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OneNote for iPad: A Hopeful Leading Indicator

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OneNote for iPad is Microsoft's first tablet version of OneNote. Although not ideal in all respects, OneNote for iPad is a solid first release, and it serves as a hopeful leading indicator of potential OneNote things to come. Peter O'Kelly provides an overview of OneNote for iPad, along with some analysis of what Microsoft may do next with OneNote for Windows, iPad, and other platforms.
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In December 2011, approximately eleven months after introducing its first OneNote client for Apple's iOS operating system, OneNote for iPhone, Microsoft added a new OneNote client, OneNote for iPad. OneNote for iPad isn't Microsoft's first attempt at adding value for tablet device users; OneNote was originally introduced (in 2002) as a strong complement to Microsoft's Tablet PC platform. However, considering the incredible iPad market momentum and the relatively lackluster sales of Tablet PC devices over the last decade, OneNote for iPad is a major OneNote milestone.

Microsoft had two high-level options when designing OneNote for iPad:

  • Fully exploit the iPad platform, essentially treating it like a touch-centric and readily mobile personal computer
  • Treat the iPad more like a super-sized iPhone, with much more limited capabilities

Unfortunately, in my opinion, Microsoft evidently opted for the latter approach (despite leaving "Mobile" out of the application name). With the first release of OneNote for iPad, Microsoft has delivered a product that's useful primarily for people who use OneNote 2010 extensively on Windows PCs and use their iPads as satellite clients to their PCs.

The rest of this article provides an overview of the capabilities of the initial release of OneNote for iPad. The next article in my OneNote series will provide a more extensive and critical review of OneNote for iPad.

An Introduction to OneNote for iPad

Microsoft OneNote for iPad runs on iOS 4.3 or higher. Users are required to have a Windows Live ID in order to use OneNote for iPad, as the application relies on Microsoft's Windows Live SkyDrive for notebook storage, synchronization, and sharing. OneNote for iPad uses a default "Personal (Web)" notebook; all other notebooks must be created on SkyDrive by using either OneNote 2010 or the OneNote Web App, and then synchronized to OneNote for iPad.

Figure 1 shows an example from a OneNote team member's blog, highlighting the main application interface features. OneNote for iPad uses the same general user experience model introduced in OneNote Mobile for iPhone, with a tabbed navigation pane and a non-modal note viewing/editing pane (that is, you don't need to switch into an editing mode to make changes to page content). When the iPad is turned sideways, the OneNote for iPad navigation pane disappears, replaced with a full-screen note view/edit pane.

Figure 1 OneNote for iPad trip-planning example. (Source: Microsoft.)

Use the icon set in the lower-left corner of the window to do the following (left to right in Figure 1):

  • Navigate to the home page, which displays a list of all notebooks synchronized to the iPad.
  • View a list of unfiled notes (notes that have been captured but not yet moved to a notebook other than the default Personal notebook).
  • View a list of recently used notes (called "Recents"). This is an example of a OneNote for iOS feature that I hope will appear in the next version of Windows OneNote as well; it's very handy.
  • Enter a search expression to search across all notebooks synchronized on the iPad.

Use the icon set in the upper-right corner of the window to do the following (left to right in Figure 1):

  • Delete a note.
  • Email a note.
  • Create a new note.

The scenario in Figure 1 is an example of OneNote for iPad being used as a satellite to the full Windows OneNote 2010 client. I assume that the notebook content was created in OneNote 2010 and was primarily intended to be viewed on the iPad.

Figure 2, from the OneNote for the iPad iTunes catalog page, continues the example scenario with a note containing a list of to-do items. The OneNote for iPad user could check off items as they're completed, and the to-do list updates will be automatically synchronized to the SkyDrive copy of the notebook when the user leaves the note page in OneNote for iPad (for example, to navigate to a different page).

Figure 2 OneNote for iPad to-do list example. (Source: Microsoft.)

Figure 3, also from the iTunes catalog page, provides an example of a work-related OneNote for iPad usage scenario, with detailed meeting notes. Here again, it's likely that the content was initially created by someone using OneNote 2010, with OneNote for iPad used primarily for viewing the information, perhaps also facilitating some minor updates (checking off to-do items or entering some additional notes during a meeting, for example).

Figure 3 OneNote for iPad edit example. (Source: Microsoft.)

Use the icon trio immediately above the keyboard to do the following (left to right in Figure 3):

  • Tag the text as a to-do item (adds a checkbox to the left of the current text position, as in the "Submit budget numbers ASAP" example shown just above the icon set in Figure 3).
  • Begin a bullet list, or convert selected text into a bullet point.
  • Capture and insert a photo when using an iPad 2 or later (the original iPad doesn't include a camera).

Figure 4 shows an example of the OneNote for iPad settings options (which can be opened by clicking a small gear icon next to "Home" in the navigation pane, when viewing the Notebooks home page).

Figure 4 OneNote for iPad settings.

Settings options include the following (top to bottom in Figure 4):

  • Initiate a synchronization session. Sync also starts automatically when the app is launched and after navigating away from edited pages.
  • View sync errors. If errors are encountered, the "No Sync Errors" text is replaced with a link to a list of recent sync errors.
  • Select notebooks to be synchronized to the iPad. Clicking "Notebook Settings" presents a list of SkyDrive-managed notebooks to which the user has access, allowing the user to select or deselect specific notebooks.
  • Specify the default image size. This setting is used when capturing images.
  • Signing out from Windows Live. I assume that this option is intended as a user security option, to prevent others from viewing OneNote-managed content if they gain control of your iPad.
  • The last three options let you view detailed information about help and support, see the app's terms of service agreement, and display a Microsoft web page with privacy-related guidance.
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