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Scribble This: The Uncertain Future of Note-Taking Apps

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Over the past few years, great options have emerged for every note type and note-taking style. Word processors and drawing apps have evolved into specialized tools for organizing notes (OneNote, Evernote, Joplin), tracking backlink relationships (Obsidian, Roam Research), aggregating research sources on web and other documents (LiquidText, Flexcil), mind-mapping (LucidChart, MindMeister), whiteboard (Miro, Mural) and others.

Amid the fuzzy boundaries of these categories, freeform note-taking tools combine the spontaneity and flexibility of pen and paper with digital capabilities that include selecting and moving sections of text, converting handwriting to text and synchronization between devices. While the field has included several specialty devices (reMarkable) and paper-digital hybrids (Livescribe, Rocketbook), consumer tablet platforms that relegated keyboards to an accessory have proven fertile ground for note-capturing. free form.

But pen input has faced a winding path across platforms. Apple introduced pen input to the iPad lineup and gave handwriting a huge boost in iPadOS 14 with its Scribble feature, but does not support pen input on the iPhone. On Android and Chrome OS tablets, most business products from Lenovo, Samsung, and HP support pen input; several of these brands support the Google-backed Universal Stylus initiative which appears to be supported on Google’s back-to-market tablet game, the Pixel tablet. On the Android phone side, Samsung’s Galaxy S22 Ultra replaced the pioneering Galaxy Note while TCL recently joined Motorola as a provider of more affordable stylus phones, filling the gap left by the end of LG’s Stylo line.

Then there’s Windows, to which Microsoft added pen support years before smartphones came along (much to the chagrin of a startup offering a Windows competitor called PenPoint). It brought stylus support to the Surface Pro before Apple launched the Apple Pencil, but the rare use of Windows 2-in-1s as tablets – combined with the long-standing shortage of touch apps from Windows – resulted in poor support for the third free-form note-taking tool beyond Microsoft’s OneNote. While OneNote is available on many platforms, other proprietary apps are confined to a particular ecosystem (Apple Notes) or even brand (Samsung Notes). This is also true for several third-party products. For example, GoodNotes and Notability are iPad exclusives while Squid and Inkredible are Android exclusives. Still, if you’re looking for a free-form note-taking tool that lets you jump into capture mode quickly and works on all platforms, there are a number of choices available to you.
Notehelf recently arrived on Android after an iPad debut. Both versions support browsing multiple notebooks and pages via thumbnails or bookmarks, importing audio and photos, highlighting, converting handwriting to text, automatic shape recognition and a range of selection options that include bring forward/send to back, resizing and color picking. . However, the younger version of Android lacks a “zoom box” function to facilitate detailed work and a presentation mode.

MyScript, the company behind the Nebo app, has a note-taking heritage that dates back to Apple’s Newton. It still licenses its AI-based handwriting recognition to companies including Lenovo, Huawei, and Dell, which recently featured it in the meeting-centric Concept Stanza slate showcased at CES 2021. so it’s no surprise that Nebo focuses on the handwriting recognition experience. , previewing recognized text in real time as you write. It can also recognize and convert mathematical formulas and diagrams although we’d like to see at least PowerPoint-level editing capabilities for these.
Priced at $10 or more for its full feature set, Nebo is one of the most expensive note-taking tools out there, but the price includes free use of the MyScript cloud service to allow notes to be synced across the board. using Dropbox and Google Drive. And although you have to pay to use it on every platform, it’s one of the few that fully supports Windows. It also offers a free viewer app for iOS, and its iPad app can be used on Macs that support Apple silicon.

After: 3 Super Easy Ways to Take Notes on Your iPad Using an Apple Pencil

Earlier, I mentioned Microsoft’s OneNote, another note-taking app with deep roots. (It turns 20 next year.) OneNote’s OneDrive supports syncing across iPhone, iPad, Android, the web, and of course Windows, where it offers tight integration with the Surface Pen. OneNote’s hierarchical system of notebooks, sections, and media notes is a bit of a drag if you’re used to tools like Evernote, but it can accommodate a wide range of organizational styles. OneNote makes it easy to access a free-form capture mode and has a useful group of drawing tools. However, its handwriting to text feature only works on Windows.

Many note-taking apps today adopt a page-centric construction that breaks down the further we move away from printing notes. Taking inspiration from whiteboard apps, an alternative is the “infinite canvas” as implemented in the more sketch-centric (and largely cross-platform) Concepts app. Also, like many long-standing tools, Note Capture is facing increasing competition from AI. The good performance of transcription tools such as Otter alleviates the need to capture what is being said in the moment. More conferencing tools now create on-the-fly transcriptions as platform providers extend the reach of their live captioning features to a wider range of audio and video throughout. computer experience.

For now, these are more aids than a substitute for taking notes, as only humans can create notes that introduce their priorities and knowledge of information relationships beyond the scope of particular content. But if AI can create believable images of characters and scenes based solely on text descriptions, it’s one step closer to mastering the mental process named after a popular drawing experience for children: connect the dots.