Taking Notes on the iPad

One of the many things that irritate me about the App Store is that I have to pay 99¢ or $6.99 to see if an app will do the job for me — will help me do my job. One of the most practical applications of my iPhone has been in taking notes, and specifically in using concept mapping software to do so. Actually, I’ve impressed myself (doesn’t happen very often) at how quickly I’ve gotten fairly proficient at thumbing text.

Of course, the benefit of using concept mapping software for taking notes is that you are organizing the notes at the same time that you’re writing it down. After the event, it is easy to adapt the structure to your particular work needs. In addition, many concept mapping tools will easily output your map to a number of formats, including image files — and some provide web space for posting your maps. This enables us to share our notes easily and quickly with our learning networks.

The main challenge and number one deal-breaker, as I have sought out mapping software for note-taking has been the interface — and the most important consideration is that I be able to take my notes without having to leave the keyboard. If I have to grab the mouse, reach down to the touchpad, or reach up to a menu or an icon to start a new sub-topic or sibling topic, then it interrupts the flow and requires unproductive angles of thought.

So, the tools that I have found to be easiest to use are:

  • Laptop (Macbook Pro), it is, hands-down, XMind. XMind is open source, and therefore free. The include a web service where you can upload your maps and even make them available as embedded windows. To navigate, you simple press [Tab] to create a new child topic and [Return] to create a new sibling topic.
  • For iPhone, it’s SimpleMind. The organic flow of the maps is interesting and flexible, but that it doesn’t do automatic spacing and visual branching might be a disadvantage. Navigation is not quite as convenient as XMind. Pressing [Return] will start a new sibling topic. But to create a new child topic, you have to reach up and click a plus icon at the top of the screen.

    SimpleMind, as well as XMind will output in a number of formats, including FreeMind, which seems to be the default mapping software. Evidently, most tools will output to FreeMind and import FreeMind maps.

  • I’ve probably spent about $30 looking at various mapping programs for the iPad, but the one that is easiest to use taking notes, is Mind Pad. Navigation, like SimpleMind, uses the [Return] key to create new sibling topics, but to spoon a new sub-topic, you have to leave the keyboard. Mind Pad also shares files very easily with XMind, though you have to change the file extension. Also, Mind Pad does not seem to offer any web space for uploading work.

    I’ve been looking forward to the iPad-native version of SimpleMind and have been in conversation with its developers about the possibility of its release before ISTE. Alas, it appeared in my SimpleMind search last night, I downloaded it ($6.99), and found that it does not have the navigation easy that the iPhone version has. Disappointment! I’ll continue to check out the updates and look for an efficient keyboard navigation.

At any rate, I suspect that ISTE 2010 is going to be where I more fully developing my thumbing skills on the iPad. I am looking forward to not having to lug a laptop around with me, except for sessions I am presenting at.

Finally, a quick reminder, that if you are taking pictures at ISTE, and uploading them to Flickr, be sure to tag them with iste10. Here are the photos already tagged for the conference.

See you in Denver and at EduBloggerCon.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

18 thoughts on “Taking Notes on the iPad”

  1. Thank you so much David, for mentioning XMind. Last year I was on a hunt for a mind/concept mapping tool to use with my students but never found one I liked. Our district will be purchasing Inspiration 9 but not for a year yet, so I really needed to find an alternative for this next year especially since I am part of a Project Based Learning pilot. Mapping will be a really important tool for my students. I look forward to checking out XMind.

    I also found it really interesting to note that you are thumbing the iPad keyboard. I recently ran some tests on the iPad to determine if it would be a useful research tool for our middle school students and I have concluded that the on-board keypad would be a nightmare to use for taking sustained notes using traditional keyboarding skills.

    1. Penny, I need to mention that XMind is not Inspiration. It’s a different kind of tool. Inspiration is a better sandbox type tool while XMind is excellent in getting related ideas down.

      Also, if I was considering getting iPads for a class of learners, I’d probably insist on a wireless keyboard, for those times of sustained writing. I wrote this blog entry on my iPad, but I was using a wireless keyboard to do it. Much easier.

      1. Hey thanks for the feedback. I guess I had better download the free month trial of Inspiration and compare it to IMind and others. I hear you on the wireless keyboard, but our district was looking at the iPad as a cheaper alternative for research. So once you add in all the extras you need to make the thing function, you may as well buy a fully functioning laptop.

        The physical features of the thing was just one set of drawbacks. There was a whole host of research resources that the iPad cannot access due to the lack of flash. There were other issues as well. My PBL teammates and I concluded that it’s just not suited to any serious work in a middle school classroom.

  2. I’ll be trying my luck with the iPad, too, David, and have found that even though I’m getting faster on the iPad – it’s still a much more laborious task to type than it has ever been on a laptop or even the iPhone.

    What’s your take on Blogpress? Has that worked well for you?

  3. Hi David,
    I favor c-map tools http://cmap.ihmc.us/download/ its available in 3 flavours – Win, Mac & Linux and is free.
    I have a variety of tools I use with my students (high school)including mind manager, freemind and smart ideas, but for ease of use, clean interface and useful presentation tool – its c-map


  4. Thanks for the Xmind info. I have been using FreeMind and find it a bit of a pain for my students. Xmind looks to be much easier for them to use. I have found so many of the software products, like Inspiration, tend to be more than I like to use. I guess I am a minimalist. There are a few programs we use that I can’t let them take home, but where I can I like to have the students use what they can use at home. Most students have a word processor, spread sheet and presentation software at home. Adding a few little tools they can get online for free, like Xmind, will help them organize, write, and present. Is that bad?

  5. A highly useful entry. I ended up going with ithoughtHD. Not the fastest app but good at sorting ideas. Thanks David

  6. I will agree that Xmind is very nice and relatively easy to use. I prefer CmapTools, mainly because I prefer concept maps. The difference, as far as I can tell, is the existence of a central node or concept. When sketching out ideas, I like the flexibility of CmapTools, and I like the linking of topics and maps themselves.

    Not claiming one is better or not, simply offering a suggestion. Perhaps I should spend more time with Xmind, as I really liked it when opening it, I just can’t get around the central topic/node.

    Thank you for the blog,

    1. David, I agree with the distinction that you describe. I played around with CmapTools and really liked it’s flexibility. It was probably the closest to Inspiration of any of the free tools that I played with. As a brain storming tool, it is idea, I think. The main use I am getting from concept mapping right now is as a not taking tool. It’s about as close to the way that I would take notes (organize notes) with pencil and paper as I could come without having to leave the keyboard. That’s the plus of XMind, that you can map it out using the keys on the keyboard — not having to reach for the mouse or the touchpad.


  7. I’m confused… you say “I’ve probably spent about $30 looking at various mapping programs for the iPad, but the one that is easiest to use taking notes, is Mind Pad.” I’ve been hoping that CMapTools would come up with an iPad app…but not sure if that will happen. When I saw this blog…I was excited by the concept mapping/note taking idea you mentioned. I followed your link to Mind Pad’s site as well as searching on iTunes. Mind Pad is a Windows based program. How are you using it on the iPad?


  8. Hello,

    I often use my iPad at work especially for meetings. I used as note taking application EverNote and then Awesome Note for a long time and their ability to sync but both had a disadvantage ; the lack of features to accommodate tasks, to-do and make monitoring.
    So I was seeking an alternative application to save time for my meeting. I have almost tested all the apps on Notes/ ToDo on the Appstore and I must admit I am still surprised they do not fit with a pro use. I have just discovered Beesy, an note taking and management app ToDo which apparently include taking notes with a business way. I have tried for a month and until now i’m really satisfied by Beesy. It’s really efficient and maybe the only disadavantage is you need time to use it efficiently. I guess this App really deserve we spend a little bit time to understand it

    I love shortcuts of Beesy’s icons in order to use it quicky and easily add notes. Also, the advantage is to submit easily by email minutes about my different meeting
    If you are interested you can google “Beesy” of go to the application’s website http://www.beesapps.com/beesy-ipad-to-do/

    All the best,


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