Dictating Text With Siri On The iPhone 4S

There has been a lot of talk about Siri, the “personal assistant” feature included with Apple’s new iPhone 4S. While much of that discussion has centered around seeing what responses you can get from Siri by asking it things like “What is the meaning of life?” or “Where is the best Thai restaurant?” – it also offers a very useful dictation feature, which works with any app that uses the standard iOS keyboard.

I wanted to see how Siri’s dictation feature could be used with Paperless, and it turns out that it can be used to quickly add items to a list. Here’s how:

First, open the list you want to add items to (a grocery list in this example), and tap the “+” button:

That will bring up the Add Item screen. Next, tap on the arrow…

… which will switch to the Import Items screen.

Now press the microphone button to start dictating, and say each item’s name along with the words “new line” in-between each one. For example, you might say:

“bread new line apples new line carrots”

(Saying “new line” to make a carriage return took me a few minutes to figure out, as I haven’t seen in mentioned elsewhere… not even in Apple’s iPhone User Guide.)

After you’re finished saying the items, press the Done button – and if all goes well you’ll end up with the text of each item on a separate line (as shown in the screenshot below).

Finally, press the Import button…

… and the items you dictated will be added to the list. Easy!

I think this feature will be very useful to a lot of people. Apple was very smart in adding Siri dictation to the standard iOS keyboard.

Paperless 2

UPDATE: Paperless 2 has been released, and is now available from the app store!

After 6 months of research and development, the biggest and best update to Paperless is finished. I’m very excited about the upcoming release, and think users will really appreciate the new features. I am submitting the update to the app store today – so, assuming it passes Apple’s approval process – it should be available in a week or two.

Here are the new features in Paperless 2.0:

“Universal” Goodness

Paperless 2 is a “universal” app, which means that it will have a proper full screen interface when run on an iPad. In fact, I think Paperless is an even better app on the iPad than it is on the iPhone/iPod Touch. This is partly due to the larger screen and keyboard, but is also thanks to Matt Gemmell’s brilliant MGSplitViewController, which enabled me to give the iPad interface some nice features:

  • Whether you’re in landscape or portrait orientation, your lists are shown on the left side of the screen. Individual list items are shown on the right.
  • In landscape orientation, there’s a draggable divider so you can resize sides as needed to show either more of your lists or more of the individual item.
  • In either orientation, there’s also a button that toggles full screen mode on/off – which could be useful if you’re writing a long note.
Paperless 2 on iPad in landscape
Paperless 2 on iPad in portrait

While I could have chosen to make a separate iPad app, and perhaps make more money from existing users, it just didn’t seem like the right thing to do. I personally don’t like having to buy an app twice (one version for each device), and it’s easier for me to work on Paperless as one app rather than have two separate versions to maintain. Perhaps I’m naive, but my hope is that having one “universal” app will be seen as a selling feature to new users, and be worth more than any income I might have made by charging for two separate versions.

Automatic Backup And Syncing Between Devices

Paperless 2 includes syncing via a free Dropbox account. If you have more than one iOS device, this feature will allow you to sync your lists between them. Since syncing was designed to happen automatically, you can just turn the feature on and forget about it. There is no sync button to press or any thought process involved in getting lists from one device to the other… it just works.

Even if you only have one iOS device, I still highly recommend using this feature as it automatically backs up your data. So, if your iPhone gets broken/lost/stolen/accidentally dropped in the toilet, you’ll be able to get your lists back.

Additionally, the Dropbox website allows you to “undelete” files, or even revert to a previous version of a file – which may come in handy if you accidentally delete a list from your device or need to get an earlier version of a list back.

For those of you who are curious about how the magic happens:

Syncing works by saving your lists as XML files in a “Paperless” folder on your Dropbox account. Each time you make a change to a list, its associated XML file on Dropbox is rewritten. If you switch to using a different device, it sees that there is a newer version of the XML file and downloads it to the device. Then it reads the XML file and updates your list to the newest version. It all happens very quickly and seamlessly.

Paperless checks to see if there are newer versions of lists when:

  • you launch the app
  • anytime the app becomes active (like if you had Paperless open, but it was interrupted by a phone call)
  • you tap on a list
  • you tap on a list item
  • you tap the previous/next button

I should also mention that I chose XML over plain text files due to needing to store information like the date items were completed, the icon associated with each list, etc. While some computer savvy users will find it easy enough to update their lists by editing the XML files on a desktop computer, that isn’t something I’m touting as a feature since there are a few issues like needing to write the “&” symbol as “&” in XML.

Seven New Themes

A little eye candy never hurts, and Paperless 2 has plenty of it. I’ve added 7 new themes in a variety of styles, and I think they look great (click to see a larger version):

Other New Features

  • There are now optional item count “badges” on the main screen, to show how many items are in each list (and for checklists, the number of items that need to be completed).
  • You can now email individual list items
  • There is a choice of font sizes
  • It now works properly when used with an external Bluetooth keyboard
  • Sorting list items alphabetically is now case insensitive (on iOS 4 and above)
  • Internally, Paperless has been completely rewritten to use Core Data for storing lists, which means faster performance for users with a large number of lists/items and better memory handling

Thank You

I’d also like to take a moment to express my extreme gratitude to anybody who has purchased Paperless or told their family and friends about it, to those of you who have left a nice rating and review in the app store, and to those who have provided useful feedback. Without your support, I wouldn’t be able to do this, so I really appreciate it. I hope you enjoy using the new version of Paperless as much as I’ve loved making it.

Paperless Versus ‘Getting Things Done’

By far the strongest and most divided reactions I’ve gotten to Paperless have been over the fact that there’s no way to assign dates to list items.

Paperless was never intended to be a time based task manager like one of the many “getting things done” clones. I’ve tried a few of those and always felt like I was wasting a lot of time assigning and changing due dates as my priorities changed. It interfered with staying focused and actually getting things done.

With the types of projects I typically work on, I can’t often tell ahead of time how long something will take – and trying to predict an exact date/time when something will be completed is difficult at best. I’ll often also think of new things I need to work on for a project – which, if I were using a date-based solution would require all the other tasks to be shifted back in time.

So, in Paperless I took advantage of the iPhones built in method for reordering items in a table, and turned it into a simple way to re-prioritize items in a checklist. If something is important, I place it at the top of the list… and other less important tasks are pushed down. It’s quick and easy, and keeps me focused on finishing tasks rather than managing tasks.

Of course, I think there’s room for both ways of managing ones time. A date based solution is definitely better for keeping track of appointments and scheduling meetings… but for keeping track of tasks in a project where your priorities can suddenly change, I think Paperless is tremendously useful.

I like the way these app store reviews summed it up:

★★★★★
“Perfect as it is – After having tried a good deal of apps to get myself more organised – both free and paid – it is clear that this tops them all. Other apps presented a kind of novelty; I could fool myself into thinking that I was more organised, but it was never long before I abandoned them because it was obvious that they consumed unnecessary time. Paperless, however, has truly helped. It is streamlined, it is simple, it is sumptuous. I, for one, hope that you DON’T add clutter such as due dates and priorities because those frills can be bought and fought with elsewhere.”

★★★★★
“Simple, flexible, easy to use, and a real bargain – I buy a lot of task and notes apps. Most of them. And I try most of the free ones too. But few are as well designed, as simple, and as useful as Paperless. This application looks great, is perfect for making lists of all kinds, is flexible enough for tracking downs, can optionally display check boxes. And once you’ve worked through a list and have checked all the items, you can easily delete them. In short, if you have need for lightweight task and notes app, Paperless is for you. But you can also use in the app in conjunction with a full featured app, the one that tends to take longer to load and use.”

Paperless So Far – The Apple App Store

NOTE: I originally posted this article as a guest author on Bob Walsh’s “47 Hats” website. I’m reposting it here for posterity.

In the article “How to be a successful iPhone developer“, Bob Walsh offered some thoughts on why apps succeed or fail. As a developer who has had an app in Apple’s app store for a few months now, I thought I’d add to the discussion with some hard data and thoughts on what I think I’ve done right, and what I could be doing better.

Ten months ago, I decided to learn to make an iPhone app because I wasn’t satisfied with any of the to do list and notes apps in the app store. All of the ones I tried were too complicated, or didn’t offer the features I wanted. So, I bought a couple of books and started learning objective-c and the iPhone programming API’s. It started off as an experiment, but I discovered that I really like developing software for the iOS platform.

In March I released my first app “Paperless“, which is used to make lists and checklists. My goal was to make it flexible and easy to use… something that just about anybody could find a use for. I’ll spare you the sales pitch though – if you want to find out more you can read about it on my website.

The first couple of months were slow in sales due to the fact that I didn’t have much time for marketing, but the people who did find it were generally very positive about it and provided good feedback. Over time I’ve made improvements based on that feedback, and my user base has grown steadily.

During May, I released “Paperless Lite”, a free version of the app to let people try it out before buying the full version. At the same time, I temporarily lowered the price of the full version to just $0.99 to generate more sales. Both of those things really helped, and after another small update 3 weeks later, I reached the number 3 spot in the Productivity category in the UK app store, and was doing okay in the U.S. app store as well.

User reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, and for most of July Paperless hovered around the #30 – #45 spot in the Productivity category in the U.S. At $1.99 per sale ($1.39 after Apple takes its 30 percent) that works out to around $100 – $150 a day. It’s not enough to meet my long term goal of being able to develop apps full time, but it’s a good start. A couple of Sundays ago, sales of my app brought in over $150 while I spent time with the family at the beach.

In the graphs below, you can see how offering the free version of Paperless helped to generate some sales – and how pricing adjustments have affected the number of sales and the income I’ve made. I can’t fully explain the first big spike on June 3rd. I released a new version then and that’s when it caught on in the UK. The popularity of it there only lasted a month, but luckily as sales in the UK dropped, sales in the U.S. picked up.

Paperless Sales
Paperless Revenue

What I’m Doing Right

Some people have said that the app store is like the lottery. That, in order to do well, you have to get lucky with Apple featuring your app or placing you in their “New and Noteworthy” or “Staff Favorites” category. While that would certainly help (a lot) – it isn’t something I’m relying on. What I AM doing is:

Trying to make apps that are functional, easy to use, and look great… it’s the Apple way and it’s what customers expect. Some apps try to do too much, which leads to a complicated and cluttered user interface. With Paperless, I think I’ve done a pretty good job at keeping it simple and attractive, while offering a lot of functionality.

Enjoying what I do, and creating things out of the love for doing it – not out of trying to make a quick buck. I care more about my product and my users experiences with it, than I do about making money. I figure that if I have a good product that people really find useful – then the money will come.

Listening and responding to customers needs. I have a “Feedback” button in my app so that people can easily email me if they need help or want to offer suggestions. I’m open with customers, and am genuinely interested in knowing what they think could be done better in Paperless – and they appreciate that.

Constantly making improvements. I know that Paperless isn’t perfect, and there are a few key features (landscape mode!) that need to be added. I have an FAQ to let customers know what features I plan on adding in a future release – or at least offer some reasoning behind why a specific feature isn’t there.

Creating a recognizable brand for myself, that people trust. A few customers have said they can’t wait to see what I come up with next. So, once I do make another app, I know that I’ll have some interest in it from the beginning.

Always learning new things. I’m constantly reading Apple’s documentation, iOS development books and watching video tutorials to try and expand my knowledge.

What I Could Do Better

So, those are the things I think I’m doing right – but what about things I could do better, or that I’m not doing at all? There aren’t enough hours in each day to do everything I would like, and here are the big things I’ve neglected:

The Cloud. Users don’t like their data stuck on one device. They want to be able to view and edit their information on their computer as well as their phone and possibly their iPad. Not every app needs this, but for something like Paperless the ability to sync and share information would be very useful. I’d love to build a web service that synced with Paperless, along with a Mac OS X app and an iPad version – but, as a one person shop doing this in my spare time, those things are going to take a while.

Localization. While my app is available for purchase in any of the Apple app store regions, I haven’t taken the time (or spent the money) to have features within the app translated to other languages. Translating it to the biggest 3 or 4 non-English speaking markets could potentially double my income.

Marketing. If I’m not relying on a featured spot by Apple, then the only way I’m going to gain more customers is by reaching out in other ways. I need to spend a lot more time letting people know about my app, and in a way that sets it apart from the hundreds of other list/todo/notes apps in the app store. With so many other developers vying for attention, it’s hard to get coverage for your app on many of the app review sites or tech related news sites. I’m going to have to find ways to reach outside of the online Apple community.

In Steve Jobs’ presentation on iOS4 in April, he stated that over 50 million iPhones had been sold. If you add the number of iPod Touches to that, it’s over 85 million. The 3 million iPads and 1.7 million iPhone 4’s bring the total of iOS devices out there to around 90 million. That’s a huge market, even if you consider that some people own more than one device.

If I sold Paperless at the current price of $1.99 to be installed on just one half of one percent of those devices, I’d make roughly $600,000 (before taxes).

Surely there must be a way? I’m working towards that, and feeling optimistic…