Does the latest technology allow us to replace pen and paper in everyday use?
For the last 4 months I have been using an Apple iPad and Pencil to replace the notebook I have used for the last 25 years. There have been workable solutions for a while now but it has taken me a long time to find the right solution for general use. The release of the Apple Pencil at the end of 2015 was the starting point, but it only worked with the iPad Pro and at the time that was too expensive to justify as a digital notebook. When the latest 2018 iPad was released and had compatibility for the Apple Pencil I was able to buy an entry level iPad for < £300 and an Apple Pencil for about £80.
With a solution now available at the right price, the advantages of the digital notebook were enough of a catalyst to make me switch.
Notebooks have always been easy to use, they came in different formats and in many cases were very low cost. However they weren’t convenient, I couldn’t easily change what I had written or edit and change the diagram I had just drawn. I often found myself running out of space on the page especially when drawing systems and diagrams.
Every time I finished a notebook I had to store it somewhere, eventually this became an issue and finding things was really difficult and time consuming.
With my OneNote app I can easily edit text, handwriting, resize and simply keep drawing in any direction, the digital notebook can be any size and format I like.
Searching through large documents, multiple pages and whole notebooks is practically instant in OneNote and saves me going backwards and forwards .
Like most engineers I also collect information in different formats, text, audio, video it’s extremely easy to embed this in to my notes and add data from different formats as required. When I’m ready I can print my notes and pass them on or convert to a PDF and email it to someone else.
My notebook was organised in date order, this made it difficult to work with once I finished the notebook, and the data was locked in to the pages unless I retyped it.
Electronic data is easy to organise in may ways, you can sort, edit and manipulate your data and thoughts easily. I find that in many cases I want to manipulate the data and re-use it, that’s easy, I can cut and paste it, copy it, and change how its stored.
However there is no real limit to my digital notebook. I can easily work with multiple notebooks at the same time and multiple pages, organise them in to sections and change my mind if I need to. If I find that I have information in one notebook that I want to use in another I can copy or move whole pages easily or just copy and paste anything from another source.
If I need to I can send the Notebook, store it online for access from different devices and even work with it offline much like a traditional notebook.
My paper world was inefficient for some of the reasons already outlined. It was slow to find what I wanted, and impossible in some cases because I had lost or destroyed the notes or the volume of notebooks meant I didn’t even want to start looking. If I wanted to replicate something I had to manually type it again.
I can type in to OneNote which is my first choice for putting down my thoughts and ideas, but when sitting in meetings I can just write on the screen using the pencil. The main thing is I have the choice to pick the most efficient method of interaction for the situation.
When required I can convert my handwritten notes to printed text, this requires me to open the OneNote Ona PC or Mac and mark the writing as handwritten before selecting to convert to typed text. My handwriting is very messy and its taking me a while to learn to adapt my style to allow the conversion to be more accurate but I have some colleagues that find this very easy and a massive time saver
I have always been concerned with the security of the notebook system, but it had some advantages in an online world, it couldn’t be hacked, because it wasn’t online but was always vulnerable to being lost. If the worst happened and my notebook was lost there would be nothing to protect that data inside.
In the digital world using OneNote I can protect each section of my notebook with a password and enable fingerprint access to make that easier. If I lose or leave my iPad I can remotely erase the data but I also know that whoever picks it up cannot easily obtain the information inside. It’s protected by multiple layers of security.
To reduce the burden of trying to remember many passwords I have enabled fingerprint access to most of these areas.
Digital Notebook Setup
I reviewed a number of devices, with different methods of interacting and with different types of software and in the end I chose the following setup.
> Apple iPad (Current 2019 version, NOT Pro)
> Apple Pencil v1
> Microsoft OneNote through Office 365
The decisions that lead to this choice were a mix of technical and financial. I had the iPad and the interface is easy to use and there was a massive choice of existing apps and support for online systems. I could have picked an Android device and purchased a 3rd party pen and still used Microsoft OneNote..
The Apple Pencil was available, worked with a standard iPad and had excellent reviews for its accuracy, feeling when writing on the screen and ease of use. It’s not the cheapest but it is available new for around £80 and on sites like eBay for much less. It’s very ease to learn the basics with the Apple Pencil and the palm rejection means that leaning on the screen does not affect the writing or accuracy.
I could have chosen the IPad Pro along with the Apple Pencil 2 but for my needs there didn’t seem to be enough of an advantage. It would have cost significantly more and not really given me any advantages for what I needed.
There were a number of software choices with EverNote and OneNote appearing in most reviews. I had Office 365 so I decided to test with OneNote, the fact that it was integrated with Office365 OneDrive, and Teams and was available in Windows and multiple formats for different devices meant it was my logical choice.