Keeping your personal and professional documents in the cloud so you have access to them everywhere is on it’s way to becoming standard practice: it’s why Google(s GOOG) and Apple now have their own cloud storage solution for users. But what if you’re on the fence about committing to the cloud but want an all-in-one mobile app to organize your stuff? Then a small midwestern app company called Theory.io has an iPad app for you.
The app is called Projectbook, and it’s available in the iOS App Store starting Wednesday for $6.99 (the promotional price will be $1.99 for a limited time). It’s a productivity app for keeping notes, appointments, presentations and anything related to project management in one place. The inspiration for Projectbook came to founder and CEO Peter Tamte — who started MacSoft software and later worked as as consumer marketing director at Apple(s AAPL) in the ’90s — when he found himself increasingly relying on his iPad and cloud storage while traveling. He didn’t like getting penalized for keeping his documents in the cloud only to find himself somewhere without a Wi-Fi or cell connection — like an airplane.
“I counted the places I wanted to access my notes that I didn’t have internet. It was as a third of the times,” he said when we sat down for an interview last week. “I shouldn’t have to pay extra when traveling abroad or in a plane.” By extra, he means for pricey international data plans to get online or a subscription for offline access to documents. “We’re being told right now, to keep data in the cloud. That’s great for syncing, sharing and backing up. But data should still be on my device,” said Tamte.
His insistence on locally storing his important documents doesn’t mean Tamte is anti-cloud. He just doesn’t want users to feel like they have to choose between local and cloud storage.
Building on what’s out there
Projectbook’s obvious comparison is Evernote. And that’s a tough one for Projectbook, since Evernote has a well-established reputation. It also has its own development platform, and is available for users of iOS, Mac, Windows(s MSFT), Windows Phone, Android(s GOOG) and BlackBerry(s RIMM).
To stand out to iOS and Mac users, Theory.io’s pitch with Projectbook is mobile organization done simpler, cheaper and locally. With Projectbook, there’s no premium version to access your notes offline. You will have to pay to add more devices: the Mac and iPhone versions are coming this fall. The prices of those aren’t final, but like the iPad app at $6.99, they won’t be much, said Tamte.
To keep things simple, Projectbook doesn’t rely on an app ecosystem to add features. Instead, Projectbook tries to do everything someone planning a project could want: keep all your notes, reminders, calendar appointments, web clips, recordings, images, videos, outlines, meeting minutes and much more, in one place. It does plays well with other popular services too: you can import PDFs, links saved to Instapaper and Pocket, and anything from Microsoft Word or Dropbox. You can also forward any documents from other devices to your Projectbook notebook via email. The coming Mac version will also use Apple’s iCloud API, so documents can be created, edited and saved across iOS devices and Macs and be synced in the background. All documents opened in Projectbook can be read and indexed for searching within the app.
To use the app, most actions are initiated just by tapping or typing within a document. You can sketch on any item with a finger. If you’re taking meeting notes and you’re given a deadline, typing the time and date within the doc automatically makes an appointment. Taking notes in class and recording the lecture? Projectbook will keep track of how your notes sync with the recording so you can find your place later. You can also take photos, web clips or videos and embed them in a report or outline with just a few taps.
Creating organization out of chaos
Projectbook is intended to appeal to the disorganized among us: you don’t have to take time to set up folders or extensively tag your notes (though you can if you want). With the company’s own proprietary natural language processing technology — that Theory.io considers its secret sauce — Projectbook will create keywords based on your documents’ content for you.
When searching for a particular term, similar docs related to that term will appear in the results. The same is true if you tap on a particular folder or tag — the app will automatically suggest things that are similar. You can also turn a search term into a smart folder, then everything ever created that’s related to that keyword will always get saved there.
The idea of having an “active” notebook that learns about its contents just by simply adding stuff to it is very appealing. The less work an app or any technology requires on behalf of the user, the better it will be received, which is why I think Theory.io is onto something here. Plenty of people are already using Dropbox, Box, Evernote and other cloud-based services to store and access their notes and documents. But there’s so much more room for innovation in how we work on our mobile devices, and Projectbook is thinking from a user’s perspective: keeping things simple.