With the exception of one year when I needed to use IBM’s ThinkPad in order to use only Windows-compatible software, I have been using Mac since I was a kid. I started taking lecture notes on my old 12.1″ PowerBook G4 when I started the second year of my undergraduate program and kept doing so until I finished my undergrad. During my MA program, I gradually switched to Moleskine’s large plain notebook to jot down notes. I’ve been pdf-ing a lot of journal articles to read on my Mac for a few years, and Adobe Acrobat was the main app to annotate the articles.
I still take notes from my readings and write papers on my Mac, but a thing or two have changed since I purchased my first iPad as a reward for finishing my MA major research paper. Since then, I have tried a bunch of iPad apps and here are my essential Mac and iPad apps that, I think, are useful for (graduate) students.
Dropbox (Mac & iOS)
I used Dropbox occasionally to upload some PowerPoint files, presentation notes, and maps on my iPhone, but I have been relying on it a lot these days since I use my iPad a lot. In Dropbox, I have folders for research, reading, notes, and recipes, and open them on GoodReader. Dropbox also functions as a temporary backup for these files, although I take regular backups of my hard drive on an external drive using Carbon Copy Cloner. I wish I could make link folders into the Dropbox folder (and I know we can do it somehow), but I’m waiting for Dropbox to support it officially.
I have had GoodReader on my iPhone to access files on Dropbox easily, but the combination of Dropbox and GoodReader is must-have. I put journal articles and other pdf-ed readings in folders on Dropbox first, and sync the folders through automatic synchronization. Whenever I add new files on Dropbox or annotate pdfs on GoodReader, I tap a sync button and both sides of the folders are up to date. I have never tried pdf-specific apps, but compared to note-taking apps like UPAD, Notability and Penultimate, GoodReader is definitely useful and functional for reading and annotating pdf files.
Reeder (Mac and iOS)
Although Twitter is a better source for instant information updates, I find it a little difficult to filter the abundance of information that the accounts that I follow keep tweeting. That is where RSS readers come in. Unless you are subscribing to RSS feeds from news websites, you will not receive too many feeds every day, and each feed tends to have more valuable information. I was using Viena on my Mac, but my iPhone, iPad, and Mac have their own versions of Reeder app. Maybe because the iPad version is newer than the iPhone’s, it is missing some functions, but I’m expecting that the future updates will bring more usability. I like its relatively consistent gesture functionality, and the integration of Readability provides a pleasant reading experience.
WriteRoom (Mac and iOS)
I kept trying its trial version on Mac once in a while but I never felt its minimalist interface pleasant enough to purchase the app. For the past few weeks, however, I have been using WriteRoom on both iPad and Mac, and I may end up buying its license at the end this time. I tried several writing apps including Byword and Daedalus Touch, but I did not like using MarkDown at all, so I started using PlainText. I like the simplicity but I wanted to change fonts and sizes, so I eventually switched to WriteRoom. Its plain text format on iOS helps me focus on writing down ideas, and having a similar interface on Mac encourages me to focus on writing. I would not use this app on Mac to finish writing a paper, but it is a handy app on both Mac and iOS to start getting my ideas out of my head.
I have been using Scrivener since 2007, and it started as my note-taking app. I could easily add web links, pdf, and other files into its project file, and the app really helped me organize my study materials. Eventually, Scrivener has become my essay writing app as well. I write notes from readings and organize them using built-in folders. I write sections (or parts of them) in different texts for a paper, and then combine them later. The app also has a full-screen composition mode and by customizing the settings, you can have a WriteRoom-like interface. I still use Microsoft Word to edit and format papers since I find exported doc(x) files from Scrivener tend to look a little different from Scrivener’s texts. (This can be because of my settings in Scrivener.)
I always wanted to have an easy access to my then iCal (and now Calendar) from Mac’s menu bar, and I have been using Fantastical since I found it last year. Fantastical syncs with many calendar services, and I sync it with iCloud since I use Calendar/iCloud as my default calendar. It can show Reminders items as well, which I find useful especially since Mountain Lion’s default Calendar now does not show them anymore. The regular price is a little bit too much, but I purchased the license with an educational discount, so it did not hurt my wallet too much. If you like the interface of Calendar on Mac of iOS, you will definitely like the sleek design of Fantastical.
Default Apps on Mac and iOS
In addition to default Calendar, I use Mail, Reminders, Notes, and Safari on Mac and iOS. iCloud sync all these apps seamlessly, so I can always access updated information on both Mac and iPad. On Safari, I use the Reader function a lot on Mac to read articles and to make some of them pdf. If the function does not render pages nicely, I use Readability’s Safari extension to do so. Also Safari’s Reading List is useful because I can easily check some pages later from one device to another. In Mail, I have added MailFollowup, a tiny plugin that let you write a follow-up email easily. Whenever Mac OS receives a major update, this plugin becomes disabled, but it receives a relatively quick version-up.
Do you have any particular sets of apps for your research? What apps do you use to help you succeed in graduate school? Did I miss any useful apps?