some notes on using the iPhone as a notes reader that ends in paper inertia

What I’d like to do

Make docs and some images available from a desktop and laptop to iPhone for reference and for use in classes. These are mainly rtf notes, but I’d also like to access to pdfs for articles.

I keep my course and research notes in DevonThink. They get into DT in a number of different ways, but I work on them mainly in DT.

Ways to go about it

  • Use an online notetaker like Evernote. Problem: Files aren’t available without network.
  • Use a wiki. Problem: Can be hard to read in a browser, doesn’t handle pdf, and see above.
  • Well, use a wiki and Instapaper. Store the notes on a wiki, then then read it on the phone with Instapaper. Problem: Need to remember to hit the page with Instapaper twice: Once to store the page, and a second time before class to store it on the phone, in case the network goes down.
  • Use a utility to transfer files from desktop to iPhone. Problem: Sometimes the file is on my desktop, sometimes on a laptop. Issue: I’d rather not run Yet Another Client on the desktop to make files available. Using a browser is only slightly less clunky.
  • Print everything out.

I’ve eliminated a few utilities that I’ve tried (DataCase, Air Sharing, NoteBooks), which seems to leave me with two options.

OneDisk. Accesses iDisk files and folders. Needs MobileMe. Clear interface, landscape view. Can email files from the app. No luck reading a Numbers page, but it’s supposed to. The pdf reader is as good as any. Can set bookmarks and create folders.

Briefcase. VPN, I think. Uploads and downloads from phone to computer via Bonjour. No desktop utility needed. Can access any folder on the computer. Interface similar to that of OneDisk. Landscape view. Reads the usual suspects.

In both cases, getting files onto the phone requires some planning – nothing major, but planning akin to – and no less hassle than – printing out the notes. Planning means forgetting.

Using OneDisk, files have to be uploaded to iDisk from the computer, and then downloaded to the phone. Upload times can be a longish for larger documents. Upload now; download later.

With Briefcase, files have to be loaded directly to the phone using the phone near the desktop. Transfer now. Read later.

From a step back, the whole idea of moving notes to the phone for reference in class seems about the same as printing stuff out.

Even worse. The problem isn’t just in transferring stuff but reading it. Unless they are formatted with screen reading in mind, notes are difficult to read on a mobile device. Pdfs are just too difficult to read on a small screen. Pdf is for paper. My best luck so far has been with some rtfs – using 14 pt Helvetica, which is what I use when I print out the notes.

What I need – when going from desktop to phone top – is an app that will reformat .doc and .rtf files for reading on the phone.

And that might lead back to Instapaper. It’s the formatting and the local storage that help.

Then there’s the consideration of going the other way: from the phone to the desktop.

Makes me want to just make a paper notebook (video) -but my handwriting is unreadable and, well … Paper, that just defeats the whole purpose, doesn’t it.

Any other ideas?

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