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Shortcomings of OneNote for iPad

Shortcomings of OneNote for iPad

Before jumping into a critical review of what I perceive to be shortcomings in the initial release of OneNote for iPad, I want to make it clear that I consider the application to be useful for some relatively basic needs, such as reading notes on my iPad that I captured in OneNote 2010. I'd also find it handy to capture images directly into OneNote if I had a newer iPad (I currently use an original iPad, which doesn't have a camera).

To further accentuate the positive before delving into the negative, let me mention that OneNote for iPad, which shares a common release number (1.3) with the latest version of OneNote Mobile for iPhone, also adds (in comparison to earlier releases of OneNote Mobile for iPhone) several features:

  • Table rendering.
  • Ability to synchronize with SkyDrive-managed notebooks that have been shared by other people. In previous releases of OneNote Mobile for iPhone, you could only access SkyDrive notebooks created under your Windows Live ID.
  • Availability in a much longer list of local markets. See the release's Microsoft FAQ for a full list.

As a final comment before jumping into my shortcomings list, I should note that some of my frustrations with OneNote for iPad may result more from iPad platform conventions than from Microsoft product design decisions. Apple has been disdainful about the use of a stylus with the iPad, for example, so it's not entirely surprising that OneNote for iPad doesn't support styluses for ink input. The inability to have multiple application windows open simultaneously is another iPad platform convention that limits the utility of OneNote for iPad, as it makes operations such as copying/pasting content from one note to another more cumbersome.

With that said, here's my list of OneNote for iPad's shortcomings.

Editing Features

The OneNote for iPad editor lacks several capabilities that OneNote 2010 users will miss:

  • Text formatting and support for content types such as ink and math equations.
  • Tagging (except for the ability to tag paragraphs as to-do items).
  • Highlighting. For me, this lack seriously limits the utility of reading content in OneNote for iPad. I've become accustomed to highlighting in OneNote 2010 and in other applications such as the Amazon Kindle iPad client.
  • Creating multi-level outlines.
  • Support for collapsible outlines, which would be especially useful on the iPad's relatively limited display size (compared to most PCs).
  • Support for multimedia other than images, including the audio recording capability that's popular in OneNote 2010.
  • Lack of support for links (Web page links, or links to other OneNote notebooks, sections, pages, or paragraphs). This missing capability is perhaps the most frustrating, in terms of my OneNote usage patterns.

Collaboration Features

These are some of the collaboration-related constraints of OneNote for iPad:

  • Inability to identify unread activity. This failure makes it impossible to tell, at a glance, if other users have updated note page content or added new notes.
  • No display of author attribution.

General Issues

Some other general observations:

  • Searching on OneNote for iPad is slow, even on a relatively small collection of notebooks, and search terms are not highlighted in search results.
  • There's no support for SharePoint-managed OneNote shared notebooks.
  • Security is limited. You must log out manually from the Windows Live ID service; otherwise, anyone using your iPad will have full access to all OneNote notebooks accessible via SkyDrive.
  • OneNote for iPad is relatively expensive. You can use a free version of the application to work with a maximum of 500 notes; an unlimited license costs $14.99. Although that's a lot less than the suggested retail price for OneNote 2010, it's expensive for an iPad application, especially when compared to the $9.99 price that Apple charges for its iPad productivity applications (such as its Pages word processing program).
  • The application is a bit buggy. I encountered several notebooks with large numbers of notes that failed to sync, for example.

I also ran into some confusing usage contexts, such as the example in Figure 2, which shows a OneNote for iPad view of the Figure 1 notebook viewed in OneNote 2010.

Figure 2 OneNote for iPad sync example.

OneNote for iPad problems and limitations evidenced in this example:

  • OneNote for iPad failed to synchronize the section, but there was no indication that the sync service had failed. After the "Syncing" indicator disappeared, I saw "No Pages Found" (incorrectly suggesting an empty section).
  • To further confuse the context, the last page I viewed successfully (prior to navigating to the "Books alpha by title" section) was still displayed, despite the fact that it resided in a different section.
  • This "What comes next" page, which was based on a web page I had previously sent to OneNote 2010 on my PC, is an example of what link-rich content looks like in OneNote for the iPad.
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