Meet the Developers: Justin of Ginger Labs

Today’s interview is with Justin Brock of Ginger Labs, the makers of Notability. We’ll learn a little about the Ginger Labs team and what motivates them!

We love the developers that produce the amazing software we review, and hopefully this will be a great way for you to meet the names and faces behind the apps that you use every day!

I hope you enjoy it!

Tell us a little about the team at Ginger Labs, how many of you are there, where are you based?

Ginger Labs is based in Palo Alto, CA, and we are currently a team of 7. We all live in the Bay Area except for one who resides in San Diego. The team includes three computer engineers, one marketer, two graphic designers, and the founder.

What made you want to create Notability in the first instance, are you an avid note-taker?

The idea for Notability was developed during a meeting at Apple in early February 2010. We had just shipped soundAMP 2.0 and Apple had just announced iPad. We were deciding what to do next. We discussed various ways we could re-use soundAMP’s sound and recording technologies in new apps. We landed on the idea that customers might want a note taker on iPad that automatically linked typed notes to audio recordings. We thought it would be great when reviewing notes to simply tap the word you typed and hear what was said at that instant.

All of us at Ginger Labs are avid note takers, yet we each take notes in a different way and this fact is what has helped shape Notability to accommodate everyone’s individual note-taking style.

What is your background in, how long have you been developing for iOS?

The company was founded in November of 2008 by Fred Mitchell. He has 30 years experience in the software industry. The rest of team is comprised of passionate individuals early in their careers who are excited to design and develop apps that truly help people on a daily basis. We have been developing for iOS since January 2009, and shipped our first app, soundAMP, in June 2009.

What do you think about the future of the iPad in education?

We believe the iPads will become an integral part of the educational experience and will continue to push the boundaries of how we learn. We hear from our customers everyday how much they love Notability; from these customer interactions, we believe half of our customers are involved in education, either as students or as faculty members, while the other half is involved in business, as professionals in a variety of fields.

Additionally, we are in contact with dozens of universities and K-12 school districts regarding iPad pilot programs, some of whom are now selecting Notability as their note taker of choice for the fall program.

Do you think schools will move to buy iPads, or is it more useful for College students?

iPads are being purchased at all levels in the education market, from K-12 school districts to universities. From each, we hear how iPad helps facilitate a better educational experience.

In your opinion, will the iPad lead to genuinely better grades and understanding?

We believe the iPad will lead to an increase in learning potential across the board. Professors and schools districts alike are running iPad pilot programs that show very positive results towards student learning and the capacity for teachers to reach all students equally.

There has been some concern over the cost of iPads in education, parents have objected to school funding being used on the technology – is this justified?

Currently, many of iPad pilot programs are beginning to provide evidence supporting an overall cost reduction. While there is an initial cost associated with iPads, the reduced costs of textbooks, computers, teaching materials, and other school necessities, is well worth the early adoption of this technology.

Notability is part of a rapidly growing selection of apps designed with education in mind.

What kind of response has Notability had among teachers and students?

The response from teachers and students is simple: they love Notability! From one university that is adopting Notability: “Basically it was a fairly simple decision. The faculty I provided with the app found it user friendly. They liked that it could run in background and keep recording and the ability to have media, web clips, etc. Finally they liked that it can be used with Dropbox which is their preferred sharing/backup mechanism.”

We hear daily from both students and teachers how grades are improving and how this app is helping to reshape how they work.

Does the announcement regarding iOS 5 have any impact on Notability, will you be taking advantage of any of the new features?

Yes, we expect to take advantage of the new capabilities of iOS 5 in future releases of Notability.

If you could go back in time and give yourself a single piece of advice from your experience of developing an app for the iPad, what would it be?

Make version 1 simple, with a narrowly defined feature set. This fact is something we neglected to do with Notability 1 when we launched it in April 2010, and which we greatly improved in Notability 2 in October 2010, and in the 8 updates since then.

Thanks for taking the time out to chat to us!

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and experience with us. If you have any questions that you would like us to pose to developers in future interviews then leave a comment on this post! Is there something you’d really like to know?


  • wvit

    Hello, I love your app very much and use it quite a lot for both meeting, self study and journaling. You include almost everything into one package.

    However, I do have one question, how can I delete thing in Figure. I means suppose I draw a picture there and want to delete one line, etc. how can I do that, I can’t find the eraser tool. Oh, one more thing, why do it always start with gray ink?

    Anyway, love this great app very much.

  • matt

    Version 3 looks nothing like the photos above, and infact is quite awful. I have emailed the developer my feedback and have been ignored, so i posted to the Facebook page, and my post was deleted.

    The new Aqua/candified interface of v3 makes the app look like something most suitable to a 5 year old’s xylophone, circa OSX 10.0

    I appreciate that one can change the colours, but the whole candy interface is still an eyesore (as compared to refined, subtle, classy and mature textured tan leather look of version 2. Even the app icon has changed from leather book to candy blue). The file browser names are much bigger font (and cannot be changed) and the bubbles around each folder are massive. I don’t need a fluorescent yellow cartoon/icon next to each subject group, surrounded my fluorescent yellow highlighting with fat psychedelic colours around it. Each item now resembles the windows7 start menu.

    Furthermore the forced page breaks are a disaster also, they cannot be disabled, I have been happily storing documents that i had written in macjournal, and exported to RTFD.  They have a combination of pictures and text, your forced page breaks are a disaster to my photos, I can only fit 2 photos per page, and the next photo cannot follow (across a page break) hence the text is messed up, and the photos are all messed up (and cannot be resited across hard page breaks).

    Do not update to version 3 !

    • Joel Bankhead

      I’m sorry to hear that! I noticed that the icon had changed recently but didn’t realise such a massive upheaval was in the works.

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