Many companies have embraced or at least a strong interest in using the Apple iPad in their organizations. There are many productivity applications for the iPad but many fall short in one main area, input. The iPad was developed primarily with the idea that users would come to love the on-screen virtual keyboard. But, despite its simplicity, the electronic keyboard is a barrier to efficient and quick note taking on the iPad; people can simply write with pen and paper or type on a physical keyboard faster. Apple has not officially supported nor included any type of pen or stylus input device, but there are many third-party products out there. Once you solve the input problem, the next hurdle in productivity relates to applications that support capacitive stylus input (mimics the conductive nature of the fingers). Since pen-input is not natively supported by Apple, you cannot use virtual ink or pen input in just any iPad application. The App must have been specifically written to support and understand handwritten input. There are also only about a dozen digital pen friendly note-taking Apps available today. In an exciting development, a new note taking entrant hit the App Store this week and it is called 7Notes HD.
7Notes HD is the first note-taking iPad App to tackle the concept of recognizing and converting pen-input into text. Using traditional Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology, 7Notes HD can convert an already written page or convert input as you go. They even have a very handy shortcut function to auto-suggest words, phrases and sentences as you write. Users can even create a custom glossary of convertible terms, so you can in effect create your own short-hand. The App lets you export any of your pen-input or OCR converted text to over 8 sources including email, Twitter, Facebook, PDF, a Printer or even other Apps. 7Notes HD has a great input panel that lets you write in an endless line that auto-feeds as you write. You can create separate notes for all types of input and you can use the iPad built in cut/copy/paste functions to move text between Apps. The interface is very clean, simple and nice. Words show up on the page as your handwriting or as text, depending on your settings.
To be fair, this is the first release of 7Notes HD has many great features not found in any other Apps, but it is far from perfect. The OCR needs a bit of fine-tuning to recognize most people’s cursive nuances. In unscientific tests, the success rate for accurately recognizing pen-input was far greater when you printed letters. But, that is not very practical since many people tend to use some form of cursive on traditional pen and paper. The auto-suggestions also need to be fine tuned for the enterprise audience. Whenever you write the word “This” it auto suggests, “This beats cock fighting”. Whether or not this is a developer’s idea of comedy, it is not something that is appropriate given the frequency in which people use the word “This” and the infrequency for cock-fighting references. The App lets users select from multiple page layouts and multiple columns. In typical notebook pages, I am not sure how often that feature would be used.
For 7Notes HD to take off, they need to add a few features and sharpen the design on a few others. Many people like to draw pictures or add free-form input in the middle of the page. 7Notes will only let you input text in the input area at the bottom of the page. You cannot free-form draw on the page like other note taking apps. There is also a lack of organization for your notes. It would be great to have notebooks with endless pages and a tab function to organize pages within the notebook. A variety of pen colors and thicknesses would also be a great added feature. Turning pages by flicking and offering different on-screen paper types would be helpful.
Overall 7Notes HD is a great first stab at the difficult task of converting handwriting to text. They have a great foundation for what could be a killer personal productivity and enterprise App.