The talk of paperless society is as old as the advent of the computer, but that dream has remained elusive for various reasons until now. What changed? Tablets, tabphones, and wide range of styluses and software. So, can you now leave all of your files and notebooks behind? Let's address what it takes to make this a reality, including some of the challenges and solutions.
Many of us in business tend to carry a large number of paper files, manuals, and/or a notebook and pen in our briefcases, whether we're going to a meeting or home to complete some work. For most business documents, especially the ones that need to be shown to others, tablets with at least 9-inch displays are a much better device, so we'll mainly focus on the iPad for remainder of this article, even though most of this discussion should apply equally to tabphones like the Samsung Galaxy Note.
Here are the things that you need to travel paperless:
- Digitized files
- Access to files both locally and remotely
- Document reader
- Note-taking app
Since most files start out as digital, getting the content in digital form is much easier these days. If you have certain files only in paper form, any good scanner — either standalone or a good document scanner application — can help convert documents into PDF or JPEG.
Access to files both locally and remotely
We addressed this topic in my previous post, "Business travel with the iPad: Challenges and solutions." There are public and private cloud solutions but none that give us access to documents from all of these clouds in one place.
If your document is 4-5 pages, it's easy to read with any of the standard reader applications. However, if the document is long (40-50 pages), then you'll want other features, including the ability to:
- See the thumbnail of all pages before opening them
- Switch between landscape and portrait mode
- Search content within the document
- Take some action while reading (as discussed in the following section)
Examples of this are Apple's built-in iBooks app and Amazon Kindle reader. However, neither of these are designed to deal with your content — they're designed for the content you buy from them. There are many applications in the App Store that address this need, such as PDF Reader and GoodReader.
The keyboard was the dominant way to take notes in the PC era, but in the post-PC era, we've gone back to the basics and started using our pens again. The only difference is that these pens write on the tablet/smartphone screens just as easily as you can write on paper. Best of all, you won't have to retype to keep your notes or send them to others.
The most efficient way to take notes on a tablet is with a stylus. Having gone through my fourth stylus, I wish Apple bundled this in with some integration (like Samsung did with the Galaxy Note) so that it wasn't so easy to lose or damage. However, for now, there are many styluses available for iPad, and you should chose one based on your preference of size, storing, color, and price. Here's a video review of styluses that I found helpful. No matter which stylus you use, you'll still have to adapt your writing to the stylus.
You also need a note-taking application, and the App Store has many to chose from. I use Penultimate ($0.99 USD) and found it to be adequate. For more information, read this detailed review of Penultimate. I've tried many note-taking apps that claim to convert stylus input into text, but most of the current products results in sub-optimal accuracy.
The quest for an integrated app
There's a plethora of stand-alone products — some that provide good reading, good note-taking, and good access — but they have very little to no integration between them. What I want is an integrated app that allows me to access my files remotely, gives me a good integrated reader and a note app so that I can highlight, comment, and share my files while I'm reading them. Trying to use three or four apps to accomplish this task today is too cumbersome and inefficient.
What note-taking app do you use on your tablet? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.