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.
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.
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
Customisable style sheets
PDF annotation and sketching
Win a Free Copy of Notebooks for iOS
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.
Closing out last year I took a good look at the merits of using DEVONthink to Go as an iOS only user. I am a fairly recent convert to DEVONthink more generally, but the more I use them, the more I understand their immense value.
As I prepare my own version of the indulgent listicles you see everywhere, I am reminded of the myriad ways I have integrated DEVONthink into my workflow. The thing that has surprised me most is the way DEVONthink has affected how I work on iOS. It has even solved a problem I suspect might resonate with a lot of other nerds, which is how to centralise your data if you’re an incessant app swapper. DEVONthink is so easy to get data in and out of, I simply keep everything there. 1 I recently had a brief twitter exchange that got me thinking about DEVONthink as an app silo. Seeing as I have this iOS giveaway for DEVONthink to Go, I thought I might also share a couple of quick thoughts on that
On the Question of App Silos
The way DEVONthink works on the Mac, makes this an easier question to answer on macOS. If putting everything into a database is a problem, you can use the indexing feature instead, and still take advantage of the search super powers. You data remains at large in the native file system. I intend to cover DEVONthink on macOS in the not too distant future, I will look at the pros and cons of taking this route then.
In the meantime, as that option is not available on iOS it might seem more cut and dry. I’m not so sure. This is a crude analogy, but in a sense the architecture of iOS makes it something of a modern day terminal client. Ordinarily, your data is always somewhere else. Even if you maxed out the storage option, keeping all of your data locally on an iPad is not only atypical, but seriously risky. Operating on those terms also tends to raise other considerations, especially concerning security.
Functionally, the question becomes how you access and interact with that data. The key for me is that DEVONthink doesn’t change the structure of your data, which is precisely why it’s not difficult to get it back out again should you ever want to. Although not the only problem, to my mind the most significant concern with app silos is storing your data in a proprietary format. Evernote is the most obvious example in this context.
Perhaps as cloud storage evolves, and Apple improves iOS through their APIs, we might eventually have the option on iOS to index files outside the database. Even then, I’m not sure I would bother when I get the considerable advantage of strong client side encryption with DEVONthink, but it would be a good problem to have. It is also with reiterating that DEVONthink's excellent integration with iOS Files, means entire folders can simply be dragged in and out of the app. In functional terms this makes DEVONthink completely different to what we normally consider an app silo. It's really not something you need to worry about.
Don’t get me wrong, I still think this is an important part of the equation for data storage. But, if like me, the data you manage is largely future proofed as plain text, or kept in universal file formats like PDF, then I feel you're safe. The more important question for me is how I can access that data, and what I can do with it. Especially if you are the kind of person who will secure that data either way. If there is a compromise with DEVONthink, I feel it is in your favour with search, security, and automation worth much more. No doubt it helps that I have a lot of faith in DEVON technologies as developers.
Get Yourself a Free Copy Of DEVONthink to Go for iOS
There is further good news on the DEVONthink front. Not only where the good people of DEVON Technologies kind enough to share my review on the Devonian Times blog, but they have also donated 5 licenses to The Appademic for DEVONthink to Go.
I want to keep this simple. If you want a chance to pick up a copy, signup for the mailing list. If you’re already on the list, you’re a chance. Incidentally, being on the mailing list means I will always include you if I have something to give away. If you want to signup and then unsubscribe, I have no problem with that, but don’t be concerned about spam — I have neither the desire, nor the resources to do anything of the sort.
Thank you to everybody who entered, this draw is now closed. However, from time to time developers of software I recommend will offer promotional licences, joining the mailing list will put you in the draw permanently.
The Appademic has a free subscription for a year of Setapp to give away. If you don’t know what Setapp is, it’s like a curated App Store. You pay a small subscription fee, and you get access to everything. No in-app purchases, no advertisements, and every upgrade that ever ships. The apps they have are awesome, there are over a hundred now. The collection includes Ulysses, 2Do, iThoughtsX, Marked, RapidWeaver, Studies, Manuscripts. It goes on, and on.
Or, share this post on Twitter with #TheAppademic — Tweet
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The big idea behind this is to get the word out that this place exists. Sharing is the easiest thing you can do to support this site and help keep it around.
This will run until the 8th of December, no matter where in the world you are. Hey look, it’s the 8th of December, maybe this will help: The World Clock
The winner will be notified next Monday, the 11th of December.
In case you missed it, The Appademic has a full year’s subscription for Setapp to give away. If you don’t know what Setapp is, it’s like a curated App Store. You pay a small subscription fee and you get access to everything. No in-app purchases, no advertisements, and every upgrade. There are currently one hundred carefully chosen macOS apps, with more on the way.
While this is an important development for all kinds of Mac users, Setapp have taken a keen interest in academics. More study tips are turning up on their blog all the time. t makes sense. I’ve pointed out how useful their service could be to students, or anyone doing academic work. Moreover, anyone affiliated with an education institution can have ongoing access to Setapp for $5 a month.
The suite includes writing apps like Ulysses, and Manuscripts. Mind mapping tools like iThoughtsX and XMind. It has one of the best task managers going around in 2Do. There are project planners in Merlin, and Aeon Timeline. Findings, the lab notebook. The Studies app. The automated time tracker, Timing. Clever plain text outliner and to-do list app, Task Paper is there. Even Brett Terpstra’s brilliant text utility, Marked. The list goes on. It even includes the cross platform digital audio workstation, n-Track Studio.
If I were a more dedicated budgeter, I would do the math on all this properly. Maybe I will. I haven’t done it to date, as I have a pretty strong inclination it wouldn’t be a close race. A Ulysses subscription alone would eat up most, if not all the budget. Not only is Setapp a really good idea, it’s a bloody good deal.
Lucky for you, I still have a year’s subscription up for grabs.
How to Enter
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Sign up for to the mailing list and you’re in.
Share this post to Twitter using the hashtag #TheAppademic — or use this:Tweet
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Don’t worry, I have neither the inclination, nor the resources to spam you. The newsletter will be monthly at most — for the time being at least. The first one is already late. You can opt out at any time. And I would rather scratch my own eyes out than sell anybody’s data for any reason. And, I hardly use twitter, it's not really my jam.
The idea is simply to get the word out that this place exists. Sharing is the easiest thing you can do to support this site at this point in time. By sharing, you will contribute to keeping the lights on at The Appademic by helping it grow. Thank you for that.
This will run until the 8th of December, no matter where in the world you are. As long as you enter by then, you’re a good chance. The winner will be notified on Monday 11th December.
I have been bleating on about Setapp on this site for a while. Whether it is for accessing a suite of apps for all of your academic work, keeping it together with time-management, or just taking care of your Mac. The service recently passed the 100 mark for their collection of apps. The chances of not finding what you need in their library are becoming slimmer all the time. If you’re a developer, a writer, a tinkerer, or a so-called productivity enthusiast. Setapp has you covered. And, they’re adding quality apps all the time. One of my early concerns was how unruly it might get if they didn’t exercise decent quality control. MacPaw appears to be acutely aware of that possibility. The software that winds up on their books is not only throughly vetted, but somehow they are attracting numerous best-in-class developers. It looks a good deal regardless, and yet there are ways to get more from subscription that you might realise.
Among the many balancing acts for a developer is how to handle trial versions. Do you hold back features, limit the access time, or make it impossible to save project? With Setapp everything is standardised in that regard. The first month is free for all users, and there are no conditions on the apps. After a month you can add your payment details if you want keep using the suite. You won't find in-app purchases for unlocking premium features, at any time. The Setapp versions come fully loaded, primed for every update and added feature. That is the deal. You can test apps without the caveats.
One of the many advantages to this model isn't immediately obvious. If you're anything like me, there might be a few apps you would like to have available just in case; but buying them outright is difficult to justify when you hardly ever open them up. For example, Setapp includes things like Disk Drill for data recovery, WiFi explorer, and many more maintenance utilities and digital life savers. These are the kind of utilities that make me cringe at checkout, which are invaluable when you need them.
For writers, there is another more salient example. Ulysses has been part of the suit from the beginning. When they recently switched to a subscription model, I didn’t immediately realise they had worked out a way to include their iOS apps with the Setapp subscription. But they have. In fact it kind of irked me that I would somehow be paying for the app twice, but I wasn't paying attention. If you have a Setapp subscription, you can use it to activate Ulysses on iOS.
Subscriptions: Sadly, You Can't Beat em
I have no trouble understanding the disdain for subscriptions that some users have, especially at the individual app level. Using the example of Ulysses again, while I had started to use the app more and more, I was not compelled to upgrade to their new subscription. The value was not immediately obvious for my personal use case. It is a legitimate bug bear for users that across the board subscriptions have been a way to smuggle in price increases. I’m not somebody who thinks developers should make all of their labour gratis and live on crumbs, but I do understand where users have felt stitched up by the two-punch combination. The price increases have no doubt been the hardest part to swallow. Having the universal version of Ulysses included in Setapp has meant I don't need to weigh up it's importance to my workflow on its own. This is part of the problem, having to access every single app on it's individual merits is not always going have a favourable outcome.
One would imagine the teething with this subscription situation will go on for some time. Macpaw have been smart in trying to address this brave new world with something different. Setapp makes a lot of sense where certain apps are concerned. In introducing subscriptions, at times the price points can appear almost arbitrary. Some apps have been wildly overpriced, and whether that is a legitimate mistake or not, it can easily look like an effort to find the breaking point of a user base. Smile is a good example of a company who tested the water and got burnt. To their credit, they were smart enough to realise what they had done, and so addressed it quickly.
There are countless examples where developers have misjudged the situation. I just noticed Focus, a relatively simple pomodoro timer has just introduced a subscription. I can’t see it going well for the developers of that app. Pricing a glorified stopwatch at $4 per month is madness. This is just one way that something like Setapp becomes useful. Not having to make value judgements across every app and service a user might need makes a lot more sense for edge-case apps. Or indeed for software with marginal value. Being included in a suite with premium apps like Ulysses, 2do, RapidWeaver,Forklift, or Marked increases the value of useful, but lightweight utilities like Unclutter. When you can get all of that, and the dozens of other apps bundled with it for $5 a month, 1 who is going to pay $4 for an app made of a stopwatch and a list?
The Value of Setapp for University Users
There are many different user groups this service will suit, but I feel it could be particularly relevant to college students and academic users . My enthusiasm on behalf of students is due in part to the ephemeral nature of university life. Picking up a large software bill was once part of getting setup for university. Some colleges make that more palatable with group licensing. But that will cover an Office 365 subscription if you are lucky. A more custom, or unique workflow will have you reaching for the credit card. You may be investing in software that you will only use for a few years. Setapp could be a workaround for that situation.
I have said it before, but it bears repeating. Whether we like it or not, subscriptions are here to stay. It is now a matter of trying to make the right calls that will minimise the damage to your pockets, while giving you access to the tools you require to get your work done.