I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape — the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.
One of my favorite programs is Circus Ponies Notebook for the Mac (CPN, see this posting here about the program itself or here about using it for an academic writing). It is a beautiful and very useful outliner that has become an integral part of any complex document I write (see the posting about content outlines here or this one about the difference between a content outline and a structure outline). And yes, even this posting was done with CPN.
After buying an iPad one of the first Apps I bought was Circus Ponies Notebook for iPad. After having used it for a while, the question is: Is the app worth the high price of €23,99/$30?
|Click on image to see larger version.
Unfortunately, the question is not simple. There are strong pros and cons:
- You can access your Circus Ponies Notebooks on the move (or anywhere you are). No need to make HTML files out of them or export the page as PDF. The notebook file you use on your Mac is available on the iPad. And after making changes you can transfer the files back to your Mac and they are still there.
- The functionality is impressive. The outlining function works (yeah!) including the keywords (which I use for source information), you have speech annotations, the Multidex works, you can draw, use the shapes, include images.
- The App handles multiple notebooks and shows you the page you had open last (see the first image above).
- There is a sync feature via Dropbox, but I do not trust sync (sorry) and have not tried it. But you should be able to see the changes in the notebook on the iPad quickly on the Mac as well.
But not all is well, there are a few cons …
- The app is not snappy. It is not exactly sluggish either, but it does not react as quickly to user input as I would have expected. In the current form, it is not exactly fun to work with — even on an iPad 3.
- The outlining controls are hard to use (toolbars work fine). In part because the App is not snappy, in part because the controls are a little to small for me. You can easily zoom the page (with two fingers moving away from each other), but still, expanding or collapsing cells, moving cells, etc. — it does not react fast and at times it does not do what I would have expected, which is very frustrating.
- Switching between notebooks takes time — and the time delay gets frustrating.
Looking at the use cases I had with the app in the last few months I think you can use the App on the iPad for:
- Having your notebooks available where you go: For example, if you use a content outline and want to show it to someone else, you can. If you use topic notebooks and want to have them available in a meeting, you can. However, if you want to quickly change it, I think it is too slow on the iPad to be used this way.
- Make notes while you read a text on the iPad: For example, I graded essays on the iPad by reading them in Good Reader (highlighting or underlining the text there) and quickly moving to CPN with the four finger horizontal swipe of the iPad to make notes. Worked well as the CPN file had pages for each student with the rating scheme on it (created on the Mac). However, it only worked well on the iPad because I had an external Bluetooth keyboard to type the notes. Typing text on the iPad is still something that does not work well in my experience, but of course, this is not the problem of the App. And still, grading was still much easier on the iPad than using a Mac, as I had the text in my hand, could do the annotations in Good Reader more easily, and could quickly switch to CPN to make the more general notes. I sit more relaxed with an iPad than in front of a Mac and CPN for iPad worked really well here.
However, you might not want to use it for the following things:
- Annotation: There is no automatic OCR of images and no easy way to do annotations that are really connected to the images or PDFs (unless I am missing something). Thus, I would not use it to annotate PDFs (that’s what GoodReader is for, especially as you can easily export the comments and highlighted parts of the text).
- As a stand-alone version: I would not buy it as a stand-alone version — i.e., without a mac in the background. While you can create Notebooks and edit them, the work experience is not as fluid as you would have on a Mac. It just gets too frustrating.
- Quickly making notes: It does not react fast enough in my experience and when you need to get things down, this can be a problem. For this I would use a notebook (or if it has to be an iPad, a simple writing app or even the Notes App and in any case an external keyboard).
Personally, I hope for an update that moves away from trying to copy the App 1:1 on the iPad and focuses on speed. While I love the functions it has (especially the outlining pages and this function should remain in any case), I think trying to make it look the same as the Mac version makes the App too slow and hard to use. I wouldn’t mind seeing my notebooks slightly different but much quicker on the iPad, as long as the files itself remain unchanged (so that you can use them on the Mac and on the iPad). Especially switching between notebooks should become easier and faster, same as loading the notebooks, reordering the cells, etc. pp. Perhaps showing some controls when you type on a cell to make it easier to get the desired behavior. Don’t misunderstand me, the developers did an impressive job in replicating the “look” of the application on the iPad — it’s just the “feel” that has suffered.
So — as much as I love CPN on the Mac — my current position on the iPad version is mixed. It has its uses and if you want to have your CPN files available on the iPad, by all means, this is the app for it. But it is not as good as the Mac version and (in my experience) definitely no stand alone app. I use it for special cases like grading papers or having my notebooks available in meetings, but that’s pretty much it. But I am unforgiving when it comes to apps that are not snappy or controls that are hard to use.
So, that was my experience, has anyone else used CPN on the iPad? What are your experiences? What do you use it for?
PS: If you are looking for a ScrapBook (e.g., for a “Diary of Good Things” as a good friend uses one, or a “Moments when it looked dark or got better”, or simple as remembrance aid) I would recommend using Keynote. No kidding.