Projectbook by Theory.io for the iPad is a fairly extensive and feature-rich app that organizes the notes and To-Dos in support of a serious project. That is, rather than focus on a few simple tasks in a simple way, as many iOS apps do, it ties together many functions that a real project might entail. As such, despite the low price, the casual user may find it to be overkill.
Complex tasks require an extensive set of inter-related tools, sometimes in a team context. One must be able to view Microsoft Word and PDF documents created by others, access Dropbox files, and interact with email. One might need to take a photo, record the audio of a meeting, sketch a concept, take notes, and create a To-Do list. And when all of these functions are woven together, the app can require almost daily use in order to maintain a comfortable proficiency.
Accordingly, if you’re looking for a simple, friendly list manager or To-Do manager, watch my eyes, this is not the app you’re looking for. However, if you’re, say, buying a new home or upgrading a corporate network, then this app will help you manage a serious project.
The feature list for this product is, almost by necessity, very long. Here is an just overview of the essentials to give you a feeling for the app.
- Create and file notes that can contain lists, photos, sketches, audio. Drag list items to reorder. Chose fonts and styles.
- Take photos to be embedded or access the camera roll.
- Save documents to named folders.
- Create and file To-Dos that have categories and due dates.
- Set up reminders.
- Find all the documents than contain a term or tag.
- Email documents in plain text, PDF or HTML.
- Access Pocket, Instapaper or Dropbox
A natural place to start is with personal notes and lists. (Note cursor keys.)
As the preamble suggests, there is much to explore in this app. There is a rich tool bar across the top, with extensive options and file management icons on the left. The mental process here is that each new function should ring a mental bell that says, “This is what I need to perform such-and-such.” If that doesn’t happen, then your project may not be complex enough to exploit the power of this app.
The app will start you off with a blank notes page and then an eight page slideshow with callouts that explain how to use the app. It’s enough to get you started, but it’s not what one would describe as classic documentation for a feature-rich, content creation tool. Also, I couldn’t find an easy way to escape the Quick Tip if all I wnted to do was refer to one of the eight pages.
What will drive your exploration is the need to get something done, proficiency and discovery.
The best place to start, after you’ve viewed the Quick Tips, is to perhaps create a page of notes, insert a photo, draw a sketch, and then perhaps email it to one of your accounts as, say, a PDF. I did exactly that in the process of reviewing this app, writing notes to myself about its operation.
You can snap a photo or pull one from the camera roll.
The next step may be to login to Dropbox and pull in a Microsoft Word file, just to see how it works. Because of this ability to grab different file types, imports are given their own file and name rather than inserted at the cursor.
The keyboard that comes when you’re ready to insert text has special keys at the top that will look very familiar and are intuitive to use. Cursor keys are a must for this kind of app. If you look carefully at the “hide keyboard” button on the bottom right, you’ll see a small badge that suggests holding the button down. Then you can slide the keyboard up or even split it for easier typing. This is thoughtful stuff.
Everything is autosaved, so if you make a mistake, use the undo icon on the top left. There are ten levels of undo or redo.
Along the way, as one starts to expand on the content, the use of tags, searching, and formatting will come into play. There is very little of the syndrome, “Gee, if only the app could…” For a version 1.0 app, it has a lot of features essential to purposeful projects.
Because project managers often end up in remote locations, without Internet access, Projectbook is designed to be independent of a network. All the data you need is always at your fingertips.
The keyboard can be split and/or moved vertically.
While the app never crashed or did something wonky on me, I did have some serious problems to note, characteristic of a version 1.0 effort. The developer, Peter Tamte, responded to each item, marked in italics.
1. There is an export of individual lists or To-Do pages, which is an archive in a sense, but there is no global save of the corpus. So if you lose access to the app or it gets corrupted, there is no archive of the whole work. Except, of course, for the iTunes backup of the app and its folder. A direct backup of the entire (named) corpus to Dropbox is recommended.
As you observed, right now there are only two ways to back up Projectbook automatically — the old-fashioned way via iTunes, or through the iPad’s built-in automatic iCloud backup. However, we will also begin offering the ability to turn on iCloud for syncing and backup within Projectbook early this fall, simultaneous with the release of the Mac version of Projectbook. (About 95 percent of the iCloud work is already completed — just waiting to complete cross-platform synchronization testing.) We also plan to offer additional backup options beyond iCloud after this.
2. Lost text. I was experimenting with dragging items to reorder a list, and somehow a list entry was deleted. Undo could not bring it back.
This is a bug we don’t have in our database right now, so I am going to assign a QA person to try to reproduce this.
3. Text that’s pasted in will overwrite a photo. Conversely, a photo can be dragged right over text. No good can come from this.
This is a big one for me, too. It will be fixed this fall.
4. An MS Word document pulled in from Dropbox cannot, in turn, be emailed.
This is scheduled to be addressed either in the mid-August update or a mid-September update.
Sharing options are good.
5. The app is often confused about abbreviations. So if I use an abbreviation such “std.”, the app will often capitalize the very next word, unintentionally, thinking that I ended a sentence.
We use Apple’s iOS technologies to determine auto-capitalization, so it should work the same as Pages, Notes, etc.
6. There is only one audio track per note, and new audio tracks are appended rather than managed and labelled.
While we do not currently allow users to manage specific audio tracks, we do synchronize the audio to the typing, so users can jump around to specific parts of their recording by tapping the speaker icon that is placed in the note each time the user presses the Return key. Based on your question, though, I have now added the ability to manage specific audio tracks to our feature wish list.
7. The app needs its own, private email address in order to receive documents. This is likely the result of Apple’s sandboxing rules. The app suggests setting up a special Gmail account. That’s a no-brainer, but could annoy some users.
There are two issues related to this:
First, the main reason we recommend a separate email account for Projectbook is for usability: We think of Projectbook’s email capabilities as a way to forward information you receive from others to your notebook, so you can save it alongside other information related to your projects, as well as a quick way to get to-dos out of your email inbox and onto your to-do list. But, Projectbook is not designed like an email program, with an interface for managing large volumes of email. It is designed to get specific pieces of information into your notebook with minimal email management.
Second, as far as setting up your own account: One of our philosophies is that once users have purchased the app from us, they should be able to use it without worrying that we’re going to make them pay a subscription to use all its features someday (like access to an email account). This is one of the reasons why we let people use an email account they control, rather than requiring an email account we control. However, we’re hearing from some users that they would like both options. So, we’re looking at ways to offer in-app creation of a Projectbook-specific email account.
Mr. Tamte concluded:
I think this is fair. We built an app that has a very robust note-taking feature set, plus a very robust task management feature set, plus many new ways of organizing and finding information, plus email receiving — a lot! Now, we need to polish the rough edges. Also, after 1.5 years of development, we wanted to get the app into consumers’ hands so we can understand how people will use it in the real world. So, now our effort is focused on addressing the mixture of rough edges and specific features users are requesting.
Your To-Do list interfaces to iCal and Reminders.
Projectbook 1.0, released Aug 1, 2012, will not work on an iPad 1. It can be used with any iPad 2 or later and iOS 5.0 or later. It is English only.
At version 1.0, this app is off to a great start. The concept and execution are solid. However, as with any version 1.0 release, there are some issues, mentioned above, to be addressed. Nevertheless, the app earns a solid rating.
So long as the prospective customer understands that the learning curve, in the most common usage these days, is a bit steeper than they might be accustomed to and that the app really shines when there is serious, purposeful work to be done, then US$6.99 is a great value proposition. Even better, it’s $1.99 until August 15.