Review: The THINKERS App Needs to Think Bigger

Review: The THINKERS App Needs to Think Bigger

THINKERS App 3.0 just hit app stores. It moves beyond the tight relationship between the THINKERS App and the proprietary THINKERS Notebook. With this release, the app will now capture pages from any notebook, as well as photos, documents, audio, video, and whiteboards. The THINKERS app does continue to add features, but there is one big reason I don’t use it. The THINKERS app exists in a world that doesn’t recognize and embrace its biggest competition, the iPad, and the Apple Pencil.


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The Paper-First Conundrum

Those who have embraced the iPad and some notetaking app, like Apple’s Notes, Microsoft’s OneNote, GoodNotes or Noteshelf (see the Serious Insights Noteshelf review here) have no need for another note app.  They can capture, share, tag, search, import other documents, and annotate content directly from within an app. And they can do it on a much larger canvas than the iPhone. With Apple now bringing Apple Pencil to all iPads, paper as a means of expression comes under more challenges, especially when digitization and collaborative sharing form the intent for business notetaking on paper.

Are there times when paper is more convenient, more pliable, perhaps more accepting than a digital notebook? Perhaps, but examples of those instances are quickly shrinking. The preciousness of paper does not exist for business. Electronic-first already supplants paper in most cases, as people enter notes about phone calls into CRM systems, ask meeting system assistants to identify action items, or post comments and corrections directly on original documents, spreadsheets, images, and even video.

Before I purchased my first iPad Pro, I would have cherished my THINKERS notebook as a revolutionary way to capture ideas, digitize them, and share them with the world. I have Livescribe notebooks filled with notes, all synchronized to my computer. DOT paper, like the RocketBook, offered up proprietary paper or other physical items that added some intelligence to the note capture experience—innovations at the time that brought the digital world and the physical world closer together. DOT paper and Rocketbooks extended metadata into the physical world.

But the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil offered, for the first time, a relatively affordable, open, and perhaps most importantly, high fidelity electronic writing, drawing, and annotation experience. No longer was the pen a clunky, mouse-alternative that required convolutions to justify its inclusion in the cost of hardware. There was no need for metadata to reach into the physical world because the metadata co-existed with the document. No need to tell an app where to send a physical note, the physical note was taken directly in the target notebook. The Apple Pencil brought responsive writing to a screen. And it brought it to the right screen. The iPad offers enough display real estate to make digital idea generation useful. The latest Samsung Galaxy Note smartphones come close, but even their expansive screens can’t compete with the iPad for the feel of a near-infinite canvas.

The 3.0 version of the THINKERS App brings a wealth of features. And for those who use the app, they will provide value. Easier sharing, comment notifications, a message center for sharing comments, all good for small scale collaboration.

Like the choice of not recognizing the iPad and embracing its features to extend the value of paper, THINKERS also ignores the collaboration tools being used every day by businesses and by consumers. Standalone apps don’t need their own collaboration features, because collaboration is built into everything from Google Workspace to individual Microsoft Word documents. As we covered in Why Collaboration is Broken, the wealth of collaboration features available to people begs the question: where should I work?which app works best in this situation? The answer is usually the one with the broadest reach so collaborative interactions can scale as necessary.

While I admire what THINKERS is trying to do, for me at least, the lack of support for iPad and enterprise collaboration push the app into a narrow niche that will continue to shrink.

THINKERS App: The Bottom Line

Every morning, Jerod Morris, Co-founder and Chief Creative THINKER sends out an interesting e-mail about thinking, which also includes no small amount of marketing on behalf of his product. I find his thinking on thinking well thought out. But the THINKER app doesn’t find its way into my daily workflow because paper rarely finds its way into my daily workflow. My iPad Pro sits at the ready, capturing notes, recording thoughts, and letting me sketch ideas, and draw business graphics, portraits, and illustrations.

Morris is right when he writes in his e-mail announcing THINKERS 3.0 that:

What do all good thinkers have in common?

Thinking is a complex skill to develop, so there are many reasonable answers to this question.

But I’m certain this is one of the answers: all good thinkers value ideas — their own ideas, the ideas of others, and even ideas they may disagree with.

And with automation, algorithms, and artificial intelligence taking over more and more of our world with ever-increasing frequency, the ability to harness our human capacity for ideas has never been more important.

We’ll never be as efficient as the machines, but we can be more creative, think more critically, and act more collaboratively.

We just need the right combination of mindset and tools to help us unlock the best of our humanity so we can become the kinds of thinkers who will thrive in a tech-driven future.

Paper exists in a world of hard edges. Hard edges stifle creativity, though some might argue constraints inspire it. Given that easy solutions to the edges of paper are readily available, the edge of a notebook page becomes an arbitrary constraint. The right tool probably isn’t paper any longer.

Yes, there are threats that our digital artifacts won’t live as long as paper, and that scant records will exist for future generations to dig through, examine, analyze, or revere. But we are talking about business, where most ideas aren’t good ideas, or at least, aren’t finished ideas.

Notes for business exist by necessity in transience, where they live only long enough to bang up against another idea and be consumed, be killed, or to evolve. Digital notes align perfectly with that model. Paper notes don’t forget well, they don’t morph easily from one thing to another—eraser is often more a wadding up and starting over than a subtle lasso and drag, scratch, and recast. Simply transforming paper notes into digital notes does not change that equation—and the only way to add value to previously physical documents is to transform them into digital artifacts on a platform that allows for direct manipulation of the now digital item, and that is only possible in the Apple ecosystem on an iPad.

For those still looking for paper as a home for ideas, for those who seek the physicality of pens on a hard surface leaving a mark, THINKERS 3.0 may well serve a purpose. For the purpose of idea generation, capture, and sharing, the iPad and Apple Pencil offer a superior solution that not only fits the way many people work today but does so in an integrated fashion that brings creation one step closer to collaboration.

I feel bad not embracing a product that strives to enhance creativity, but striving is not the same as delivering.

THINKERS provided a THINKERS Notebook for review purposes.

Daniel W. Rasmus

Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.

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