• Jason Starke

Moving from Pencil to PDF: Finding the flexibility of pencil and paper on an electronic device


Sometimes I like to get nostalgic and think of the days when I was actively flying as a corporate pilot. One of the things I remember is carrying a stack of papers with me in the cockpit which contained things such as the flight plan, performance numbers, weather reports, and all the information a pilot could ever want with him. During the flight, I would write information on these pieces of paper such as fuel burns, engine monitoring numbers, time over waypoints, etc. In that same vein, I would also like to take notes in my copy of the GOM or high-light regulations. However today it seems like more flight departments are going digital; replacing copious amounts of information on paper with a single tablet. While this is definitely a good thing for the environment, cockpit manage-ment, and even weight and balance, the act of taking written notes on documents or even in a journal seems to have been replaced with trying to now tap these out using the device’s keyboard. With my uncoordinated fingers, this had become a huge challenge. Plus, the benefits of handwriting notes versus typing have been proven in improved information recall and focus. Today, with the advent of the Apple Pencil and other smart styli, we can now effectively take notes and mark-up documents using our smart devices to take advantage of the best of both worlds. The challenge is finding a robust application that provides a realistic writing experience and the flexibility of a stack of papers or a paper journal. There are two applications that I highly recommend, but as a disclaimer, I am only familiar with their performance on the iPad using the Apple Pencil. These apps are PDF Expert by Readdle and Goodnotes.

PDF Expert by Readdle is my go to app for all PDF documents. I am currently in school and have to read a lot of research articles. In the past, I would print these articles so that I could highlight and take notes in the margins. PDF Expert now allows me to do all that and so much more. I can edit PDFs right in the app, create comments, move text around, and even embed images. However, I think my favorite feature of this app is its file management capability. The app does have the traditional file management capability of building folders on your device to store documents, but what I like is its ability to connect to cloud drives (e.g., Google Drive) and even synch with those folders. In other words, I can see my file structure on a cloud service right in the app, find the pdf I am looking for, and open it in the editor. Furthermore, you can have automatic synch which updates the document in the cloud service with all of your mark-ups, allowing you not to have to reimport the marked-up document to the cloud service. This app has a 4.7-star rating in the Apple App Store and it is hard not to see why. There is a small charge for this app, but definitely worth it.

My favorite app for taking notes, sketching process maps, or just doodling is GoodNotes. The writing experience using the Apple Pencil is second to none. I am able to adjust the line size, pen type, highlighter type, choose “paper” type, add pictures to notes, copy handwritten text and paste in other notes, and the list goes on. PDFs can also be imported and marked-up like in PDF Expert, but the file synch to cloud feature of PDF Expert is missing from this app. Honestly, if this feature were a part of this app, I would use GoodNotes for everything. This app has replaced all the notebooks I used to keep and even my daily planner (check out this planner for GoodNotes). This is perhaps one of the best note-taking apps and the 4.8-star rating confirms how well this app performs.

I have written blogs and taught in workshops the benefit of integrative or paradoxical thinking. Basically, this is when two opposing solutions are held in tension and a third, more superior solution is arrived at. I feel that writing functionality on tablets brings the convenience and portability of an electronic solution combined with the connectedness of handwriting on paper. PDF Expert could be used in conjunction with your organization’s file system to take notes on any PDF document. GoodNotes could be used to start a journal of your flights, notable destinations, or even nuances with passengers. Try these apps out and get better connected with your mind while experiencing all the benefits of the electronic flight bag.

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