Friday, April 24, 2009

SplashNotes for iPhone/iPod touch Review

SplashData SplashNotes is an outlining tool that helps you capture your ideas and transform them into bite size actionable tasks that, when put all together, produces a completed project or product. The SplashNotes manual describes this process as having four discrete phases: brainstorming, organizing, analyzing, and finishing. If you don't know what that means, don't worry. The SplashNotes user guide gives you good examples for all of the phases of idea and task organization.

When you launch the application, you start by using one of the predefined outlines or by creating one of your own. Think of an outline as the thing that will hold all of your tasks in a neat little container. I find it much easier if I create some general outlines and then start grouping ideas and tasks into the outline that best describes what it is I'm trying to capture. Since I use my iPod touch at home as well as work, I have outlines called Home and Work. For larger work projects, I create a new, separate outline just for that project.

Once you have a few outlines going, it is easy to move them around simply by tapping the Edit button that lives in the top left of the screen. When you tap the Edit button you get the familiar controls for deleting and moving list items. If you tap on an outline while in Edit mode, the Outline Info page appears. Here you can change the settings specific to that particular outline. For example, you can chose to have your items show up as a simple bullet list or a bullet lists with check boxes. There are two views when you have the check box view turned on. You can choose to have checked off items remain in your list (a good positive motivator) or choose to have finished items cleared from the list, allowing you to focus on the remaining items that you need to focus on. The Outline Info page is also where you can select from a number of preinstalled icons that will appear to in the main outline list view. The icon selection is large and the icons themselves are well drawn, meaning that there should be an icon that fits your needs and makes that application easy to look at while you work.

I found the controls for managing the tasks in my outlines to be easy to use and intuitive. When you are ready to add a new list item, simply tap the plus icon at the top of the screen and start typing. To create a new list item after you have started typing, just press the return key on the on-screen keyboard and keep typing. There are also on-screen controls for moving the current line item up and down the list as well as in and out denting. When you indent a task, the item above it becomes the parent and a list expand/collapse triangle appears to the left of the parent. There are also control buttons for deleting the current task and closing the on screen keyboard when you are done typing.

SplashData has built-in a nice quick start guide into their application. For new users, I strongly suggest reading the full user guide on your desktop computer. The full documentation delves into how to get the most from the software. If you are already familiar with outline tools, then the on-device quick start guide gives you all the important details for using SplashNotes right away. I have also found the quick start guide to be an efficient way to review the features of the software when I'm using SplashNotes on my iPod touch.

If you want even more control over your outlines, SplashData has two other tools for you. Mac OS X and Windows users can purchase the optional SplashNotes iPhone Desktop software. With iPhone Desktop, you can sync your iPhone or iPod touch with your Mac or Windows PC over Wi-Fi if both devices are on the same local area network (LAN). Once you have installed the software on your computer, syncing data is easy. Just open iPhone Desktop as the foreground application and then tap the Sync button on your iPhone/iPod touch. The data from your device will instantaneously synchronize between the two devices. I like the Wi-Fi sync feature because my iPod and MacBook where quick to sync the data and I wasn't required to carry an iPod sync cable with me everywhere I went.

Affectionatos of David Allen's Getting Things Done will be happy to learn that SplashNotes comes bundled with a pre-configured GTD outline. I have used Allen's processing workflow diagram for a few years and SplashNotes was very easy tool to integrate into my process for capturing and managing my "stuff."

The one thing that I didn't line about SplashNotes really had nothing to do with the program at all. I really prefer a physical keyboard over the iPhone's virtual keyboard. I dislike the on screen keyboard so much that I go out of my way to avoid using it. I would have been more open to doing more data entry on my iPod if I could use SplashNotes in landscape mode rather than portrait mode. Hopefully, Apple is suppose to be building in better support for portrait and landscape modes for more applications in their iPhone OS 3.0 software update, which is due out later this year.

I would have also liked it if there was a way to purchase a SplashNotes application bundle which includes the iPhone/iPod touch application along with my choice of SplashNotes iPhone Desktop for Mac OS X or Windows. Again, this seems to be a limitation of Apple's App Store software resulting in the need for two purchases: once for the iPhone/iPod software and then another for the desktop application from the SplashData website.

All in all, I found SplashNotes to be an intuitive tool that I was able to quickly adopt into my daily workflow. During my second week of evaluating the software, SplashNotes really allowed me to keep track of tasks during a very busy week of project deadlines, follow up action items from my various meetings, and making sure I made all of the week's softball practice pickups and drop offs. SplashNotes is an essential tool for anyone who wants to be in complete control of all their ideas and action items.

SplashNotes for the iPhone and iPod touch is available now for $4.99 from the Apple iTunes App Store. The optional SplashNotes iPhone Desktop, which also works with the first and second generation iPod touch, can be purchased from SplashData's online web store for $9.95.

For more information about SplashNotes Outliner, visit the SplashData website.
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