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As a writer, I frequently find my brain occupied by ideas for my current writing project—or the project I’d rather be working on right now, or the one that’s only just starting to germinate in my brain. On my Mac, all my musings and ideas go into the excellent Scrivener. While there’s currently no Scrivener for iOS, the app does allow for syncing with iOS apps, one of which is DenVog’s $5 Index Card for the iPad.
Folks have been brainstorming using index cards since… well, probably since the invention of index cards. And it’s that same ruled rectangle of heavy paper stock that you’ve been using since elementary school which serves as the organizational atom of Index Card. Those cards are contained within a project, where you can create cards, delete them, reorder them, label them, and even put them into stacks.
Stacking cards is handy way to organize ideas into complimentary categories—characters, for example, or settings. Creating those stacks, however, isn't immediately intuitive. Initially, I tried dragging one card over another, in the same way you would make an app folder on your iOS device’s home screen. (See how fast those interface conventions get adopted?) That doesn’t work, though, which surprised me, given that Index Card does embrace drag-and-drop mechanics in other places, such as reordering cards. Instead you have to tap the Edit button in the toolbar, tap the Stack button, and then either select the stack you want them to be added to—if it already exists—or create a brand new stack. It works, but the process could probably be simplified a few steps. Also, not unlike iOS’s folders, you can’t have stacks within stacks—if you try to move one stack to another, it’ll move the cards from the stack, leaving you with an empty stack.
Stacks do, however, empower one of my favorite features of Index Card—column view. In this mode, each of your stacks is represented as a vertical column containing the cards in that stack. It’s a great way to see a lot of information at once, presented in a coherent fashion. There’s also an outline view which might be handy to those using Index Card as an outlining tool. You can reorganize or delete entries in that mode, but you can't directly edit the text; tapping any entry will take you to the same card-editing interface as the standard mode. However, the outline view is the only place in Index Card that you’ll find search capability.
When in editing mode, which you enter by tapping any card, you’re presented with a title and synopsis field by default. The synopsis field is a little compact, so if you’re looking to enter more text, you’ll want to enable the Long Text Field under the Settings menu in the main screen; that gives you a sheet of yellow-ruled paper to enter more text on, and relegates the synopsis to a corner of the screen. Unfortunately, your musings are limited to text—if you’ve snapped a picture of something that’s given you an idea, you’re out of luck.
There’s also a notes section on the “back” of each card that you can access by tapping the arrow in the top right corner of the screen. Using the notes section is a little disconcerting though, since the app’s toolbar disappears while you’re there; your only option is to tap the arrow icon to go back to the front of the card. One nice touch: The arrow button is blue if there is actually text in the notes section, orange if there isn’t.
Index Card does provide some useful text-manipulation options in a toolbar above the keyboard, including quick access to Undo; buttons to let you move backwards or forwards by word or character; apostrophe, quotation mark, and bullet buttons; and a forward delete button. However, the keyboard occupies a lot of screen real estate, and using the iPad’s split keyboard mode makes text entry very challenging, since it obscures the text fields.
In and of itself, the iPad isn’t a bad device for this kind of organization and brainstorming, but sooner or later you might be inclined to move your ideas and notes to another device. Index Card offers three ways to share your cards: By email, via iTunes File Sharing, or by linking it to your Dropbox account.
In each of those cases, you also have the option to share your document in Index Card’s own format, or as a text or RTF file. If you want to see what those other formats will look like, there’s a Preview option under the Share menu. The RTF option does better in terms of formatting your data, indenting paragraphs and adding bold headers for card titles and centered and underlined headers for stack names, but any text you entered in the notes field just gets thrown in at the end of the card in smaller text.
As mentioned above, one of the attractions of Index Card is that it can sync with Scrivener, which itself boasts index-card-style organization features. But once again, while the feature does work, it’s somewhat cumbersome—there’s a nearly five-minute how-to video on YouTube detailing the steps involved. The syncing is far from automatic: Every time you want the changes to show up one place, you have to re-export your cards from one side, and then re-import them into the other app. Seamless it isn’t.
But what bothers me the most about Index Card is the interface. If you stick to the skeuomorphic corkboard theme, it’s not too bad—a little cheesy at times, but straightforward enough. But woe betide you if you opt for any of the other themes, which include black, white, gray, and iOS’s all-too-common linen pattern. Most of them look, to put it politely, like unfinished afterthoughts: Instead of button controls for flipping cards over, there’s just plain text. In the opinion of one of my colleagues, the text boxes look like wireframe models to be filled in further. It’s downright jarring, and I’d hope giving them at least the same fit and finish as the rest of the app is a top priority, if not improving the interface of Index Card from top to bottom.
If you find your mind crying out for a way to organize those thoughts about your next novel, screenplay, or other project, Index Card is a solid option, as long as you leave the app on its default theme and only need to occasionally move your cards back and forth to Scrivener.
[Macworld senior editor Dan Moren thinks outlining is for suckers.]
This article was updated on April 8 to correct a misstatement about Index Card’s ability to reorganize entries in outline mode. This change does not affect our rating of the app.
This story, "Index Card for iPad" was originally published by Macworld.
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