Getting paper notes into your iPhone

My iPhone and Macbook go to every meeting with me. And as much as one tries to be all electronic, there are times in a hall conversation where you are faced with a pen and paper to get the facts recorded. At the end of the day you have a few paper notes that are not in with your digital, searchable, notes. And, they are trapped, you are unable to share with others without a copy machine.

I have an inexpensive HP printer/scanner/fax machine that has a simple feeder. When I get home in the evening, I put the day’s documents in the machine’s feeder and scan them into my notebook as PDFs. That has been great for organizing, sharing and reviewing later. With my iPhone always handy, why not have those notes in there too.

While I always print, OCR doesn’t get it right very often so I will be looking at having images of the text documents. This does present a problem with searching, so I will need access to the name of the file as well meta information.

After playing with many different application options, I decided to keep it simple. The apps it came down to was Annotator and OneDisk. Scanned PDFs are named with the date they were written and meeting title. Since I’m on a Mac, I use Preview to join all of the weeks notes into one larger PDF also for those times I need to scan the full conversation as they relate. Lastly, since they are hand written and not typed text scans, I have found 200 DPI Gray to view the best on the iPhone.

For Annotator, I point the scanner’s output to a folder on the desktop of my notebook. To use Annotator you need to install the iPhone/Touch application and a desktop app..

The desktop app needs to be made aware via a button where the folder of PDFs is. ‘Starting’ the desktop app makes it visible to the network the computer is on so that the iPhone being on the same WiFi network can find it. This can be a negative if you jump from one network to another requiring setting changes. To avoid this, I only sync my Annotator notes at home.

Changes to the files on the desktop versions of the PDFs after a sync requires a use of the refresh button on the desktop Annotator application. A limitation I found with this syncing method was that it means you are unable to create a folder on iPhone after a sync. Folder creation and PDF file location management has to happen on the computer.

Files on the iPhone are quick to load and easy to view. Portrait and Landscape support movement and sizing with your fingers as expected. A nice feature of Annotator is as the name implies, you can annotate any of your PDF documents. Tapping a document results in a text editor window. Adding text and saving gives the document a text cloud that can be tapped again to read/edit. This change to the document is carried back to the desktop on the next sync. Like on the iPhone, you tap the text cloud to see the text additions. A PDF that has had a text addition on the iPhone will result in a second copy of the document in the computer folder of files.

The second application I have narrowed down to is OneDisk. It syncs the files over the Internet via my MobileMe account (also works with other WebDAV option either public you set up, or Like Annotator, syncing places a copy of the PDF on the iPhone so you do not need access to a network or the Internet to view files going forward. In the case of MobileMe, I am able to point the scanner directly to the MobileMe sync folder so manual moving of the files from offline to online is not needed.

Most of the viewing options on the iPhone are the same between the two applications. OneDisk does allow the creation of folders and moving file location ON the handheld. This is a huge feature for my day to day work as it makes it possible to have a project folder that I move my handwritten notes from a ‘current’ folder to the ‘project’ folder. There is no representation of these folders on the Internet folders being synced to. OneDisk does not support the text additions to PDFs like Annotator does. But it does support more text files types like Office Word and Excel. For my needs, the scans are always PDFs.

Sharing of the PDFs from the iPhone is done via email. You could also give permission to the folder on the Internet to others to get files from, but that access management isn’t handled within OneDisk. You are able to sync to multiple WebDAV locations from the iPhone to sync to if you more than one file storage locations.

To wrap up. Annotator syncs via WiFi network and allows the addition of text notes that can be read on both the iPhone and computer. OneDisk syncs over the Internet to a folder, offers the creation of folders with file management and allows sharing via email. Both have the ability to bookmark locations to return quickly in a multi page document. Which fits your life?

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