I’ve had my iPad Mini now for about five months. It’s a terrific device and I’m glad I bought it. That doesn’t mean, however, that I haven’t had my frustrations with it. More specifically, my frustrations revolve around the apps I’ve been experimenting with trying to find just the right combination to make the Mini a useful device for actually doing things that matter to me.
Part of the learning curve for me has been figuring out just what it is I do WANT to do with the Mini. I think I originally had an inflated idea of what could be done EFFICIENTLY with the unit. The key word (as I not so subtly hinted at) is efficiently. There are so many apps that do so many things that it seems that almost anything you can think of, you can do with the iPad. It’s just the question of asking oneself, “Do I want to do that?” For me, the answer has as often as not been no. And that has been due to three reasons:
The form factor of the iPad Mini just isn’t conducive to the doing, primarily for two reasons: A.) the screen is too small, or B.) the on-screen keyboard just isn’t the best way to add a lot of text. This could very well be a generational thing, as I’ve spent the past forty years writing words using a full-sized keyboard of some kind or another. Not to mention my eyes aren’t as good as they used to be.
Reason two is the apps themselves are wanting. This, in truth, is more often the reason. There are a lot of crappy, useless apps out there and I think I’ve tried all the ones related to information management. Even the ones that are relatively ingenious in one way, often have a glaring failing that just makes me not want to use it. Often this has to do with the failure of the developer to extend the keyboard with useful keys. It has almost become a litmus test for me: if the developer can’t be bothered to extend the keyboard, then the app is no good. Another significant cause of failure is a lack of useful export options for sharing with other apps. Sometimes it’s that the app is too simple and other times it’s that the app is too complicated. Regardless, this has narrowed down the field of possible solutions by 90% or more.
The final reason is simply, “Why do on the iPad Mini what is so much easier and efficient to do on my grown-up MacBook or office Windows PC?” This is possibly related to or redundant with reason number 1, but I feel like it needs to be said. Full-sized laptops or desktop computers with roomy keyboards, big screens and lots of processing power are just better at most computing jobs than the Mini. The software is more mature and more powerful in many cases. So why force the issue? Two out of three times I can wait until I get to my “real” computer to do the job, so why have a less than pleasant and effective computing experience when I don’t have to? Obviously there are times when I can’t or don’t want to wait to do something. Or when I have empty time on my hands, but do not have access to my MacBook or am not at the office. Otherwise the Mini would have been a waste of money. But that doesn’t mean I need to do everything on it just to make myself feel it was a good investment.
So back to what it is I want t use the Mini for (relating to information management, not the myriad other things to do with it). I’ve narrowed this down to these tasks:
- Calendar/date book
- Tasks check lists
- Quick journal
- Quick note taking
- Brainstorming when I need it and can’t get to a computer
- Mobile access to useful information
Essentially, then, the Mini is an electronic notebook/datebook and portable database. And I’m glad to report that I think I’ve distilled my essential apps for these tasks down to the following:
Awesome Calendar. This is a nice application that combines a day planner with simple task management. You create three types of items: events, todos and notes. Tasks and events can have dates assigned so they show up in the calendar. You can also view each type in a filtered lis. Simple and easy. I was using PocketInformant Pro, which I like overall, but which is really way more than I need, and its many parts overwhelm the small iPad Mini screen.
ThinkBook. I lik this notebook application very much. It just seems to make it easier to enter information than other apps. One way is with the ingenious gizmo they call the Slider. You create notebooks and pages much as you would in OneNote for Windows. Each page can contain various types of data: notes, todos, pictures, questions, links to other pages and more. Creating outlines is a snap with ThinkBook, and the Slider allows you to easier navigate to the section of the page you want to add to and select the type of information you want to enter. ThinkBook still needs some work on sharing content created within itself with other apps, but the export text to Dropbox function works well. (My only other complaint is that its icon looks to me like a skull an crossbones!) I think I’ll write a longer post about ThinkBook in the near future.
Evernote. This is my freeform database and my notetaker when I want to be able to share the notes across devices. I’m not a big fan of Evernote, but it works. Enough said.
Bento. This is a great little database app I use for structured data, like my reading list. It syncs through wifi with the OS version on my MacBook.
Of course, I also use many other apps on the Mini. This is a post about information management, in case that wasn’t clear at the top. And even for info management, I use other apps, like the terrific iThoughts for diagramming. In fact, I love iThoughts, but I don’t use it as much as I would like, mainly due, I think, to the Mini’s small screen. If I had the regular sized iPad, I suspect iThoughts would get a lot more use.
If you read my earlier posting about the apps I was considering, you’ll find this new list very different. But these are the apps that have bubbled to the top of my iPad workflow. I hope to write more about some of them, especially ThinkBook. Stay tuned.