Going iPad, Part 3 of 5: Note-taking, Evernote and Science Fiction Conventions

In part 2, I discussed how I am using my new iPad to do my fiction writing. In part 3 I want to talk about using it for note-taking and in particular, how it seems almost perfectly designed to be used at conferences and conventions.

When the original iPad was first announced, I had a mixed reaction. Without having it in my hand to play with, I was hard pressed to see how it could be any more useful than a laptop. In fact, there was only one area where I saw real potential for it and that was in the business conference arena. It would be nice to have a slim device to take to conferences, most of which provide wireless access, and on which you could get all of your programming, your schedule, as well as take notes without having to lug a laptop from breakout session to breakout session. As I have learned, the iPad has turned out to be much more useful than I ever expected. But its value at a conference really highlights what it can do for your productivity–to say nothing of your back.

As a science fiction writer, I attend a number of science fiction conventions each year and last weekend, I attended my first convention with my iPad, and sans laptop. Balticon, the annual Baltimore area convention, takes place in Hunt Valley about 50 miles north of where I live. I spend two days at the con, which I have written about here and here. But now I want to focus on how much I was able to do at the convention without a laptop and with my iPad.

I attend a lot of panels at these conventions and will occasionally take notes on the panel topic. In the past, I’d have three choices:

  1. Scribble notes on a paper
  2. Pull out my laptop and jot notes there
  3. Pull out my iPhone and try to keep up

Scribbling notes on paper is probably the simplest solution, but I have been making a real effort to go paperless in all aspects of my life (something tricky for a writer) and so I ruled that out as a matter of policy. Laptops are bulky, can start up slowly, can grow hot in already poorly air conditioned conference rooms. And while the iPhone is useful, it is very difficult to keep up with notes on it.

But the iPad fits this niche perfectly. I use Evernote to take notes. I’ve been using it for a quite some time now and I have yet to find something better suited to how I take notes. Evernote is a cloud-based application with apps for the desktop, iPhone and iPad, but I have to say that their iPad app is very slick and easy-to-use. Before getting to the convention, I’d created a note containing the schedule of events I wanted to attend, and tagged it “balticon”. That made it easy to find. Indeed, any notes I took at the convention were tagged “Balticon”. When I actually sat down to a reading or a panel, however, the real power of the iPad and Evernote became evident.

For instance, I attended a reading where Nathan Lowell read from a chapter of my friend Michael J. Sullivan‘s novel. With a pencil and paper I might have jotted some notes. Ditto with the laptop. With my iPhone I could have snapped some pictures. With the iPad, I could make notes in Evernote and snap pictures at the same time (which would be stored with my notes). Or I could go a step further and record an HD video of the reading.

If I sat down to a panel and didn’t recognize the panelists, I could add a snapshot to my notes for that panel and than look up the names later. Since these are high quality images, I could even zoom in on badges to read the names of the participants that I couldn’t identify by sight during the panel. Here is an example of one note from Evernote where I includes some snapshots like this:


For me, science fiction conventions are not just about listening to great panels and meeting great writers and artists, but it is a place where business happens (often at the bar). If I am talking to an editor about some of my previous stories, it is convenient to be able to pull up my bibliography directly from my website, to show them what I have published. If I do an interview and need to supply a brief bio, well, I’ve got those available on the iPad as well. In this sense, the iPad becomes a mobile marketing department. (I still carry business cards because they still prove to be useful.) But I can be chatting with someone, find out if they are on Twitter, and then follow them in real-time so that I don’t forget to do it later. And of course, if someone asks how such-and-such a panel was, I can refer to my notes, show them video snippets, or even record unusual events like the carving and consuming of durian fruit.

If I were doing a reading at the convention, I could have my story read to read on the iPad, with a large font to make the reading easy, and with no need to carry around extra paper. Even if I were reading from a novel, I could have the Kindle or iBook version on my iPad and read from there, and still be able to hold up the device to show off the cover to the audience.

Going through the dealer rooms (“huckster rooms,” the used to be called) can be a fun way to discover rare stuff that you might be looking for. For my Vacation in the Golden Age, I always have my eye out for issues of Astounding Science Fiction that I am missing. I don’t have these memorized, but I don’t need to. I can stop in front of a dealer’s collection of SF magazines, pull up the spreadsheet of what I have and what I need on my iPad, and quickly look to see if there are any matches.

And of course, when I am on a break, eating lunch or just trying to catch my breath, I can sit down with the iPad and continue to read whatever it is I am reading in the Kindle app. Or I can open up SimpleNote and work on a short story. And I can do all of this on a single, lightweight device.

I imagine it won’t be long before some of these conventions begin to offer their programming information as a downloadable PDF that can be accessed on the iPad (or other mobile device), an added convenience that will help save paper.

It helps that the iPad has a solid 10 hour battery life. I can get through a full day at a convention, with fairly steady use of the device without having to worry about losing power. In fact, the only thing I have to worry about is whether or not the convention will be providing wireless access. Fortunately, at Balticon, they did.


  1. Really enjoying this series on your iPad workflow… was just sitting down to catch up with the second one, and woosh you posted the third…

  2. …which lead me to your time travel posts, many of the stories you listed I have not read yet, and I am salivating to get to my favorite used book store…. thanks again!

  3. I was wondering about the part where you discuss taking notes on Evernote with the iPad. How exactly are you doing that? Are you using something like Bamboo Paper with a stylus or are you actually typing the notes in? I ask because I spend a great deal of my working day jotting down notes of interviews I conduct and have yet to find a way to do so with the iPad and Evernote without using the keyboard as an input device (which would be quite distracting to me and the interviewee). I’d appreciate your input. Cheers, and thanks. A. Paez sends regards.

    1. Andrew, I type right on the iPad. I usually have a wireless BlueTooth keyboard with me and for long notes, I’ll use the external keyboard because I can type full-speed that way.

  4. Thanks for the clarification. I have a KeyFolio that I use to type reports on the iPad and it works reasonably well (despite only one shift key), but the magic would be in being able to take “written” notes as I can definitely write faster on the iPad than type on its keyboard and, as I stated, I really can’t pull out the KeyFolio when I’m at someone’s doorstep to conduct an interview. I’ve heard of some potential solutions, including a glove-type holder for the iPad that allows one to hold the iPad in one hand securely. I’m sure I’ll find something. Thanks for the prompt reply!

  5. Marc, Thanks! Looked at it and do think I could work that in to my interview process. I’ll download it and give it a try. Any Evernote integration?

  6. I also enjoy using Evernote, but I use it in conjunction with NoteTakerHD as I like using a stylus and find it faster if I user a stylus to write notes in a meeting. I seem to write faster than I type which is true for writing notes. I just wish there was an integrated note-taking portion in the iPAD app which would render the other note taker apps useless in my opinion.


  7. You discussed using SimpleNote in part 2 of converting to iPad and using EverNote in this post–is there much of a difference between the two? They looked similar on first blush.

    Thanks for this series–I’ve also been trying to figure out how to make the most of my iPad, especially since I have a VERY large laptop!

    1. Cheryl, SimpleNote and Evernote actually serve very different purposes, in my view. SimpleNote, as its name suggests, is just a bare-bones plain-text editor that happens to be cloud-based and which integrates with Scrivener. Evernote is a cloud-based storage and organization system that handles much more than just plain text notes, but also attachments like images and PDF files, audio files, etc., all of which are searchable, taggable and available wherever you need them.

      I use the former for writing when I’m away from my laptop and the latter to try to go completely paperless in my life.

  8. My essential business app on iPad to organize my work and take minutes is Beesy . It helps me to organize my day with tasks, toDo list automatically generated. Very useful also in meetings to don’t miss a thing. You can add quickly and easily every tasks during meetings. You can also send your meeting report at the end by mail. I hightly recommend it


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