iPads and fieldwork apps – room for more?

You would think that with 700,000+ apps in the iOS app store and a similar number available for Android devices, everything would have been well and truly covered. So I believed until someone asked online recently about tablet apps specifically designed for fieldwork and field note-taking, a task for which iPads would seem ideally suited. I decided to research this and to my surprise found that the range is relatively limited.

Of course, a lot depends on what you mean by “fieldwork” and “field notes”. Those wanting to undertake field surveys and interviews or general data collection are reasonably well catered for with a number of apps, as discussed at the Teach with your iPad site.

However, those people involved in the natural sciences and/or who need to complete physical site assessments have more detailed needs. While the requirements vary with the specific discipline involved, these could include:

– Date, time and location coding
– The ability to incorporate photos, audio and video, as well as links to files and online material
– Unstructured fields for notes, preferably with the ability to enter handwritten notes and drawings
– User-defined fields for structured data
– The ability to export in a range of formats and to integrate with other apps and programs
– Facilities to store field notes both on the iPad and in the cloud
– The ability to categorise and search data easily.

A search of the iPad app store reveals only two apps specifically aimed at this market; the free Fieldnotes LT and its sibling, the full-featured (and charged for) Fieldnotes Pro which is also available in Android format.

The Pro version of this app can collect most of the data types suggested above and has most of the other requirements, including the ability to export in a number of formats such as .kmz files which can be opened in Google Earth. However, a few features are missing or are a bit limited – for example, Fieldnotes Pro has little in the way of search facilities (ffor a more detailed review see SmokinApps)

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The only other contender which has most of these features is the jack-of-all-trades of note-taking software, rather than something which was designed specifically for fieldwork – Evernote. Evernote lacks a few more features from the list above than Filenote Pro, such as the range of export format options and it is more cloud-dependent, but it also has better search features and much greater integration with a wider range of apps, including PC and Mac versions.

My initial impressions are that both are useable apps, but they also have their different and significant weaknesses and you really should play with each of them before making a choice. But for the moment, this is the only choice you need to make – from what I can see, there are no other real contenders. Hopefully either of these apps will embrace some of the features they currently lack, or something will emerge to challenge both Evernote and Fieldnotes Pro.

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