Looking for the best note-taking app for iPad? The iPad is a huge gamechanger for making note-taking more streamlined and accessible— If I had to pick a single device that changed my note taking and personal knowledge management habits, I’d have to say it would be the iPad. But trying to sort through all the note taking apps for iPad, and choose the best one, can feel a bit daunting.
In this post, we’ll quickly cover the benefits of taking paperless notes on an iPad (if you’re not already convinced), discuss the pros and cons of taking typed versus handwritten notes on the iPad, and finally go through a roundup of the best apps for note taking and personal knowledge management available on the iPad in 2023.
Benefits of taking notes on an iPad
Lightweight and portable
Carrying around an iPad is generally lighter and easier than bringing along a full laptop. In addition to being lightweight, portable, and easy to carry, iPads have quite lengthy battery lives (which means you can count on being able to take notes for extended periods of time without worrying about running out of power midway through).
Effortlessly integrate real-world multimedia into your notes
If you’re taking notes in class or in a group brainstorming session, it’s generally quite seamless to snap a photo of the whiteboard or lecture slides with your iPad and integrate it into your notes.
Stylus (aka Apple Pencil) support
The Apple Pencil lets you take detailed notes by marking up a diagram or sketching out your own mind map on the fly. It’s perfect for annotating slides, marking up images, and highlighting text.
Easy cloud-based sync
The iPad is well set up to let you sync your notes with cloud storage options like iCloud or Dropbox, making it simple to seamlessly access your notes across all your devices.
Many note-taking apps for iPad include advanced optical character recognition (OCR), so that you can search for specific words or phrases within images and handwriting. Many iPad note-taking apps also include handwriting recognition, so can convert your handwriting into typed text.
Note taking on an iPad: handwritten or typed?
Wondering whether it’s better to handwrite your notes on your iPad or type them? The answer is… it depends on how you plan to use your notes.
The benefits of taking typed notes on an iPad
When you take typed notes on an iPad (using the built-in screen keyboard or an external keyboard), it’s extremely easy to search and organize typed notes at the present and in the future. When you type your notes, you can embed keywords to easily search and find specific information down the road, creating future-proof notes.
You can also easily copy and paste information from your notes into another format— an email, a Google doc, or a PowerPoint presentation. It’s easy to save your notes in the cloud and access them from multiple devices (especially if you choose to use a Markdown-compatible note taking app).
If you’re planning to share your notes with others— whether in a school or professional setting— typed notes make it easy to share and collaborate on a project together. It’s simple to share typed notes via email or cloud-based sync with fellow team members working together on a project or assignment… and no one has to struggle to read someone else’s handwriting.
The benefits of taking handwritten notes on an iPad
Handwritten notes also have their own unique advantages. Some studies have suggested that handwriting with a digital pen on a tablet helps improve memory and retention.
When you handwrite your notes, it’s easier to make them more personalised and creative: you can use different colours, shapes, and diagrams to help organize and retain information in a way that works for your brain. If aesthetics matter to you and help you organize information, a digital bullet journal you create on your tablet can be very effective.
Some people find that handwriting notes (whether on paper or on a tablet) is less distracting than typing— when handwriting notes, you might feel it’s easier to stay engaged with the material instead of being tempted to click over to your inbox instead.
The best note taking apps for iPad
The best note taking apps for iPad for linear (typed) notes
These linear notes apps (aka typed notes apps for iPad) let you efficiently take outliner-style, typed notes on the iPad. Using these apps will let you quickly take typed notes that you can easily back up to the cloud and share with team-mates and other apps. You can also seamlessly copy and paste from your typed notes apps into your email, documents, or other file types.
Apple Notes is a built-in note-taking app for iPad that offers a simple and easy-to-use interface. It allows for the creation of text, image, and audio notes and the organization of notes in folders. Apple Notes comes free with all iPads, and offers a streamlined, minimalist note taking environment that effortlessly syncs with your Macbook and iPad via iCloud.
Bear is a versatile and easy-to-use note-taking app for iPad that lets you organize your notes using nested tags. It supports Markdown formatting and has a variety of export options, making it great for writers, students, and professionals. Bear offers a variety of customizable themes and typography options, and provides a focus mode for a distraction-free writing experience.
Craft is a professional writing app for iPad that provides a clean, distraction-free interface and advanced tools for organizing and editing text. It offers a variety of templates, styles, and export options, making it perfect for writers and professionals working on reports, proposals, and other documents. Additionally, it allows for collaboration with other users in real-time, making it great for team projects.
Beautiful, minimalist, cross-platform, Markdown-compatible– Craft Docs is a strong contender if you want to take notes on your iPad while also having access via your web browser.
Obsidian is a powerful note-taking and knowledge management app for iPad that uses a local-first, plain-text, markdown-based system for organizing and linking notes. It allows for easy creation and linking of notes, creating a network of interconnected ideas and information. Obsidian also has an advanced search function and supports local folders, making it perfect for researchers and writers.
Ulysses is a feature-rich writing app for iPad that offers a minimalistic, distraction-free interface, advanced organizational tools and a wide range of export options. The app is designed for all types of writers, from bloggers to novelists, and is perfect for long-form writing projects. Ulysses offers a variety of features that make it easy to write, edit and organize text.
The best note taking apps for iPad for layout (handwritten) notes
These layout notes apps (aka handwritten notes apps for iPad) let you take advantage of the Apple Pencil’s drawing and sketching functionality. These are perfect for taking handwritten aesthetic notes, and for marking up documents and annotating images/PDFs on the iPad.
CollaNote is a free note taking app, developed by a student for students.
Note down, shape, & share your ideas with the world's best loved digital paper. Always find what you wrote. Thanks to handwriting recognition and OCR technology, your entire library of digital notes is searchable.
This "PDF with superpowers" app describes themselves as better than paper.
Nebo is a note-taking app for iPad that uses advanced handwriting recognition technology to convert handwritten notes to typed text. It also allows for the creation of diagrams, graphs, and mathematical equations. It's perfect for students and professionals who prefer to take notes by hand.
Their promise? "Take smarter, more beautiful notes with the only app that makes handwriting as powerful as typed text."
An easy learning curve, with powerful features under the hood. From their site: "Powerful enough for industry leaders, yet simple enough for a five-year-old to figure out uninstructed." Features include presentation mode, smooth digital ink, and audio note capture.
This smooth note-taking app is designed especially for iPad Pro and Apple Pencil (including optimized pressure and palm rejection). You can make notes, mark up PDFs, sign documents, and sketch out ideas. You can import and export in various file formats, including Excel, Pages, PDF, PowerPoint, Word, and RTF.
Create beautiful handwritten notes, sketch your ideas, record audio, and organize your notes. Noteshelf lets you take notes, record audio, markup PDFs, and add photos and sketches to your notes.
MarginNote is an iPad app that lets you take and organize notes, highlights, and annotations for PDFs and ebooks. It has built-in study tools like flashcards and review mode to with learning and and retaining information. It also has an integrated dictionary and thesaurus, to help support students and researchers.
OneNote is a note-taking app for iPad by Microsoft that allows users to take notes, organize them, and share them with others. It supports typed, written, and recorded notes, as well as the ability to embed images, audio, and web content. It also syncs seamlessly with the OneNote app on other devices and platforms.
Penultimate by Evernote
Penultimate is the digital handwriting app for iPad from Evernote that combines the natural experience of pen and paper with power of Evernote’s sync and search features. You can draw and handwrite, then have your own writing converted to searchable text by built-in OCR.
PDF Expert is a powerful PDF editor for iPad by Readdle. It allows users to annotate, edit, and sign PDFs, fill out forms, and even merge PDFs. It has a built-in document scanner, and allows for easy file transfer between apps and cloud storage services. It is a great tool for professionals, students, and anyone who works with PDFs frequently.
Whink lets you create beautiful notes via handwriting or typing. You can makr up PDFs, add audio, shapes, and photos. Organize your ideas into notebooks, and import slides to annotate.
ZoomNotes is a note-taking app for iPad that allows you to take notes and organize them using a unique zooming interface. It allows for typed, written, and recorded notes. You can also annotate PDFs, DOCs, and PPTs, sync to iCloud, and use split screen to view and edit.
TLDR; here's the quick roundup to help you find what you're looking for:
The best typed note taking apps for iPad
The best handwritten notes apps for iPad
- Notepad +
- Penultimate by Evernote
- PDF Expert
Not sure the best way to organize your notes? Try the Calmer Notes method
I hope that you found a promising app or two to help you take notes and build a personal knowledge management system on your iPad.
If you're ready to take things to the next level, you might enjoy these articles on personal knowledge management;
- Stop searching for the "perfect" note taking app-- start thinking about systems instead
- Want to build a better personal knowledge management system? Ask yourself this one question (that changes everything)
- How to build a personal knowledge management system: the ultimate guide
Wishing you all the best on your personal knowledge management journey!
Calmer Notes: Mindful Personal Knowledge Management for Curious Thinkers
This self-paced course will give you a tailored, personalized framework to build an organized system to manage your notes and ideas.