For just over 5 years, I've been working at a media agency, where there is something of a convention that everyone carries around a notebook which they use to take notes in meetings, presentations, conferences etc, manage 'to do' lists, and generally write down all the stuff that they need to (or might need to) remember. This might be something to do with a particular book from 1948 from a senior partner in an advertising firm. Or it might be something that happens in all sorts of industries – I know that us media types (even digital media types) seem to have an aversion to bringing laptops into meetings, which is an aversion that plenty of other businesses clearly don't share.
When I first started, the iPhone was very new, and very expensive (the iPhone 3G — the first to be available with a carrier subsidy — had yet to be launched.) But I had an iPod Touch (which was basically an iPhone without the 'phone'), and I started using the Notes app as a notebook alternative. For some things, it worked brilliantly — being able to come back from an out of office meeting with all my notes already typed up, which I could then easily email out to relevant people was a huge benefit. Having all my notes in a searchable format was another huge plus.
But the massive downside was that if you are sitting in a presentation and typing up notes on an iPod Touch, it looks to anyone watching (including whoever was part of the meeting or giving the presentation) like you weren't paying attention, and were just busily involved in sending a never ending stream of texts. So I stopped using my digital notes, and started using notebooks.
Now, I do like the idea of going back to the 'digital notes' idea again with my iPad mini. Its about the same size as a small notebook, meaning that its easy to carry around. But unlike a notebook, its easy to organise notes once they have been scribbled down. (For someone with handwriting like mine, 'scribbled' is definitely the right word — which means that as time goes by, it becomes harder and harder to read what I've written.) You get around the problem of filling one notebook, having to move on to the next – and either carrying two books around for a couple of weeks, or transposing a bunch of notes from the back of one book to the front of the next. (Also, you miss out on the 'clean new book' stage.)
Importantly, I think that in the space of the 3 years since the iPad was launched, it is no longer something that most people see as the kind of toy that you only bring out in a meeting room as some sort of statement – that they have become quickly accepted as a useful organisational tool, rather than a gadget for checking emails and looking at Facebook – despite my own experiences, if someone is doing something with an iPhone or BlackBerry in a meeting, I still assume that whatever it is they are doing is unrelated to what everyone else in the room is doing.)
So… I'm trying out Notability to start with. It seems like it has everything I want from a note-taking application (easy to type and doodle, Dropbox sync, easy export etc.) I should be able to get stuff from the app to my 'proper' computer and vice versa – even if I don't quite know what that will mean just yet in terms of workflow practice. I expect that whatever problems I hit won't be the sort of problems that I will be able to forsee by simply reading app reviews.
As a vague aside, I realised while trying to carry a couple of drinks at the same time that the iPad mini is actually small enough to fit into the back pocket of my jeans. I wouldn't really like to sit down on it, but it does mean that it's something I can carry around no-handed. I guess that technically, I could do the same thing with a moleskine-type notebook - especially one with a soft cover, but its never occurred to me to try it. Perhaps because I've never really taken the time to think about how I want to use a £7 notebook in the way that I'm thinking about exactly how I'm going to use a £400 tablet. Or perhaps just because I've never had a reason to carry around a notebook at the same time as two handfuls of bottles and glasses…