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Off Topic: a Super Note-Taking Stylus for the iPad

March 19, 2012

This is definitely off my normal range of topics but it’s something I’m passionate about and it could be of use to many of you. I’ve finally found a stylus for the iPad that I can take good accurate ink notes with, and I’m really excited about it. I feel taking good notes should be a part of any business skill set, and this stylus (called the Jot Pro) in my mind finally makes doing that on an iPad practical.

Background: Tablet PC’s were good at this
Many of you may know that I wrote a book in 2004 about the Tablet PC, and it became the best-selling book about the Tablet PC at that time. I don’t recommend you buy it now, it’s horribly out of date and mostly out of print, but I’ve been watching the tablet space closely since then. One of the things I liked best about the Tablet PC, and wrote a lot about,  was using it to take good ink notes right on the screen. I did that all the time in business meetings and used it when brainstorming.

iPad: not so much
So when the iPad came out, I wasn’t happy that it was fairly impractical for electronic ink notes. Sure, you could write with your finger tip. And later some companies released styluses that sported broad foam tips that imitated a fingertip. But using those, due to the unwieldy size of the tip, I always ended up creating huge lettering—the size of which, in my mind, made normal note taking almost impossible. Some people could do it more precisely, but it never worked for me. After trying 2 or 3 new and improved models that still did not meet my needs, I abandoned that quest.

Jot Pro Stylus
That’s why I’m so excited about the new stylus that came out a few months ago called the Jot Pro. It works completely different from the others foam-tipped styluses. The Jot Pro places a quarter-inch wide clear plastic flat disc on the surface of the iPad, which rotates about at the end of the pen shaft. The point that holds the disc is a sharp stylus point that is embedded in the middle of that clear disc. It’s that point that your eye sees as your write, and the ink is laid down from that center point.  As a result, the stylus works like a relatively sharp pen—I really can take excellent ink notes using it. I finally feel like I have the utility of Tablet PC inking right on the iPad. By the way the regular “non-Pro” version is cheaper and works well too. (Also note, I have no relationship with this company and make nothing off any purchases you make—I am just excited about the product).

Android is Ahead
Of course, a few of the Android-based tablets that have come out in the last year do have an active electronic stylus that allows ink notes. For example the Android-based Lenovo ThinkPad. These are designed from the ground up to be pen based, and they work great. But they are not an iPad. And let’s face it; the iPad is the most popular tablet out there.

Not Perfect
Taking notes with the Jot Pro is not perfect however. It is not pressure sensitive like many active pens on other devices [though a Jot version out soon will be]. And since it’s just a passive pointer, you still need to watch out for where you place your palm on the screen, to avoid stray marks. So when using the Jot Pro, make sure you use the wrist protection features built into many of the good note taking software apps on the iPad. I’ve tried a few, and the app I use now is called Noteshelf; it has a good wrist protector feature, and I like the way the ink flows onto the page. And that app works well with an iPad 1 (some of the other apps feel slow on an iPad 1). Of course there are lots of other good apps out there, so look around.

Well, there you have it. This is not my usual post topic, but I am so excited about now being able to take notes on the iPad, I couldn’t resist. Happy note taking!


Comments (14)

Ham BarnesMarch 20th, 2012 at 8:49 am

While still a proof of concept, this is another stylus to keep an eye on which is pressure sensitive and will use Bluetooth 4.0.

Now if Microsoft would release a fully functional OneNote app for the iPad or if Apple would finally approve Tapose, we might actually have the start of iPad based productivity apps with inking support.

Tony ChungMarch 21st, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Have you played with Penultimate? That was the first app I tried with the wrist protection feature, and I like it a lot. Unfortunately, you can write or draw into the app; the app disables keyboard input. I also liked Audio Note, to match the handwriting, typing, AND audio recording features I miss from my Tablet PC. I guess I should try Noteshelf now.

Newt BarrettMarch 21st, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Michael, I loved note taking on convertable laptops using a stylus. Although I love my iPad, I have been frustrated with the inking capability. Thanks so much for the tip. I have already ordered the product. Cheers, Newt

Jim BooneMarch 21st, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Notes Plus is a robust, multi-media writing app that I use every day and I just write with my finger. Can use as scratch pad, for writing text, has a handwriting plug in, can write detailed hand notes, and also vector-based drawings. Can insert web snips, pdfs, photos, etc. My personal opinion is that it is much superior to Penultimate and also takes voice notes. I highly recommend Notes Plus. I have a complex life and job and it is just so powerful and easy to use.

AnneMarch 21st, 2012 at 6:49 pm

Thank you for the tip. I like Notability which does many of the things featured by Jim in Notes Plus.

JörgMarch 22nd, 2012 at 12:00 am

I cam across Ipen recently ( And if you take a look at their demo, it IS very impressive. I t uses a different techniques but allows fine “ink” notes. At the moment their partners need to get ready for the New Ipad, but for Ipad 2 their are some great apps around already. They write: “Please download the FREE app: ibisPaint X.This app is compatible in the New iPad. In the meantime, other iPen partners are trying to make their apps compatible to the New iPad.”

Nick BMarch 22nd, 2012 at 3:55 am

Are there any concerns about the Jot stylus scratching the screen surface?

Achun HayashiMarch 22nd, 2012 at 6:05 am

**Hey mike why try to write on ipad???

***with the new ipad just write to some pieces of paper then take a photo of it.

it has 5 megapixel with super great hd sensor!!

cheers :)

KatyMarch 22nd, 2012 at 7:24 am

I would also appreciate comment on whether there is a risk of scratching the screen.

Michael LinenbergerMarch 22nd, 2012 at 9:59 am

Jorg: we tested the Cregle iPen–I have one sitting here on my desk. The demo videos are great but in real use calibration was very unstable… sometimes the ink would flow under the tip, a moment later it would flow a 1/2 inch away. But some people have consistent success. See this users blog for more info:

Michael LinenbergerMarch 22nd, 2012 at 10:02 am

Nick: re possible scratching–I see no possibility, it glides very smoothly and it is a quarter inch or more wide, so not a focused pressure point.

Michael LinenbergerMarch 24th, 2012 at 2:13 pm

You know, I did that for a while (similar: I would scan them in). But it kept failing on me. Here’s why: I would often take only a partial page of notes, and then leave it for a while and I did not want to scan it yet because I knew I was coming back to it to add more info. Then later I’d look for that info in my scanned pages and wonder why that info was not there. It seems minor but it threw the whole system off. I feel it is important to have anything you write, even if just a sentence, immediately available in your single reference location. Otherwise you start looking in multiple places and you lose your nimbleness, and then you stop using it. That was my issue anyway. Thanks for suggestion though, it is definitely one way to go!

JörgApril 1st, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Hello Michael, thank you very much for you feedback on the iPen. Really appreciate this. Jörg

LizetJune 9th, 2012 at 5:37 pm

Thanks so much for taking the time to post these. I am loonikg for a note taking app for ipad. When you post these videos can you please post a link to the full review on your site. I am having difficulty finding the full reviews on your site.