one I could respond to:

Tom

Hey, thanks for your e-mail. I don’t know of time tracking apps off the top of my head. Good idea of something for me to explore and report on. The great iPhone blog, iPhone JD, has covered a number of time tracking apps in this post (which links to a bunch more as well). Of course, those will all be functional on the iPad.

I did a quick search of the store and see a few apps that look interesting. A few notes about what I’m seeing and how I cull through choices on the App Store.

  • One thing I look for in apps is the frequency of updates. For example, TDF Tracker (iTunes link) is on version 1.5 and was last updated August 20. That is a good sign. Similarly, QuickTimer (iTunes link) was recently updated to version 1.9.4 on August 4.
  • I also look at the comments. What I’m particularly looking for is evidence that the app developers are reading and responding to comments. For example, on the TDF Tracker I mentioned, looks like a recent update specifically added the ability to track time in tenths of an hour based on an attorney-user comment.
  • I like apps that provide a Lite or free version. Some of the time tracking apps are close to $10. Not enough to break you, but too much to be able to buy 4-5 to try them out. I see that QuickTimer has a Lite version (iTunes link).
  • I do look at the customer ratings, but I take them with a grain of salt. You can usually suss out which are shills or complainers to get a better sense of what is worth trying.
  • I’m an interface snob. I really closely review the screenies and any additional interface hints given at the developer’s website. For example, Time Master + Billing (iTunes link) has some additional screens at its website.
  • Hope that gives you some guidance. I’ll dig into a couple of these and consider for more in depth reviews

    Josh

    Two other items worth considering that I didn’t mention to Tom:

    • Always check out the developer website if you can. This gives me a better sense of what kind of folks are developing an app and what kind of community the app has behind it. If the developer has a user run help forum on the web, even better
    • If an app doesn’t work for you, check back in 3 months to see if there have been any updates. Early versions of iPad software are still routinely a mess even though the device has been out for 6 months now. I had this exact experience with iAnnotate, the pdf annotation tool (iTunes link). pdf annotation is a critical tool for mobile lawyers. Even though iAnnotate had a version in the app store very early on, it had a lot of flaws. A large number of these flaws were addressed in the first major update of the app and additional features and fixes have been added since. It is now on my home screen and a frequently used tool.
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    The iPad as a Legal Pad for Attorneys

    Just this morning a colleague asked about whether he could use the iPad to replace his legal pad.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, I get this question a lot. I believe the question comes from the use of “pad” in the name and the similarity of the device’s form factor to a legal pad. Based on my survey of the app store, there isn’t currently a native application on the iPad that captures digital ink quickly and easily.

    But, there is hope on the horizon. Take a look at the review of the iPhone app Note Taker over on iPhone J.D. today. Note Taker is an app that allows you to capture your handwriting (with finger or stylus) on an iPhone. Handwriting isn’t converted to text, but simply stored and may be exported in different formats (pdf, jpg).

    Note Taker on iPhone

    The author, Dan Bricklin, talks about the new version of the app in his personal blog. The implications for the iPad are obvious, and it looks like Dan thinks so as well.

    I’m spending some time to get a feel for this device and then am planning to see what I should do with my Note Taker app to make it run better on it. So, for all of you who have been asking, yes, I am looking into making a Note Taker HD, but I need to craft it for the real device in my hands. I’ll only know when I’ll be done with it when I actually feel my changes and see if they are sufficient. As I move along I’ll probably send out some tweets on Twitter (I’m @danb). When done I’ll post here.

    Implemented well, this could be an amazing tool for lawyers. I would expect the app to have a decent text buffer, allowing me to write full speed while the app digitizes my notes in the background. Multiple page note taking sessions would be critical as would the ability to easily flip back and forth among pages within a note session or different sessions. I’d hope to see the ability to append handwritten notes into an existing pdf (though from a development standpoint this is more of an annotation function than a pure note taking function) PDF export would be more than adequate, though some effort to avoid gigantic file sizes would be useful. I would like to also have Dropbox (or similar) integration for file management or a web based sync solution (like Simple Note).

    I’ll keep you posted when Note Taker hits the app store.
    Update: I spoke too soon. Go read my review about Penultimate!

    One Lawyer’s Home Page Apps

    Like many iPad users, I put my most frequently used apps on the home page of my iPad. After a recent round of promotion and relegation, I thought I’d profile my home page apps along with comments about recent moves. I think these are very representative of my workflow and how I use the iPad. Also, not necessarily a dig if an app gets bumped off the front page. Usually just means I don’t use it frequently enough to warrant a top spot. Links will take you directly into iTunes.

    My Home Page

    Home Page Apps

    Recently Relegated – These apps were recently dropped from my home page

    • Pages. Sorry, Apple. Pages is a beautiful and functional word processor, but it doesn’t fit my workflow. Most of the text editing I do is in plain text with formatting and editing done back at the desktop. For those tasks, emailed text or Simplenote (with TextExpander) are ideal.
    • Weatherbug. One of the first apps I acquired. Accuweather puts today’s weather and the forecast front and center, which best reflects my weather needs. If I was a little more of a weather hound, I would probably appreciate Weatherbug’s focus on the maps. I still think Weatherbug is a great example of app design for the iPad.
    • WordPress. This app needs some updates. If they can get TextExpander integration and stabilize the app, this might be able to break back onto the front page. Needs to work at least as well as Simplenote (which is a tall order).

    On the Bubble – These apps are potential candidates for home page status

    • LogMeIn Ignition. Killer screen virtualization app. I just don’t use it frequently enough to warrant home page status.
    • 1Password. Great app for managing your passwords and logins on the go. Allows you to have properly unique and strong passwords without having to remember them. These folks also just came out with a beta for Windows, so everyone can join in the 1Password greatness.
    • PrintCentral. My app of choice for printing from the iPad. I love it, but I’m not doing it with enough frequency to warrant first page status. Wish the interface was cleaner and easier to understand.

    What apps are on your home page? Send me a screen cap of your home page along with whatever comments you want to share and I may just post it up here at TabletLegal.