Setapp: Mac App Subscription Service Adds Dropzone

Setapp Dropzone.png

Setapp, the mac app subscription service, has added another of my favourite utilities to their collection. I mentioned Dropzone in one of the earliest posts on this site, and it continues to be one of the handiest automation tools I have on my Mac. I use it every day.

Setapp mac app subscription
I use Dropzone as often as I use my Mac, to trigger automated tasks and more

At its most basic, Dropzone extends the drag and drop powers of your mac. It can do much more than that, using customisable actions that are bundled into ‘dropzones’ that act as triggers. It is once of those apps whose usefulness cannot be fully appreciated until it has been put to work. Which brings to me to the usefulness of Setapp more generally.

The Value In a Setapp Mac App Subscription

I have been meaning to do the math on this for a while, but it doesn't take much to recognise the value I get from Setapp. Looking at the growing list of apps I have installed from the service, it has become an integral part of the way I use my Mac. I have over forty apps installed from Setapp now 1 Many of the apps I use daily basis, or at least every time I use my iMac. Admittedly, I already own Dropzone, so it could be a stretch to include it on the list.

 

Others Mac apps, like Ulysses, Marked, Forklift, and Taskpaper have become critical to the way I run this site. Then there are the apps that hold my Mac together, like iStat Menus, Gemini and Clean My Mac. And, probably the most overlooked value of Setapp, having a subscription allows me to use apps I might otherwise hesitate to buy, for how little I use them. For example, I have been playing around with API requests lately, using Paw. For my amateur twiddling, I couldn’t justify the US$50 to buy that app outright. Setapp means I don’t have to.

It is a point worth contemplating. Take Dropzone, it might not be expensive, but it is the kind of utility you need to tinker with to get the most out of it. Trial versions never last long enough to gain a full appreciation of an app, and I for one never treat a trial version like I would a first class citizen. If anything, Setapp creates the opposite problem for the software tinkering procrastinators of the world.

Setapp Subscription for Education

Setapp mac app subscription
The growing collection of apps for study, research and writing, make Setapp ideal for education users and students

I have made this point before, yet it bears repeating. For a lot of people, the software necessary for studying at university — or if you call it college — is practically redundant once school’s out. Dedicated apps like Studies for organising your learning, the wonderfully designed lab notebook app Findings, or the power user mind mapping tool iThoughts X.

Education users are eligible for a 50% discount, so I’m paying US$49 a year for Setapp at the moment. Half of that covers Ulysses alone, and the rest would be easily accounted for when even a single one of these apps receives a paid upgrade.

I bang on about Setapp every chance I get. I don’t want it to go away. The service saves me being pecked to death by a dozens of separate subscriptions or paid upgrades. We are in shallow waters with the new app subscription situation. I fear some developers are getting it wrong with pricing,2 where it is working for others. This strikes me as a better way to do things. The collective aspect of it appeals, and with apps like Dropzone being added all the time, Setapp continues to get better and better.

If you want to check it out for yourself, you can download a trial for full access to the collection. Don’t for get to apply for the discount of you’re an education user.

Setapp | Mac App Collection

  1. It’s true I like to write on my iPad, however, I still make good use of my Mac.
  2. $40USD a year for a Pomodoro timer is ridiculous

iOS Automation, Shortcuts: Workflows for Study and Research

Ios Automation Workflow Shortcuts.png

For nerds wanting to automate their devices, iOS 12 is Christmas. This week's new version of iOS brings with it significant developments to user automation. There has never been a better time to get to grips with iOS automation. Between the new academic year in the northern hemisphere, and the release of Shortcuts, I figure now is a good time to share some workflows I have built specifically for academic work and study.  Among the good news is existing Workflow routines are fully compatible with the new Shortcuts app, so I can start sharing the workflows I have built up.

Academic Shortcuts: EZProxy Library Workflow

This first workflow is as about as basic as automation can get, and yet it is one of the best timesaving tricks I have set up. I use this shortcut every day to access the full pdf versions of articles I find via Google or DuckDuckGo.

Most university libraries have an EZ Proxy server that can be used to reroute a URL through the library. If you come across an article you want to access, instead of tediously searching for it again via your library, you can use this workflow to access it via EZProxy. When you install the workflow, it will ask for the EZProxy address for your university library, so search for first and have it copied to the clipboard before you install the workflow.

Download: EZProxy Workflow

Citation Scanner Workflow: Scan Barcodes for Formatted Citations

ios automation

I have a much longer post in the works to cover managing citations with Workflow shortcuts, so consider this a preview.

There are a lot of web services and APIs one can find to format citations, but sometimes you need something simple. This shortcut uses a handy little web service called Ottobib that can return formatted citations via URL from ISBN numbers. I have used it to setup my own book scanner. It takes the ISBN from the barcode, queries the Worldcat database, and returns a formatted citation of the book in your choice of style. Consider it a basic version of Citationsy.

Download: Citation Scanner Workflow

Docverter Workflow: Convert Documents on iOS with Pandoc

ios automation

For academic users, the real value in using Pandoc is in the wonderful citeproc filter that formats referencing. Unfortunately, Docverter doesn’t include that part of Pandoc. What it can do, however, is a fine job of converting markdown, or HTML documents into other file formats. 1

I recently highlighted the dual document feature of Notebooks, along with that app’s support for multiple file formats. One thing Notebooks can’t do is create docx files for Microsoft Word. As much as I would like to avoid Word altogether, that remains wishful thinking in academia. Not only can this workflow help with that problem, it will save you from trying one of those janky conversion apps on the app store. It is also worth mentioning the other wonderful text editors this opens up. Drafts 5 is the first that comes to mind.

Download: Docverter Workflow

If you find these workflows, or shortcuts — whatever we are calling them now — useful, keep an eye out for more posts on iOS automation.

  1. It can handle LaTeX, and a couple other formats too. I suspect if you’re using those formats you will have no trouble adapting the workflow to your needs

DEVONthink and Notebooks: Alternatives to Evernote

Alternatives To Evernote Logos

Rumours of Evernote’s demise come around ever so often, but the recent ones appear to have more to them than usual. It seems a bunch of senior staff are heading out the door. If privacy concerns, and proprietary database weren’t concern enough, the future of your data should be. I would be especially concerned for academic research. If you are looking for the alternatives to Evernote for Mac and iOS, I humbly submit a couple of options I have written about on this site, DEVONthink, and Notebooks. You may even find room in your workflow for both.

DEVONthink, the Power User’s Alternative to Evernote

I have written at length about DEVONthink for iOS, but DEVONthink's real power still lies on the Mac. In fact, it is one of the remaining reasons I still use macOS. There are rumours of a major overhaul to DEVONthink on the Mac. I certainly hope to see those rumours come to fruition. For all its wonderful power, the interface has aged. Nonetheless, beneath that interface you will find the most powerful software available for information management and research. The AI heuristics and advanced search are some of the best study and research tools you will find in any form.

If aesthetic reasons have stopped you using DEVONthink in the past, I would urge you to download a trial and see if you can’t get over that. I wish had earlier than I did.

OCR and Web Clipping with DEVONthink

I know many users come to rely on Evernote’s OCR and web clipper. Both of those abilities can be found in DEVONthink. 1 The OCR engine in DEVONthink Pro Office is as good as it gets. Between that, and the peerless AI engine you can see why DEVONthink has become the endpoint for all my research materials. The web clipper can clean a web page, and save multiple formats. It might be stripped back compared with the Evernote clipper, but it does an admirable job at capturing what you need. The best part is, it speaks Markdown.

Alternatives To Evernote Webclipper
The DEVONthink web clipper is a capable alternative to Evernote

As far as alternatives to Evernote go, DEVONthink is a significant upgrade. Not only is it smarter, but your data remains private and secure. Moreover, you have options for how you use DEVONthink. In short, where Evernote imperils your data, DEVONthink keeps it safe.

Migrating your data to DEVONthink is trivial, as it can connect to Evernote directly to pull everything across with a single click. What’s more, with the DEVONthink Education Discount you can buy DEVONthink Pro Office outright for the cost of one year of Evernote.

 Alternatives to Evernote
DEVONthink can import data directly from Evernote

If you happen to be an iOS only user, DEVONthink to Go is also an excellent app. And, with the help of Workflow migrating you data on an iPad is not as difficult as many would have you believe. I have even setup some workflow shortcuts to help with the process. See my post on migrating Evernote data.

Notebooks: A Plain Text Alternative to Evernote

 Alternatives to Evernote

In many ways, Alfons Schmid’s Notebooks App is the antithesis of Evernote. It avoids all the pitfalls of a web based, proprietary system by building a stack on plain text. Not only is Notebooks a clever app, it is lean and your data remains future proof. If you want to avoid ever falling into the Evernote trap again, I would give this a serious look.

I recently did a deep dive on Notebooks, but I'm still uncovering some of its tricks. I have just started putting the ability to extract tasks automatically to good use. Notebooks can be set to extract tasks from a line in any note, by nominating a special character or phrase to indicate a line as a task. In practice, this means I don’t need to interrupt my own work when I have something to follow up. I have set Notebooks to extract tasks from any line that begins with two asterisk, so while writing I simply type a new line with ** followed by whatever I need to be reminded of. 2 Like so,

** follow up on citations for Science of Logic

That's it, I'm done. Notebooks will now extract the task from the text, and set a reminder. This is ingenious. It also opens up all kinds of possibilities with Siri Shortcuts,  using Notebooks  Siri integration.

Mac and iOS users have options for alternatives to Evernote. Apple’s own Notes app has developed into a solid solution. It has everything an everyday user might need, right down to document scanning and shared notes. I can also understand why Bear has become so popular, the interface is a delight. At the same time, both of those apps are built on a database that ultimately obscures the notes themselves. 3 With Notebooks, you can avoid that problem altogether, and you get an app that is much better suited to an academic workflow. For more on Notebooks, see links to my recent posts below.

Notebooks Coverage

Note Taking Automation with Notebooks, Workflow etc

Note Taking, Research and Organisation with Notebooks iOS

Elements of a Note Taking and Research Workflow

If you’re wondering how these apps might work together, it is straightforward enough. I keep all my current notes and project materials in Notebooks, but archive everything in DEVONthink. DEVONthink can mange note taking well enough, but it doesn’t have the greatest interface for composing notes — or for writing in general.

On the other hand, something DEVONthink excels at is indexing data. This means you don’t need to store data in a DEVONthink database to make use of its intelligence. Instead, you can index any folder, anywhere on your Mac. Because Notebooks stores data in native file formats, which are accessible directly from the file system, DEVONthink and Notebooks are very compatible.

As Notebooks files are stored in the native file system, I can easily keep my notebooks indexed and make use of DEVONthink’s search super powers. This works well for the simple fact that both these apps work with the files system, instead of against it. Believe it or not, this means I can even use my old favourite plain text utility, nvALT, alongside both these apps. I will leave that workflow, however, for another time.

What about handwriting? On iOS, I use GoodNotes for handwritten notes. And like everything else, those notes pass through Notebooks and eventually end up archived in DEVONthink.  While wither one of these apps is a wise investment, they play well together.  Notebooks is available on the App Store for both macOS and iOS, and DEVONthink is available directly.

DEVONthink Education Discount

Notebooks on the iOS App Store

Notebooks on the Mac App Store

  1. You will need the pro version for OCR
  2. You can set the task indicator to anything you like 
  3. I’m talking about Notebooks. But yes, I understand DEVONthink keeps material in a database. It doesn’t have to though.

Show and Tell — 13 September, 2018

An almost regular collection of useful links for students, academics and other nerds.

Show And Tell Appademic Web Links

 

Markdown, Pandoc and Make

This is pretty neat. A navigable demonstration of nerdy research tools. It’s essential a fancy archive of bookmarks put together as a presentation.

Markdown Here

Some forgotten moment of madness led me back to Apple Mail, but as always happens, I’m starting to tire of it. This extension isn’t about to solve my troubles, but if you deal with your email from the browser, or with Thunderbird it might help yours.

Python Environment in Web Browser| PyPy.js

One of my aims for this year is to learn to code with Python. To be fair, I’ve barely even started yet. I can think of a few use cases for this. Sure on iOS you have Pythonista, but sometimes all you have is a web browser.

Think Julia | How to Think Like a Computer Scientist

Even if your aims are modest. Perhaps you want to do a little Workflow automation, or learn some scripting. The first challenge is always conceptual. This is the kind of resource that can help get you started.

Markx

This project hasn’t been updated in a very long time, so I’m surprised to say it still works as advertised. If you’re unsure about markdown and want to play around, this is ideal. I have forked the project to see if I can’t do something with it. No promises though, time is not exactly abundant.

ZoteroBib | Zotero

There are any number of ways to get formatted references quickly online, but as a service, Zotero stands out for me. It is a wonderfully open project that enables all kinds of tinkering. Zoterobib is not new, but there may be readers who will find it useful for creating a bibliography on the fly. Just don't go clearing your browser cache while you're building one.

Photo by Christophe Hautier on Unsplash

Focus Sounds: Steve Hauschildt’s Productive Music

Thoughtful Music for Concentration

Productive Music Focus Sounds
Steve Hauschildt's Strands is one of my favourite albums for reading

In the last edition of Focus Sounds, I mentioned electronic music was once a form of torture for me. Much like rap music for John McClane.  Of course, I knew nothing. I still do, but at least I have widened my appreciation for different music.  Nowadays finding just the right electronic music is often the key to facilitating focused work. Of all the sounds I turn to for getting work done, the most productive music is electronic. Recently I have been exploring the variety of sounds in Steve Hauschildt’s back catalogue. It has turned out to be a treasure trove of music for writing, reading and anything in between.

Hauschildt’s former band, Emeralds, produced a lot of atmospheric music of their own. The band was eclectic though, so perhaps more an acquired taste for creating a working environment. Nonetheless, if you’re disposed to minimalist electronic music for concentration, Hauschildt’s work is worth exploring, whether solo or otherwise.

Subtle Differences Between Music for Reading and Writing

Focus Sounds Productive Music

I have more success finding music for writing than for reading. Especially if we’re talking about the intensely focused reading for academic work. Studying a text is as different to leisure reading as race walking is to rambling. To do it right the pacing is deliberate and careful. I envy anyone who can maintain the level of concentration required with lyrical content in the background.

My only option for concentrating is instrumental music, and even then the intangibles of cadence and tone require careful selection. Emeralds is a good example. I can happily write with Just to Feel Anything in the background, but when reading, the Casiotone arpeggios and distant rasping guitar is too much for my easily heckled attention.

Hauschildt seems to have slowed the tempo since the split from the band. A couple of post Emeralds albums have quickly become some of my favourite electronic music for reading. I find that both Where All Is Fled from 2015, and Strands of the following year can shape the right kind of atmosphere.

On the other hand, the most recent album Dissolvi has been better in my experience for writing. Dissolvi is supposedly minimal techno, whatever that means. I would hesitate to call it techno — then again that word is tainted for me by all those bell bottomed trippers I couldn’t avoid in the nineties. A couple of tracks include vocalists, but they are of the instrumental kind with no lyrical content. The subtlety of Hauschildt’s compositions make that work better than I would anticipate.

If Dissolvi doesn’t work for you, Hauschildt’s been prolific since the demise of Emeralds, and the variety in his former band’s discography is worth exploring in itself.

Find Steve Hauschildt in all the usual places, Apple Music, Spotify Bandcamp, Amazon, or Boomkat for you old school music nerds.

Students, get our Mac apps for 40% off until September 16th | Devonian Times

Devon Technologies is offering their customary back to school discount  for DEVONthink on macOS. I have been writing a lot about iOS lately, but I haven’t forgotten the Mac. DEVONthink remains one of the most compelling research solutions available on the Mac, and a singular argument for using macOS for study or academic work. The more information it has, the smarter at gets at making connections.

Our software is created with this in mind: DEVONthink helps you collect and organize your knowledge on your Mac, iPad, or iPhone. DEVONagent Pro finds information on the web no matter how deeply it is hidden, and DEVONsphere Express does the same on your computer.

We give 25% educational discount all year long but we want you to have a great start into the new term. So, students and teachers get our Mac apps for an exclusive 40% discount until September 16th, 2018. If this isn’t the best time in the year to get prepared for school, then when is?

If you’re an education user on Mac, the discount is available until 16th September 2018

Show and Tell — 21 August, 2018

An almost regular collection of useful links for students, academics and other creative nerds.

Show And Tell Citations

 

This week: Easy referencing, mind mapping, and data sets

Citationsy

Citationsy was built when the author discovered Chegg had bought the app formerly known as RefME  and ruined it. Referencing software can be complicated to the point of stupidity sometimes. 1 Citationsy offers sharp relief for anyone wanting a cleaner, more simple tool for managing references and creating bibliographies. The backend is a web app with client apps for both iOS and macOS. Not only does it bring back the incredibly useful barcode scanner, it's also completely free to use.

Formatically — Format Your Entire Paper Online

Another online tool, but at the other end of the scale. Trust me when I say you don’t need the expensive options being advertised here. Then again, I know plenty of students who would like the idea of having their papers formatted for them for a whole year. It’s your money. Oh, and they have some free tools too.

Outline Insight by WriteMapper

Curated examples from WriteMapper of writers using outlining. WriteMapper was released last year, and is developing rapidly into something very promising. I have a more detailed review in the pipe, but briefly it works like a kind of hybrid mind map and outline editor. It has a slick interface that combines visual mapping with focused text editing. With an obvious point of difference, Writemapper is shaping as a serious alternative to more established mind mapping tools

Academic Torrents

Don’t be fooled by the technology. It really is interesting to see P2P tech anywhere in the academic world. The mere mention of torrents makes big academic publishers have conniptions. It's no joke, there have been severe cases of this. And yet, it makes complete sense to share large data sets this way. Browsing the available data is interesting in itself, last time I looked the Pwned Passwords was the most popular data set.

Paperkast

An online forum for discussing academic papers. These things are always dominated by scientific articles. It's new, so get in before the trolls discover it.

Something Completely Different

Itty Bitty Site

This has been doing the rounds lately, but maybe you missed it. I’m still getting my head around it to be honest. It’s a clever bit of code that compresses an entire single page site into a serverless URL. Got that? This is how it works, pretty cool huh.

  1. Endnote

 

Photo by mauRÍCIO santos on Unsplash

Note Taking Automation with Notebooks, Workflow etc

Ipad Note Taking Automation

This is the second of a two part feature on Notebooks, for part one see here

Notebooks Part II: URL schemes and iOS Note Taking Automation

Aside from being an excellent general purpose notes taking app, Notebooks has a host of features uniquely suited to academic work and study — or any kind of research for that matter. Where the previous post outlined some of the feature highlights, this one has some examples for how to use the Notebooks URL scheme with Workflow, Drafts 5 and Launch Center Pro.

URL Scheme Automation Workflows

Automation on iOS is finally growing up. The impending release of iOS 12 will make user automation more accessible than ever, while apps such as Drafts 5, Pythonista, and the Omni Group’s suite include powerful scripting tools. At the same time, URL schemes remain the enduring staple of iOS automation. Any serious productivity app will include a URL scheme; they provide an ideal entry point for automation.

Notebooks comes loaded with a number of helpful URLs. It could potentially do more, but the bases are covered for common workflows. The scheme is both simple to understand, and well documented. I have various workflows, and launchers setup using the Notebooks sche

Here are some examples for download. Some will work as they are, while some require minor tweaks for your own purposes.

Workflow Shortcuts

You can set these up as action extensions, or invoke them from a widget in the today view. If you hold any concerns about workflows in the new Shortcuts app. Fear not, the following workflows will still be valid when iOS 12 comes along, and Notebooks includes support for Siri 

Reading List Workflow

This simple workflow was published in a post with a couple of other tips recently. To summarise, it is a way of archiving links, articles, or PDFs into a Notebooks task list. You can do the same thing using drag and drop. Check out that earlier post for more, or download the workflow below.

Download: Reading List Workflow

nb. To make this work you either need to create a Notebook called Reading List and set it as a task list in Notebooks. Or, you need to adjust URL in workflow to include a notebook of your own. This workflow can also be adjusted to choose from multiple task list. Again, you will need to change the list to suit your own needs

Download: Notebooks Add to List

Notebooks Markdown Web Clipper

How to take web clippings is usually the first question from Evernote users. There are a couple of ways to address that. If you simply want to import web pages, then Notebooks is thoroughly integrated with iOS system APIs. The Safari extension works perfectly. The same is true of the Notebooks Bookmarklet, which can also be used in third-party browsers. Notebooks settings can also be tweaked for the grab function to save either web archives, or flat HTML files.

If you’re only grabbing text, and you want something cleaner, I have created a Notebooks MD Clipper using Brett’s Marky Markdown API. This approach also has the advantage of being more judicious. As excellent as the Evernote web clipper is, I find it to be a blunt tool that makes it too easy to fill up a database with nonsense. Nowadays I keep my bookmarks at Pinboard.in, and DEVONthink, and only import what I need into Notebooks. This workflow is ideal for the job.

Download:  Notebooks MD Clipper Workflow

Notebooks Wiki Style Links

Notebooks internal linking makes for detailed internal note structure. I have done something similar with DEVONthink in the past, but it works particularly well in Notebooks. The first step is to copy the internal link of the note you want to link to, you do that by swiping gently left on the appropriate title in document tree. From there you can use the workflow in one of two ways, either run it from the today view widget, or type and select your anchor text to run the workflow inline — see the screenshot below.

Ios Note Taking Automation Internal Linking
Swiping left on the document tree, you can copy an internal link to the clipboard.
Ios Note Taking Automation Inline Workflow
To run this workflow inline, select the text you want to to use for the link and hit share. You can also run it from the widget in the today view

Download Workflow:  Notebooks Wiki Links

Notebooks Launcher

If you have a lot of workflows accumulating, it can be useful to setup a launcher to act as a kind of folder. As you will see below, I prefer to use Launch Center Pro myself. But for anyone wanting to keep it all in one app, this can help organise things. You can also use an app like Launcher or Magic Launcher, both are very good at what they do.

Download: Notebooks Launcher Workflow

Launch Center Pro

Ios Note Taking Automation
Setup launchers for common workflows in Launch Center Pro

It seems strange to suggest it, but Launch Center Pro (LCP) is something of a forgotten entity these days. You don’t hear much about it in the age of Workflow. Yet it remains an incredibly useful tool, and has always been an effective way to learn URL scheme automation. Even more useful is the integration with Textexpander. Snippets can be expanded in URLs directly, or via your abbreviations in a prompt. For example, I have a launcher setup to search my notes, along with numerous abbreviations for common names and subjects in my thesis. The launcher presents a search window, where I can type an abbreviation to quickly find notes. I have another that adds a new note, and uses Textexpander to set the current date as title.

Download Launch Center Pro actions:

Append to Notes — This launcher presents a list of pre-existing notes to append text to. To make it work you will need to edit the URL to include the names of your own notes.

Notebooks Search — Presents a search prompt

Add New Note with Date — Adds a new note with the current date as title. Requires Textexpander

Drafts 5 Actions

If you’re a Drafts 5 user, the Notebooks URL scheme makes it simple to setup your own Drafts Actions. If you’re just getting started, I have uploaded some actions to the Drafts 5 Action Directory:

Drafts 5: Notebooks Select — To use this for your own purposes, you will need to change the button prompts in the first step to include titles for your own notes.

Drafts 5: Add New Note to Notebooks — Adds a new note to your default notebook with the first line as title, and the body of the draft as the note. This will work without changes.

Wish List

As you can see, the Notebooks URL scheme includes everything you need to built automation into your common note taking workflows. It is not quite as deep as the URL scheme you find in Bear, or Ulysses. To be fair, I can’t see much use for automating visual elements like fonts and theme changes, but I would like to see a few things added.

Adding support for the x-callback protocol would open Notebooks up to bidirectional automation. At present the URL scheme is focused inward. If Notebooks were able to return data via URL, it would allow users to pull data out for all kinds of inventions. There are no doubt more pressing features on the road map, but putting these things out there is how we see our favourite apps improve over time.

 

Note Taking, Research and Organisation with Notebooks iOS

Best Ipad Note Taking App For Students And Academics

* This is part one of a two part feature on Alfons Schmid's Notebooks app.  Part two covers automation using the Notebooks URL Scheme

Unique Features in Notebooks App For Students And Academics

Alfons Schmid's Notebooks app has been on my list of essential apps since I started this site. I’ve since written about it a number of times, and included it among the highlights of last year.  I consider it one of the best note taking apps for iPad,  especially for students and academics.  The combination of writing and organisational tools make Notebooks uniquely suited to research. It has features you won't find in other note taking apps.  The following highlights some of the functionality in Notebooks that make it so useful.  1 For expediency sake I have broken this in two parts, with the first covering features suited to academic workflows, and a followup post covering automating Notebooks with Workflow and Drafts 5.

I recently highlighted the way I use the task management feature of Notebooks, along with its URL scheme to organise reading lists. Notebooks has numerous other features suited to academic work,  here are some of the highlights.

Dual Document Viewer

The minimalism of the iOS operating system is one of the iPad’s strengths. Whether by design, or by accident it encourages focused work. However, from time to time it can lead you to a dead end. One such problem is the inability to run multiple instances of any given app. In practice that usually means finding a workaround for a common research and writing workflow. I’m talking about viewing and editing two discreet documents at the same time.

The ability to view two documents concurrently is often necessary for academic work. Studying the contents of one document for comparison or analysis, while writing in another. Incorporating comments and feedback, or simple proofing. If you do any serious research based writing, eventually you will want a solution for this. This has become a notorious pain point on the iPad that very few apps address. Multitasking has soothed the pain somewhat. Opening documents in two different apps has become the de facto workaround, but you shouldn’t need to.

 

Notebooks Best Note Taking App For Study
Notebooks is one of only few apps available on iPad that can view and edit two documents at the same time

 

Notebooks has an elegant solution via the 2up button. A swipe gesture on any given file from the document tree will open a second document in split screen. Even more useful is the long list of document types supported, including plain text documents, Markdown, PDF, iWork, Office, RTF and HTML documents as well as images, movies, web archives or email messages. Scrivener is the only other app I know of that does this, from experience Notebooks does a better job by affording both documents equal screen real estate. 2

Customisable Keyboard Navigation

Best Ipad Note Taking App For Students And Academic

Notebooks has extensive keyboard shortcuts for everything from document creation and navigation, to time stamping and revealing word counts. I recently heard it suggested one of the qualifiers for a professional app on iPad is keyboard control. Notebooks has this covered, and then some. The pro touch for me is the ability to edit your own keys in the iOS shortcuts bar. Keys can be edited to insert practically anything, including a special function that adds whitespace where the cursor will land. Any matched punctuation pair can be setup using the same function.

 

Note Taking App For Students And Academic
Notebooks comes with predefined sets of keyboard shortcuts, and users can define their own custom keys

This is one of those little touches that are more useful that you even realise at first. For example, I use standard Biblatex citation keys for use with Zotero, so I setup a shortcut key that places an @ symbol between square brackets, using an ellipsis 3 in the middle. Tapping the key types the characters, while placing the cursor in the middle. I can then type my memorised key to signify the text I am working with. The keyboard shortcut looks like this: [@…]. I have further keys set for markup with various HTML tags. I could go on, the keyboard functionality extends much further than this.

Audio and Video Recordings

Audio notes are huge if you’re studying or researching. Whether its lectures, or dictated memos 4, cataloguing them in your general notebook gives them a frame of reference. If you use a separate app for recording audio, the files are often stored without context. If you’re conscientious about naming files this can work, but nothing is more irritating than listening through the start of multiple recordings to find what you need. The same is true of video, which is rightly becoming a more recognised reference material.

Best Ipad Note Taking App For Students
Notebooks can display visual files in its dual document viewer, making it possible to review recording while taking notes

 

Note taking from Audio Visual material is another way to make good use of Notebooks dual document support. Invoking the spit view is not limited to text, so reviewing material while taking notes can be done without needing to open another app.

Structure Content with Contexts and Smart Books

Something that drew me immediately to Notebooks was the flexibility for organising data. There are powerful tools for creating structure without locking users into any predetermined method. The notebook metaphor can be maintained or subverted if you want to use the app as a file manager.

Contexts are a concept taken from the popular GTD method for organisation. I’m not big on the idea of totalising one’s life as a productivity machine, but the idea of contexts can provide a useful way to delineate different areas of work. In practice contexts are uniquely useful for structuring notes and other content. When used with Notebooks smart lists, contexts can provide the basis for compiling a finished project.

Document Processor and Compiler:

Notebooks can process text in a number of ways. Individual texts, and books can form the basis of sections for much larger documents. I have extolled the virtues of plain text enough on this site, but it bares repeating. Plain text is future proof, adaptable and resilient. The underlying engine of Notebooks is built on these foundations.

The plain text philosophy means Notebooks uses HTML for formatting, so with a little CSS, users can create custom styles from which Notebooks can compile PDF documents and ebooks. If that sounds difficult, it’s really not. It comes with a selection of style sheets to get you started, including one with MathJax support. 5 Using HTML means granular control over the finished product,

There is also a kind of neat symmetry here for anyone who knows the history HTML. The original Hypertext Markup Language was built for exactly this reason, as a standard for sharing research documents. This appeals to me as both an academic, and an unashamed geek.

PDF Annotations

The Notebooks app has the popular PSPDFKit framework available for PDF reading and annotation. This is the same framework used by Evernote, and DEVONthink, and includes thorough pencil support. On top of the deep annotation capabilities, the PSPDFkit framework provides nice page turning animations that give the app a more natural feel when working with PDF documents.

This particular feature s available via an in-app purchase, which like the app itself is inexpensive. The PDF viewer costs US$4.49. 6

Bonus Features

Windows version

This might not seem a big deal for iOS and Mac users, but Windows is everywhere. Apple users tend to forget this. Microsoft devices have improved dramatically recently, and there are plenty of other reasons for cross pollinating platforms.

Private Wifi Syncing and WebDAV support

I would like to see Notebooks add iCloud, and support for the iOS Files App, but the existing syncing options work well. Particularly pleasing is the consideration for privacy coded into the app via the Wifi option. If you have good reason for avoiding Dropbox, syncing can be managed across a local network. WebDAV support means Notebooks can also be synced via Synology and other private cloud solutions.

The Question of Handwriting

Handwriting Companion For Notebooks App
Until Notebooks has handwriting support, GoodNotes' on the fly OCR and excellent drag and drop support make it the ideal handwriting companion

Devices like the iPad Pro are finally delivering on the long promise of matching the cognitive advantages of handwriting to digital convenience. At the same time, where handwriting recognition and inking engines have improved out of sight, the apps that deliver these tools can be limited. As such, I have come to think of handwriting apps as an interface for capturing notes. Notes ultimately end up elsewhere, in Notebooks, DEVONthink, or Keep-It.

I have flipped between Notability, MyScript Nebo, and GoodNotes for handwriting. Nebo unquestionably has the best handwriting recognition, but the app hasn’t had much attention 7. Notability is a good self contained app if you can work with its limitations. However, I have returned to GoodNotes since it started generating searchable notes on the fly. Between the now instant OCR, and one of the best drag and drop implementations, GoodNotes is currently my favourite handwriting companion for Notebooks. Once a note is written, I open Notebooks and drag it from GoodNotes in slide over. The notes are preserved perfectly with the searchable layer.

Handwriting is the most obvious missing feature of Notebooks at present, but it’s likely to be added in a future version. If and when that happens, this already excellent tool will become a bonafide killer app. Until then, I still recommend it as a better place to store handwritten notes, and GoodNotes has the most compatible feature set right now.

Final Remarks

I say final, there is another post following with Workflow and url scheme automation. Despite this relatively lengthy post, there remains a lot I haven’t covered. Nonetheless, I believe these highlights make Notebooks, in my opinion, the best general purpose note taking app on iPad for academic use. There is room for improvement, no doubt. I expect that handwriting will arrive at some point, and while the hooks are already deep in iOS further integration

I have a final superficial qualifier. If I am going to spend any amount of time working in an app, I want it to look good. No problems here, the understated minimalism and use of whitespace make Notebooks a handsome app.

 

 

  1. The scope of the article covers iOS. However, Notebooks is cross platform, with excellent versions on macOS and Windows.
  2. Liquid Text has function for working with two documents, but it work vertically. Besides, Liquid Text is a world unto itself, so a subject for another time,
  3. As opposed to dictating notes to text
  4. If you know what MathJax is, chances are you have no problem with editing a few lines of HTML
  5. I’ll be honest, I wish the app cost more since I have come to reply on it. Given what it can do, I feel it is seriously under priced.
  6. It seems to get more buggy as iOS is incrementally updated.

Giveaway: Notebooks iOS for Writing and Research

best note taking app for study

For more detailed content on Notebooks:


Notebooks Giveaway *

I have spent more trying out note taking apps that I would like to admit. You could say I’m picky. Through all the trialing and testing, one app stands out for combining almost everything I want in a note taking app with a number of features I hadn’t even thought of. That app is Notebooks. The more I use it, the more I am convinced Notebooks is the best note taking app for study, research and academic work.

My enthusiasm for Notebooks is its own reward, so it’s a huge bonus to have that enthusiasm met with generosity. The developer of Notebooks, Alfons Schmid, is kindly offering readers of The Appademic the chance to pick up one of ten free copies of Notebooks for iOS.

Notebooks Best Note Taking App For Study
Notebooks has the ability to view and edit two documents at once

Aside from being an excellent general purpose notebook, Notebooks has a host of features uniquely suited to academic work and study — or any kind of research for that matter. I recently highlighted the way I use Notebooks’ task management, and URL scheme features to collect material, and organise reading lists. I have a more detailed review on the way, which will include more worklows that make use of Notebooks' unique features. In the meantime, if you are unfamiliar with the app here are some of the highlights.

  • Markdown support
  • Deep URL scheme automation
  • Internal linking for wiki notes or zettelkasten
  • Support for almost any document type you can think of
  • Private Wifi syncing, WebDAV or Dropbox
  • Future proofed by plain text and html
  • Document processor, ebook compiler and PDF converter
  • Task Management, including GTD contexts
  • Integration with OmniFocus, Things 3, Todoist, 2Do and more
  • TextExpander
  • Customisable keyboard
  • Customisable style sheets
  • PDF annotation and sketching
  • Voice memos

Notebooks is a powerful tool with a clean, and slick interface. It is easily one of my favourite apps on the iPad. It is the best note taking app I have found for my own purposes.  If you want a chance to pick up a copy, signup for the Appademic Mailing list below. If you are already a subscriber, you’re in the draw already. The draw will close on Friday 24th of August, and winners notified via email.  There are 10 copies to be won.

nb. *Sorry this giveaway has now ended. However, developers occasionally donate promotional licenses to The Appademic, and subscribers to the mailing list are automatically included in all future giveaways. You can signup for the mailing under the menu on the left,   ⟵ That Way