Index cards are an easy and inexpensive way to make sense out of chaos within the writing process. Writers can spread cards out on the floor or pin them to bulletin boards. Each card represents an idea, chapter, or scene, and writers can reorganize cards until the work makes sense. Unfortunately, there’s no computer slot for index cards, and the stack of brilliant ideas must be transcribed into a digital form.
Index Card by DenVog attempts to bring all of the benefits of physical cards to the iPad screen. The app lets users populate a digital bulletin board with index cards, reorganize, and write until they’re satisfied with their creation. Instead of transcribing ideas, Index Card lets the user export them into a text editor of their choice.
Can any simulated experience provide the same thrill as playing a writer’s version of 52 Pickup?
Index Card uses a digital bulletin board as the canvas for projects, and index cards are pinned to the board along with labels, stickers and thumbtacks. Card stacks are held together with metal clips, in a way reminiscent of Merlin Mann’s infamous Hipster PDA.
The extensive use of the bulletin board theme is polarizing, and users will probably find themselves liking or hating the design, with few users in between. There are several other themes to choose from, but they feel unfinished. I would love to use the iOS canvas theme, but the theme removes the digital paper textures in favor of blank text fields that feel awkward and poorly positioned.
Unfortunately, the app graphics and buttons have not been fully updated to take advantage of the new iPad’s display, but the app’s text is sharp, so this isn’t a deal breaker. The fancy paper textures are simple background images, so text scrolls while paper lines remain stationary. This breaks the experience, and scrolling feels clumsy.
It takes some time to understand the index card structure. Cards have titles, and the body of the card is meant for the synopsis of the chapter, scene, or topic that the card represents. It would be overwhelming to type an entire chapter on an index card, so Index Card provides an optional long text field. If the text field is enabled, the index card is minimized in the editing window and a blank piece of paper takes center stage. This is much more practical for typing longer pieces, but there’s no fullscreen view for the body, and the tiny text field feels cramped.
Each index card comes with a section for notes, which can be accessed by tapping the note arrow in the card editing window. The notes field is different than the long text field, which can be confusing. It’s much more convenient to type on the notes page, because the note page offers a much larger canvas than the edit window, and the text isn’t crammed underneath cards and stickers. It seems that having a synopsis, long text field and notes field is redundant. The long text field is turned off by default, but it would be nice if there was also an option for replacing the notes field with the long text field.
The note arrow turns blue to indicate the presence of a note.
Index cards can also be labeled with 14 different colors. This makes it easy to organize cards by color code and can be useful for things such as labeling finished chapters or scenes. Users can also choose whether or not they want each individual index card to be included in the draft.
Swipe left or right in the edit window to change to the next or previous card.
There are three ways to view projects in Index Card: cork board, outline, and column view.
Cork board view is similar to a tile view, where individual cards show the card contents, and stacked cards are held together with a clip. The column view separates stacks of cards into columns, where they can easily be dragged between columns or reordered. The outline view ditches the card metaphor and creates a text outline from card contents. This view is useful for pulling cards together into a rough draft.
Tap on the title of a stack in the titlebar to rename it.
Index Card offers many options for rearranging ideas. Long press and drag a card to change its position in the tile view or drag it between stacks in the column view. Tap the edit button to select cards for stacking and unstacking. Cards can even be duplicated or moved to different projects. It isn’t possible to drag cards on top of one another to create or add to a stack, but overall the rearrangement system is very robust.
Extended keyboards rows are popular additions in many popular iOS apps, and Index Card also includes an additional row of useful keys. The extended keyboard provides word and symbol cursor controls, undo/redo, popular punctuation, new slide creation, and forward delete. Unfortunately, the app doesn’t auto close quotations marks or enclose highlighted words. Overall, the extended keys are useful, and the extra row has a minimal screen footprint.
The exporting options in Index Card are fairly basic. The app supports iTunes file sharing, email sharing, and Dropbox export, which is mediocre at best. Users can export files from Index Card to Dropbox, but the app is incapable of browsing Dropbox to import files directly. This means that users must rely on apps like Dropbox or ReaddleDocs to find the Index Card file and open it in Index Card. This system is slow and makes transferring work between the iPad and iPhone versions of Index Card painful. This is exacerbated by a complete lack of iCloud support. Fortunately, Scrivener syncs with Index Card, so owners of Scrivener may have less syncing issues to deal with.
Index Card’s preview feature is a saving grace from its lackluster Dropbox support. The app can create an RTF or TXT preview which can be printed directly from the app or opened in any applications that support these files. This means that users can create their modular work in Index Card, arrange until satisfied, and export a TXT file into Byword, or any other editor, and complete their final draft. This export works well, but it would be even better if it was possible to export cards without the synopsis, since the title and body text are probably the only content that will make it into the final draft.
There are two main areas where Index Card suffers, syncing and design. The app desperately needs improved syncing capabilities. The new iPhone version of Index Card is strong out of the gate, but the lack of true syncing makes transitioning across devices a pain. It’s only been a few weeks since the iPhone version’s release, so hopefully DenVog has something up its sleeve. The app also needs some Retina love and alternative theme improvement. Addressing these two main issues would make Index Card irresistible.
Despite these shortcomings, there’s simply no easier way to organize index cards without pulling out a physical deck, and physical cards are nowhere near this powerful. Users can build up ideas from a simple set of cards into complex outlines. The modular card approach makes it easy to rearrange ideas, something invaluable to writers, and the text export leaves users just two clicks away from a text editor of their choice. The strong set of creation and organizational features makes Index Card an easy sell to anyone who’s looking to digitize their card creation process with the iPad.
A few days before this article’s publication, the developers of Index Card released an important update that addressed several of the article’s biggest criticisms. The app has been fully updated to take advantage of the new iPad’s Retina display, and users can now open Index Card files directly from the Index Card folder in Dropbox.
Index Card is a unique writing app that focusses on idea collection and organization. Users can record their ideas on digital index cards, arrange these cards into stacks, and organize the structure of their work. Once the organization is complete, works can be previewed and exported for further development in a text editor.8