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First Impression (6) - iSketchNote, A Perspective View

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I love drawing, but I've never given myself a chance to become any good at it. I love my iPad (iPad Air) too. Hence, when  I saw a device, the iSkecthNote, that happily married the two I didn't hesitate to help fund it, when it was introduced on the crowdfunding website, Kickstarter. However, as has been symptomatic of Kickstarter projects, this one was delivered late too, but this time I didn't mind. This was because I thought that the wait would be well worth it.

When the engineers behind iSketchNote conceived of the idea they probably thought that it was very good one and if they turned it into a product they might be able to sell a few. They were wrong, it is an absolutely brilliant idea and it wouldn't surprise me if they end up selling them by the bucket load. This is my first impression of using the iSketchNote.

Just after finishing this article ISKN released app version 2.1 and the Bluetooth connectivity pairing issues seem to have improved. 

UPDATE: 14/02/2015: I have now posted a follow-up review.

Essentially, iSketchNote is like an electronic  drawing slate, that digitizes your sketches into a computing device.  For now it interfaces to most versions of the iPad. In the not too distance future PC and Android compatibility has been promised. Sketches drawn over the slate are transferred, in more or less real-time, to an iPad app using Bluetooth (or USB?). My iSketchNote arrived in the post a few days ago and I had an opportunity of unpacking and playing with it for the first time today.


Figure: The images on the right-hand side have been produced by tracing over the images, using the iSketchNote, on the left-hand side. For someone that is not very good at drawing, i.e me, its not bad, eh!

Not being a great artist my first act, in using the iSketchNote, was to get hold of my favourite drawing book and scan a random page (the one seen on the left-hand side in the image above). I then printed the page out using a standard Epson ink jet printer. The A4 sized copy, which is larger than the iSketchNote's drawing area, the slate, was  selectively traced over producing the copies of the poses seen. The result of this handiwork can be seen on the right-hand side, in the picture above.

Not bad for a first attempt, but it has not been plain sailing getting to use the iSketchNote to this level of simplicity. This is because there are a lot of early teething problems, which hopefully will be solved, soon. The main problem is a Bluetooth connectivity, or pairing, one to put it politely. If one was not to be so polite then the problem could be attributed to someone lacking Bluetooth 101 skills.

In all fairness ISKN, the company behind iSketchNote, have set up a support website and are attempting to be as open and honest, as one could expect, given what is at stake. An updated app has been promised in the next few days, but at the moment I can only connect to the iSketchNote using my iPad Air and not my iPad Mini. When I can connect the connectivity is lost intermittently, which is very frustrating.


 Despite these problems I love this device and feel very lucky and privileged to have one of the Kickstarter Edition ones. As every engineer knows designing a product and getting it out there on the market, making a profit, is no mean feat.

However, making the decision when to hit the market is always a big one and on this occasion one is left with the impression that in this case it was slightly too soon. This product does not appear to be quite there yet, IMHO, but it will be given time.

 So what do we like about iSketchNote? Well, from the little experience we have had with it today most things. When it does connect to the iPad it is easy to use, although every now and again what appears to be "blind spots" ruin a sketch.

These are areas where the pen is not recognised by the slate and one's sketch ends-up being patchy. For now, this seems to make the iSketchNote more suitable for sketching than writing. Also, strangely, the iSketchNote app does not produce drawings at their original  size, which is a difficult concept to get to grips with, although the size is representative.

I also like the fact that the iSketchNote appears to be more accurate than the variety of iPad pens that have come our way, some of which have been akin to snake oil. Uses for this device are huge from back-of-the-envelope engineering designs, capturing lecture notes to capturing character animation ideas or poster design layouts. The potential is endless.


Figure: The iSketchNote is great for back-of-the-envelope engineering designs. However, I would prefer to use my own pens and pencils.

Here are some thoughts I have on the iSketchNote, since using it.

The slate's drawing area is, painfully, just slightly larger than an A5 sheet of paper, which is annoying. I would have preferred to have been able to place an A5 or A4 sheet of paper on the slate, such that it fits snugly in place. Then there would be no need to worry about the piece of paper one is sketching on moving. The introduction of an A3 sized slate would be welcomed with open arms.

Pens. I like my collection of Lamy ink pens and not being able to use them on the slate is distressing to say the least. The pens provided with the slate feel very plastic and their weight just does not feel right. However, that is a personal thing. It would be nice if established, third-party, pen manufactures like Parker or Lamy for example produced pens for the slate.

b2ap3_thumbnail_006-001-000001.pngThe biggest improvement needed in the existing setup is the iSketchNote's app, it is, well lets just say there is quite a bit of room for improvement, lots of room in fact. Maybe an API could be released to allow third party connectivity or applications to interact with the slate.

For example, one of my favourite drawing apps on the iPad is Touchdraw and it would be wonderful if it could be used  with iSketchNote's slate. It would be better still if the slate could connect directly to Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator.

Another big area of improvement that could be made in the existing app is how drawings are saved. Current they can only be exported as a PNG picture file or as a MP4 video to the iPad's photo area. Alternatively, images can be shared in PNG, SVG or MP4 (video) formats by email, Facebook or Twitter. That's right and I'm not kidding you either. It's just not good enough.

Providing all the expected options of being able to print, as well as save in multiple formats is fundamental to any drawing app. Saying that, I have been able to transfer sketches successfully, in the SVG format and have been able to import them into Adobe Illustrator, albeit by sending an email to myself. LOL

Figure: Me wearing a red jacket. Jacket drawn using the iSketchNote, face drawn in chalk by professional artist. Red jacket? LOL, you would never see me in one of those in real life.


 So what do I think overall? I think this is a great product and really want it to succeed. However, although the release of the Kickstarter edition was delayed for one technical reason or the other, I feel that we have still not been given the envisioned final product. It may be a while yet before we are too. 

Also, it would be nice if the experience of third-party companies, like those that produce pens and drawing applications were eventually brought into play and made compatible with the slate. If this product would reappear on Kickstarter tomorrow I would fund it again. It is a great demonstration how a great engineering idea can be turned into a wonderful consumer product.

Today, this is a good product, but with the expected bug fixes tomorrow it will become a great product. Well done to ISKN, good job. (p.s You can see what people are doing  with the iSketchNote for yourself on ISKN's website, in the iSketchNote creations area).


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