I’ve got a lot of use out of my iPad Pro. I think it’s one of the few purchases that makes you more productive as a researcher, and I’ve convinced a lot of researchers to buy it. Now I’ll try to convince you.
The 12.9 inch iPad Pro fixes the flaws of paper and enhances its strengths enough to be worth the $800 price tag for someone doing research.
It also allows people to benefit from future advances in computing towards analyzing their work.
I do my writing in GoodNotes and I’ll assume that in this post.
Flaws of Paper
Pretty obvious. Most people never look at their notes because they can’t search them and the relevant bits are buried somewhere you can’t remember.
The iPad has searchable handwriting and it’s pretty good. Even with my terrible handwriting, it can recognize at least 80% of it. In any case, I’ve never failed to find what I was looking for.
Difficult to carry around
Once you have more than 10 sheets of paper, carrying it is a nuisance. An iPad allows you to carry every sheet of paper you’ve ever written at all times.
Crumpled sheets of paper may not last as long as the research that they document. But the PDF file format will probably outlive you.
Difficult to duplicate
Scanning a sheet of paper is annoying. With digital paper, you can instantly make as many copies as you like and send them to an unlimited number of people as you want.
Hard to update after the fact
If you notice there’s a mistake in your document, you better hope it’s in pencil. With digital paper, transformations like rotating entire images becomes trivial, and every single stroke can be undone and redone.
Strengths of Paper
Paper doesn’t tie you down to any particular note taking format. You can draw any diagram instantly, and text can be inserted out of order in any size and formatting.
With an iPad, diagrams become easy to draw with the shape tool, any selection can be copied, resized, moved, or rotated.
Quick to start writing
To write notes in the text file, you need to give it a filename, which is a nuisance. Paper allows you to just start writing. On the downside, sometimes you run out of paper when you have an idea.
The iPad’s infinite paper fixes that.
Enhancements the iPad makes that don’t fit in the above
You can convert your handwriting into typed text. With some apps, you can automatically do this and even turn equations into LaTeX. As time goes on and image recognition gets better, this ability will only improve. And if you don’t like it, you don’t have to use it.
Documents are automatically backed up onto Dropbox, where you can access them on any device, and where they’re safe.
This one will be more useful in the near future, but there’s a lot of “machine intelligence” applications that do things like document analysis. I did this to run sentiment analysis for my journal.
Different views of same document
You can open a document side-by-side with a different view of itself, so you can further definition while working, for example.
You can import any PDF or image. This includes:
- add pages into the book and work through the exercises
- Research papers
- write comments in the margin or in inserted pages
- colleagues’ notes
- Your colleagues can either scan it, or if they use an iPad, you can access the same file they’re using.
Add templates of documents
- Graph paper
- Cornell notes
- Dot paper
Really, anything you can think of.