Category Archives: Research

OmniOutliner and iThoughts, Harmony or Dissonance?

I’m a person who loves to study, learn, and research. As such my productivity apps on my iPad are many. One of my favourite tools to take notes with is a mind map. I’ve used nearly every one that is available for the iPhone, iPad and computer but only two remain on my device. iThoughts HD and myMind Grande. iThoughts is good for robustness while myMind is awesome for super-quick composition. Fortunately I can start a mind map on myMind and bring it into iThoughts for tweaking.

One of my favourite companies recently released an outliner for the iPad called OmniOutliner. I reviewed it in another posting. My review wasn’t exactly favourable but it is a first release. I trust that Omni will iron out some of the programs faults in time. What I’d like to talk about here is just how well this outliner works with our favourite mind mapping tool.

They are actually radically different ways of dealing with information and it’s likely you’ll start in one place and finish up in the other. Some of you will start with a mind map and then later work it in an outliner. Others of you will outline an idea and then bring it into a mind map so you can see a bigger picture. Both methods are valid.

So how do they dance? Or do they stumble?

iThoughts HD to OmniOutliner for iPad

To get a mind map from iThoughts HD into OmniOutliner you need to export it as OPML. To do that you need to look in the Transfer menu (that’s the little box with an arrow pointing from it) when viewing a mind map.

At the bottom of that menu is a command called Export Options. Open that up and make sure that OPML is ticked. It doesn’t matter if other formats are also ticked though you’ll end up with a file for each when you export. All you need for OmniOutliner is OPML.

Backing out of the export options you’ll see that you have a number of export methods: WiFi Transfer, Send to Dropbox, and Send Email are a few. For our example we’ll use Send Email but if you’re a subscriber to DropDAV you can use that for Dropbox support in OmniOutliner as well.

So send via email to yourself. Ensure that the OPML file is attached to the email.

Next, launch the mail app and retrieve your brand spankin’ new email. Tap the OPML file with your lovely finger and choose the Open With… command. Pick OmniOutliner from the list and VOILA! Your iThoughts HD mind map opens in OmniOutliner.

You’re not quite done yet though!

In your documents browser in OmniOutliner find your OPML file. Don’t open it, instead tap the boxed arrow icon and choose the Convert to OmniOutliner. If you do not convert it to OmniOutliner then any styles that you apply to it will be LOST when you close the file. No warning, just gone.

Once you have converted the file to OmniOutliner, style away!

What comes over: node content in the first column, notes in the notes field, links in a link column.

OmniOutliner for iPad to iThoughts

The steps for getting an OmniOutliner outline into iThoughts HD are as follows:

1. In the Document Browser in OmniOutliner for iPad find the outline you wish to transfer.
2. Tap the Export button (the square with an arrow extending from it)
3. Choose Send

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Filed under iPad, Research

Taking notes on the iPad – Noteshelf and Boxwave

Just a quick note that will hopefully save some new iPad owners some money.

I love to take notes on the iPad. The ability to scribble away on in a virtual notebook is just freakin’ cool. That being said, I still do my serious (as serious as it gets with pen and paper) writing in traditional notebooks. Still, if you want to take notes on the iPad there are some choices to make.

After spending far too much money making bad decisions, I found that some of my first decisions were the best. Here’s a summary.

The Pen: Boxwave brand stylus. Hands down this is the best stylus you can buy. Gone are the cruddy foam tips of old, this slick rubber job slides across the iPad’s screen like a dream. I’d suggest you get one with the built-in pen for its length…the pen is nice too I guess but the longer stylus in the pen model feels a little more like the real thing than the pen-deficient models.

The Apps


Might as well get the best out of the way first. Noteshelf is the best of the note taking apps out there (for hand written notes). There’s no typing in this app and image insertion is limited to some stamps. However, this app’s responsiveness to the pen is unrivalled. Every other note taking app (‘cept Penultimate) seems…clunky. This app has a fantastic zoom writing feature which helps with legibility. Explort to dropbox, and the usual others (email, iTunes, etc..) is also supported. Forget the rest, get Noteshelf.

The rest hardly bear mentioning. Penultimate is responsive but lacks zoom mode which limits its ability to take good dense notes. Notes Plus, Note Taker, PhatPad, and WritePad all convert your text to line art, smoothing it out. I find this very annoying. It also lowers the responsiveness of those apps considerably. My handwriting is bad enough as it is, I don’t some app making it look worse!

I’d love to recommend Note Taker HD but sadly it’s text conversion (icky response) combined with some major redraw issues in zoom view (no data loss, just very disconcerting seeing what you write disappear and reappear randomly) and some UI clutter make it less usable than Noteshelf.

In an ideal world I’d like to see a program that could combine typewritten notes with handwritten notes but nobody has done it seamlessly. I want to be writing and then immediately switch to the keyboard (I’ve got a bluetooth one) and have my typewritten text follow my handwritten notes.

Every app that combines media makes me jump through hoops to switch between modes and that is just too slow for my needs. I’d rather double-tap my home button and immediately be in Notebooks (my typewritten note app of choice) than fiddle with some cumbersome UI.

The handwriting recognition in PhatPad and WritePad are nothing more than a novelty. Albeit one that works better than I expected…I just don’t want to be forced into a ‘mode’ for it to work and it’s not up to the rigours of heavy note taking by any means

I love doing research with the iPad. If anyone has stories to tell about their trials and tribulations please comment below.


Filed under iPad, Research, Writing