Streamlining Data Entry into the iPad mini

by Rusty Keighron, Field Sales Account Executive, Agency Markets, Vertafore on January 9, 2013 · 1 comment

As I expand the use of my iPad mini into my business life, I look for ways to make it easier to get information into the device. The idea that I have to carry both a notebook computer and an iPad to conduct business is becoming less attractive to me … if I need both, what’s the benefit of the iPad? So, after some encouragement from MY customers who question why I’m selling them automation but carrying a composition book, here is what I have found so far.

There are at least 5 ways to get information into an iPad:

  1. by voice,
  2. by virtual keyboard,
  3. by stylus (handwriting),
  4. by digital pen / voice recorder (like LiveScribe), and
  5. by physical Bluetooth keyboard.

While there is a place for each of these technologies, my needs (taking notes when talking with customers and updating our internal systems with customer discussions) are pretty straightforward. If you are in a lecture or technical discussion and need to ensure that everything is captured concurrently, a digital pen with a recorder would be a wonderful tool. If you are an author or professional dictating notes, the voice app seems very compelling. I cannot type well on the virtual keyboard and it takes up too much screen real estate. So, for me, the choices came down to stylus or physical keyboard.

I tried the stylus route first, and decided on the Bamboo Pocket Expandable stylus. It has a solid feel, is extendable, had a dongle to store it in your headphone jack, and has a firmer tip than the mushy ones on the Targus.

RK stylus

Then, the choice moves on to what software to use for Handwriting recognition. My top choices were MyScript Notes Mobile and 7notesHD Prem. Both were capable and friendly but I realized I would need for them to “feed” a program to store my notes. Both have integration to Evernote which seemed to be a common platform for almost anything.

 After a week or so of trying, I got very little better at having it recognize my handwriting in a way that was faster than tapping it out on the virtual keyboard. 7 Notes is better at “on the fly” translation and can use cursive or printed text. It uses a box at the bottom of the screen and moving forward once the box was full of text was jerky and unintuitive. Notes Mobile allows you to write out an entire screen then does an “export as text.” Corrections are made after the translation to text and I liked that a bit better. In the end, though, both technologies were much slower and error-prone than any other form of data entry. Although it sounds great in theory, in practice it was too slow and tedious to be usable.

I then found Evernote also has another way of getting handwritten notes translated to searchable text. There is a special Moleskein pad that you can snap a picture of the writing with your digital camera. It does not translate to text but does allow you to “find” notes you’ve written through Optical Character Recognition (OCR). I liked this and it seems like a good thing but not practical for my use. Searching my notes isn’t enough for me to justify its use.

After this, I decided that the fastest way to do entry would be by physical keyboard and chose several to test. My assumption that a keyboard sized to fit the Mini would be impossible to type on; but that I would try. My assumption was correct – as much as I like the HandHeldItems Aluminum cover / keyboard, the only way to type was to take my hands off the keyboard and watch as each key was pecked out. Not at all practical for touch-typing but a small notch above the virtual keyboard.

RK Ipad w keyboard

HandHeldItems Keyboard

The other two keyboards I tried use VERY different approaches. One, the Logitech iPad keyboard is very nice – it comes with a stand and is in NO WAY a case for the iPad. It was WONDERFUL to type on but in my mind it’s still just “something else to carry” and drag out before I can start a client discussion.

RK Ipad w logitech Keyboard

Logitech Keyboard

The winner to me was the Zagg MINI 9. It is a true case and slightly larger than the iPad mini. It is professional looking, and is 90% the size of a full-size keyboard. It is easy and accurate for touch typing. Downsides are that there is no closure on the case, it’s fairly heavy, and it does not have the magnetic shutoff when the screen is closed. If I were a typical reviewer, I would tell you that I had typed this on that keyboard. In fact I did not but could have.

RK iPad w Zagg keyboard

Zagg MINI 9

So, to get to this point, I had chosen the Zagg and Evernote as my preferred combination. This gives me faster data entry, no extra stuff to carry, and a data entry platform that can be used on iPhone, iPad, laptop, and web. Getting the notes to Salesforce was the final hurdle. I decided on Zapier.com – which allows you to designate an Evernote folder as your “work stuff,” monitors when you add new documents to the folder, moves and attaches it to Salesforce as a note (other integrations options abound). In my case matches the TITLE of the document with the person’s name where the note goes.

I did not test the voice options for this particular use of the iPad mini. Talking to my equipment  while visiting and working with a client would not be practical. However, I am sure this would be a practical option in a number of business situations. My preferred recording app if Dragon Dictation.

So, I’m off to start the year with new technology and a “streamlined” work process. As we meet during the year, feel free to ask me how it’s going. You’ll know if I pull out a Composition book that I’m still looking for a better way!

What are you using to enhance your business experience with technology? Let me know if you have questions about my experience or tools.

  • Janine

    I have to walk around while taking client notes and wondering if an ipad mini would be better for data entry than my full-size ipad. (Broke my wrist last year so that thing gets pretty heavy.)

    Your review was helpful. LOVE Evernote. So stable. I wish I could put my job notes directly into our Google Calendar but that thing is way too unstable and you lose stuff. Evernote saves constantly so data loss is rare.

    I’ve looked at Zapier but never could get it up and running. I really need it though.

    My industry is small so I have accepted that I will never have software that does everything I need so cobbling together the different pieces is a necessary evil.

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