Ever since its 2010 launch, the iPad has been pressed into service as a note-taking device by journalists, students, and other professionals who do a bit of stenography from time to time. Pear Note, a $5 iPad app from Useful Fruit Software, is an indispensable tool for anyone who uses their tablet to jot down notes.
The iPad version of Pear Note functions much like its Mac-based predecessor (or like the much-lauded Livescribe Smartpen) in that it records both audio and your keystrokes while you’re taking notes during an interview, lecture, or presentation. If you later find that your notes don’t fully illuminate what was being said—or if you want to verify that you’ve precisely transcribed a quote—all you have to do is tap on the text in the app, and the QuickTime recording jumps to that precise moment, allowing you to revise and extend your notations.
During playback, the app illuminates the keystrokes in time with the recording, showing you not just what you wrote, but when. Beyond the “cool” factor, thus feature is tremendously useful, allowing users to listen to a speaker and focus on the big picture, then go back later and fill in the details.
The app allows multitasking. If during the middle of a recording, you find you need access to another app, that’s OK: Pear Note will record in background mode while you jump over to Safari to fact-check the lecturer.
Two other bits of praise: Pear Note is designed for more than simple notation, but with actual writing in mind. Keyboard controls let you render your notes in rich text, with bullet points, highlights, and bold and italics all among the available features. Best off all, the app doesn’t assume that you’re using your iPad to the exclusion of all other devices: It syncs easily with Dropbox so that you can have desktop access to your iPad notes—or so you can import presentation slides and video from your desktop to your tablet. (The desktop version of Pear Note costs $40, and the expense may be worth it: Without, you’ll open the iPad notes on your computer in Markdown—not a problem for code-loving nerds, but possibly a small hassle for anybody else who just wants to grab text.)
There are some shortcomings. You can’t edit your notes as you go along while listening to the recording—you must listen, stop the recording, make your revised note, then start up the recording again. That’s easy to do, but it can interrupt your workflow in an app designed for smoothness.
Another pitfall: Unlike the desktop version, you can’t record video directly in the app, only audio. Owners of the camera-equipped iPad 2 may find themselves wishing they had that feature—and indeed, Useful Fruit has suggested it may add that feature during a future update. Until then, you’ll have to do without.
But these are extremely minor shortcomings. Pear Note is great—it’s just not quite perfect, yet. Anybody who uses their iPad for note-taking will want to have this app.
[Joel Mathis is a freelance journalist and political columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. He lives in Philadelphia.]