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I’m in graduate school, and I take a lot of notes. I ran across a cool application called InkBook that allows you to use a regular Wacom tablet to take notes directly into your Macintosh, and take advantage of Mac OS X’s built-in Inkwell handwriting recognition capabilities. “Eat up, Martha”? Not quite, it actually works quite well.
Here’s the equipment: I’ve got an Apple PowerBook G4 (17″ model), Mac OS X 10.3, and a Wacom CTE430 (that’s the cheap $99 one). I used to have a Newton MessagePad 2000, so I’m keenly familiar with the problems associated with trying to do a lot of writing on a PDA.
InkBook allows you to take advantage of Inkwell, Apple’s built-in handwriting recognition system, that was introduced in Mac OS X 10.2. All you do is plug in an Inkwell-compatible tablet, like a Wacom tablet, and launch InkBook.
The biggest advantage is you can quickly search your notes for specific words (which you can’t do with paper, obviously) or you can do sketches (which you can’t do if you’re just typing into a word processor)
The biggest deficiency with taking notes into a PDA is how the recognition happens. Either it happens immediately (and your messy handwriting is converted to neatly formatted text), or you must force the PDA to identify each sketch individually. The problem with the former, is you lose the spatial relationship your notes have. For example, you may write important points with giant “this will be on the final exam!”-sized letters. If the recognized text is converted into a type-written font, you lose that. The alternative is you must take the time to force the PDA to identify each piece, which can be very time consuming. InkBook solves this in a smart way.
InkBook recognizes the text you’re writing, but it doesn’t change the text into a regular font. So you get to have recognized text, but it stays the way you wrote it. A simple press of the space bar instantly shows you how the text was parsed.
You can still search for text, and InkBook is smart enough to look for similar words as well, in case the text isn’t recognized properly. I found no lag in writing text and having my PowerBook recognize it. You can also do sketches (and tell InkBook to not recognize it). Even cooler, if you drag a PDF into InkBook, it will import the document such that each page of the PDF is imported onto a separate notebook page — this is very useful if your professors give you their lecture notes in advance. Unfortunately, the imported PDFs are just graphics; you can’t search the text in them.
I used InkBook almost exclusively the past semester and a half, and I found it worked very well, aside from some early bugs in the Alpha stage of development. I think it’s a testament to today’s class of MBA students that the feature everyone in my class liked best was not the handwriting recognition, the intelligent searching feature, PDF import, or the fact that you can quickly copy and paste anything into a notebook. They liked the fact that you could write in different colors. Cool! Bright and shiny things!
InkBook has some cool features, but it still has some room for growth. I think it would be great if you could still type into InkBook since I can type faster than I can write. Also, the interface would be improved if it looked more like Jaguar applications. However, for a version 1.0 product, InkBook is a must have for someone who takes a lot of notes. I have to admit, InkBook was the sole reason why I bought my Wacom tablet.
Pros: Retains spatial relationships for notes, instant handwriting recognition, PDF import and copy/paste, ability to add tabs to pages, really fast. Oh, and it supports pretty colors for MBA students.
Cons: Needs ability to search PDFs, would be nice if you could type, too. Needs a more “Jaguar-look” to it.
In the interest of disclosure, I was an alpha tester for InkBook, and testers got $19 off the usual registration price of $20. In addition, the author Raleigh also knocked the last $1 off since we couldn’t figure out how to get the Paypal thing working properly.