The 2 Best Digital Ink Apps for the iPad

As somebody who used to be hooked on my Palm PDA because of all the time management stuff it could do, my migration to iOS (iPad and iPhone) is far more focused on productivity apps than games. For instance, I’ve bought most of the digital ink, note-taking apps available for the iPad and I’ve recently picked a favorite. Noteshelf.

Main Level of my Noteshelf (above)

In reviewing all of the features of the various digital ink apps available, the single most important thing is how well it translates what you think you’re writing into pixels on the screen. You often hear mentions of the “inking algorithm” and what people are trying to describe is how well the motions of your stylus (or finger) are accurately tracked and saved as digital ink pixels. And when you’re scribbling quickly, if the app can capture your strokes accurately, the algorithm is better. NOTE: Just to be clear, these programs do NOT convert writing into typed characters. (I haven’t found a single OCR for writing that saves more time than it wastes.)

One of the explanation pages from the Noteshelf User Guide (above)

Besides Great Inking…

While I have yet to find a “perfect” digital ink program that always captures exactly what I scribble, there are a half dozen or so that are quite good and on par with one another. So then you start looking at other features which make one inking program better than its competitors. Big features that matter are things like:

  • Does it include an option for typing?
  • Is it easy to find and organize various pages/notes/collections, etc.?
  • Is editing type and ink easy and intuitive?
  • Does it have a “zoom mode” for more accurate writing?
  • Does it have a ‘wrist guard’ so you can rest your hand on the tablet as you write?
  • Can you snap or import photos and then crop, scale, and annotate them?
  • Can you password protect notes?
  • Can notes be shared and printed easily?

With respect to all of these points, Noteshelf is at least as good as the best in class competitors, with one notable exception… It is absolutely the best, most intuitively organized app for taking notes, bar none!

As the name suggests, it uses a bookshelf analogy for visual organization of notebooks. It gives you the option to put as many notebooks as you like on the main shelf, or you can group collections of notebooks together and tapping on the group, opens a 2nd level shelf with as many notebooks as you want. For instance, I have a group of all my notes for work. In that group I have a couple dozen notebooks, each representing a topic. It’s that simple.

Besides great organization, Noteshelf is also the only app I know of, that lets you design and import your own papers, and you can even mix papers within any given notebook. I have several forms we use all the time at my office and I’ve added them as pages to various notebooks. Now I can fill out an ‘official’ form from the office, digitally sign it, and email it as a PDF, all from within  Noteshelf. It also has custom cover options, but that’s just cool and makes the visual organization even nicer. It’s not really a make or break feature.

 The missing big feature

Speaking of big features that you might be looking for, audio recording is not a part of this app. Now, that’s okay with me because I’m rarely in an environment where I can record decent audio while I’m taking notes. I suppose if I were still in college, I would want that function. If that’s you, go for my 2nd favorite note taking app Notability. It does ink and typing as well as anything in Noteshelf and it adds recording audio. – My big problem with Notability is the comparatively difficult organizational structure. My other big problem is that, while the program is very robust, the instructions and tutorials to use it are not. I learned a little from a built in ‘Welcome’ note, some from built in help, some from videos at the developer’s web site, yet I still had unanswered questions about functionality, saving and sharing files, etc.

Notability comparison of how notes are organized (above)

Again, Noteshelf outshines Notability with their very comprehensive getting started note (User Guide). It’s 17 pages and will take 10 or 15 minutes to digest, but if you do, you’ll know everything about the app without any blanks. Then again, because the app is so intuitive, you’re welcome to jump right in and you’ll probably get it.

Noteshelf and Notability are both great digital ink, typing, note taking apps for the iPad, and you’ll love either one. But if intuitive visual organization is important to you, pick Noteshelf. If you need audio recording, pick Notability, and spend some time learning how to keep your notes organized and categorized.

You can get Noteshelf for $5.99 here from the iTunes

You can get Notability for $0.99 here from the iTunes


A word about iPhone compatibility

Unfortunately none of these digital inking apps has an iPhone version available. However, I have found that I can save all my notes (or just selected ones) from Noteshelf or Notability into my free Dropbox account as PDFs and that way I can get to them from my IPhone, even if I can’t edit them.


Clear, A New Way of Thinking for To Do lists
















A Better Way To Do a To Do App

I know what you’re thinking, there are a thousand To Do Apps in the App Store, what do I need another one for. You’re right, there are a thousand (maybe more) out there already, but this one is different. The beautiful way that the developer has taken advantage of the touch screen to create a different type of user interface. Gone are the text lines with boxes carried over from the PC world. In their place lies a slick, intuitive user interface that really makes sense, especially on the iPhone. Instead of showing you screen captures, you really need to see this App in action. Check out this short video made by Clear to see how it works and why you need it!

Clear for iPhone – Available Now! from Realmac Software on Vimeo.

What I Would Like to See

When trying to “pear down” an App it’s sometimes hard to know what things to keep and what things to get rid of. Especially in an entirely new UI experience like Clear. Now that you’ve seen the video, I’m sure you noticed that there are a few things missing… The first thing that hit me was a lace of notification. There is no way to set a notification to go off at a set time with Clear. Along with that is no ability to create a repeating to do item. For me this is kind of important. I set recurring alarms in my other to do App and really feel that this is a feature that should be included in the next update. Also missing is an iPad native version, however this is the first release so I’m sure it’s coming soon.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is Clear has set the standard for not only to do Apps, but for Apps in general when it comes to the UI. The interface is super simple yet works really well. I actually enjoy it and have been using it since the day it came out.

You can get Clear for $0.99 here from the iTunes



Markup Brings Website Coding To The iPad

Markup for iPad

Even though I use my iPad less for work and more for enjoyment, it is nice to have apps on it that are capable of doing work too. As a web designer, it feels good to be able to pull up and make changes to a client website directly from my iPad should that need occur. That being said, I don’t have any plans to start doing website work just on the iPad.


Last year I reviewed Textastic, another web editor for the iPad. I have been perfectly happy with it, until I saw one feature of Markup that drew my attention to it. I can save “sites” in it. Being able to save a site with its FTP configuration and working with its files separately from another site is an incredible experience, if not a must.

The editor is clean and simple but very functional. Just pull up a file remotely, no need to store in locally, and start working on it. While this does need an internet connection, it is the best way to work on sites that are now online that you need to edit. If you just want an app to code in locally, this is not the one for you.

Markup for iPad

In summary, Markup offers you a good value for the price it cost, giving you a nice site editor on the iPad that you know will do its job well. If you work with websites regularly, I think this is a good buy.

Get Markup for iPad from the Markup for iPad - Soroush Khanlou


Geotag Photos Pro Works Great with Lightroom 4

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 brings a new Map Module to the game that allows you to easily geotag your photos. You can geotag photos by using a reference photo that already contains location info (say one from your iPhone), you can manually drag photos onto the map, or you can use a GPX log to match your photos to. Of course if the photos already have location info in them then Lightroom will use that info as well.

What’s a GPX Log?

A GPX log contains an entry with the date, time, elevation, longitude and latitude for each time your location changes (see sample below). The idea is that if your photos are taken within the same time frame as the log entries then applications like Lightroom 4 can extract the location info from the GPX Log and insert this info into the photos that are matching the date and time.  It’s a simple concept and one that’s been around for years. Your iPhone has a GPS chip in it. With GeoTag Photos Pro you can take advantage of your iPhone (iPad or iPod touch) knowing where you are and then have it create this log for you.

How does it work?

GPX Log file example above

Since this process greatly depends on your camera being set to the same time zone/time/date as your iPhone, the App does a great job in showing you a display of exactly what to set your camera’s date/time setting to. Once you’ve done this important step all you have to do is create a new log and tap the record button. Once you tap the record button the App will start logging your location updates. By default the App is set to record your changes every 2 minutes or every 50 yards. I found this setting not to be accurate enough for my taste. I changed the setting to “Continuous” and every 10 yards. Of course this will use more battery power of your iDevice, but the difference in battery drain during my tests was insignificant. When you’re done with your shooting you tap the Stop button. At that point you can email the log to yourself or send it to iTunes for a wired transfer to your computer. The log is pretty small so I always just email it.

The Map Module in Lightroom 4

Once I got back to my computer I imported my RAW shots from my Nikon D7000, converted them to DNG (Not necessary, but I like DNG), and then imported the GPX log file that I created with GeoTag Photos Pro. It plotted a very precise route including the locations where I was inside a building.

Next I just used the AutoTag Photos command and like magic it auto tagged my selected photos and placed them on the map along the route.

The Bottom Line

I LOVE geotagging my photos and while I’ve got a variety of different GPS modules that connected directly to my Nikon DSLRs, it’s nice knowing that my iPhone becomes a wireless GPS module for any camera and I always have it with me. As far as the App goes, it works very well. I would make a couple of UI suggestions to the developer. The 1st one is to put the Camera Date/Time settings button right on the main screen instead of having to drill down to in the settings. The second one is to put the Email log button right on the main screen too. There is room for both of these and since I use them every time it would be nice not having to drill down to find them. Otherwise, this App does exactly what it’s supposed to do and makes a nice compliment for the NEW Lightroom 4.

You can get GeoTag Photos Pro for $3.99 here from the iTunes

You can also get it for Android here.



Instagram Gets a Huge New Feature

Instagram Gets an Update!

A couple of days ago Instagram released an pretty important update to their wildly popular App. This release brings not only an updated user interface but also a new filter AND a new editing tool. The latter is the most important addition. The new editing tool is called Lux saves an entire step in my old iPhone photo workflow.


What Lux is going to do for you

Before Lux, my workflow went like this; Take a photo, go to Camera+ and adjust the Clarity. This pumps the midtone contrast of the image and really makes it "pop". I would then save the image to the camera roll, import it into Instagram and apply my filter. Lux is essentially "Clarity" for Instagram. It is activated by tapping the small sun looking icon in the bottom left corner of the screen.


A new Filter

Along with Lux, Instagram gets a new filter with this Update; Sierra. Not a crazy different filter, but it has some subtle changes that I enjoy. The next time you are in Instagram try it out, I'm betting that you'll like it.


Reworked UI

This is the only downside of the whole update is the new user interface. Instagram replaced words with icons that look (as my buddy Zack put it) very web 2.0 and cheap. I prefer the old interface but just like every other App company they are feeling the need to change things up to keep it fresh. I say, "if it isn't broken, don't try to fix it".


The Bottom Line

The bottom line is this; Instagram V.2.1 is a great update (especially the addition of Lux). If you're an Instagram lover, definitely check it out. If you've not tried it out yet, head over and check it out. Oh and don't forget to follow me on there @jlykins.


Get Instagram for the iPhone for free from the iTunes store here: iTunes

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