Index Card: Single-Purpose, Desktop-Class Productivity on Your iPhone

Every time I open Index Card for iPhone, I feel a little intimidated. That’s because it’s a different breed than the regular app; Index Card feels like a single-purpose, desktop-class productivity app. If you’re like me and you’re used to littering your wall with post-it notes or covering a cork board with actual index cards but wish you could make this part of your life a little more digital, it’s going to take you ten seconds to see Index Card as a godsend app.

If you’re not like me, you might take a little more convincing than that. That’s alright. I’m traditionally wary of making my pen-and-paper practices digital, but Index Card really does fill in a need for me that helps me look a little more sane whenever I start plotting out my latest story ideas. The only thing my post-it covered wall ever got me was a bunch of questioning looks from guests and a public display of my most secret ideas.

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Diving Into the App

I don’t always say this, but thank God for tutorials! For anybody who has used the iPad version of the app (which is not universal and sells separately), the iPhone version is a great simplification. Once you get settled in and quickly read through the tutorial (it won’t take longer than a couple minutes), you should be good to go.

The main screen is a list of your projects (I've hidden some of mine for privacy).

The main screen is a list of your projects (I’ve hidden some of mine for privacy).

Setting up a project is as easy as tapping the + button, and then creating a new index card is done in the same manner within the project. It’s as easy as typing in a title, description and changing the colour to let important things stand out. When I structure my stories, instead of writing in capital letters like I would with post-its, I just use red to indicate a new act within the app. You can also edit the order of your index cards with just a tap on the Edit button within the project, which is really handy.

The front of an index card.

The front of an index card.

Flipping your iPhone into a landscape position allows you to go through index cards visually, sort of like the real thing. Tapping on an index card flips it over to reveal any notes. In truth, I’m not sure how often I’ll use the feature, but anybody who loves Cover Flow in the Music app will love this. (I do feel that the index cards shoudl really fill up the entire screen in landscape mode, though.) It really feels like time was spent considering how people would use this app on their phones. The iPad version of the app is definitely built for a tablet and has a few additional features that are better-suited for a big screen (and those features come at a slightly heftier price tag), but the iPhone app is about getting your ideas down and organized as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The back of the same index card, accessible with a tap.

The back of the same index card, accessible with a tap.

The key here is simple: For me, writing in the app was faster and more convenient than posting information all over my wall. But all of that would mean nothing if the app didn’t integrate with other products we already used.

Easy Integration With Your Digital Life

Index Card doesn’t ship with iCloud, but it does save changes as you go. Tapping the share button lets you send the project to iTunes, email it, copy it to Dropbox (changes don’t create duplicates; they update the file), or duplicate it if you’re about to make a lot of crazy changes. And you can either share the Index Card file (which is proprietary and used only in the Index Cards app, handy for work across multiple devices), RTF, or TXT. The RTF files look particularly good, and I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to print them out and use them as references for any of my work. And the great thing about having TXT functionality is that you’re almost guaranteed never to lose your work that way — computers have been able to read TXT files forever, and will likely stay that way. That means that if you ever ditch the app or your phone (assuming you make some quick TXT backups of your work), you’re probably never going to lose any of it in your lifetime.

It's really easy to bulk edit or change the order of your cards on the fly.

It’s really easy to bulk edit or change the order of your cards on the fly.

There is no Index Card app for Windows or Mac, but it does integrate with Scrivener. Scrivener is one of my favourite desktop writing programs, and since it doesn’t have a mobile app (yet), Index Card will have to do a bit of that work. And it does it well. I haven’t encountered any seams or wrinkles in the process yet. I’m just delighted to have an app that finally syncs with Scrivener. The magic happens via Dropbox, of course.

Index Card’s Uses

My uses are different than what many people’s will be, but I do feel that Index Card can be a creative tool in many areas. As a university student, I love the idea of studying with index cards — I used to do it all the time. I’m not sure that Index Card is perfectly suited for it, but it can easily be turned into an incredible flashcard app. The landscape mode is perfect for it.

Adding or editing an index card is really easy.

Adding or editing an index card is really easy.

The best part about Index Card is that just about anything you can think of writing down on a real-world card can be done here, and probably done better. I use Evernote on a daily basis, but Index Card is by far a better app for plotting out a structured idea. It’s also a much better app than Evernote Peek (which is iPad exclusive) for studying, if only because tapping the screen to flip a card is a lot easier (and faster) than slowly lifting up a Smart Cover to reveal the answer (which feels more like a novelty gimmick).

Final Thoughts

Despite the learning curve (which I feel is heavier in the iPad app), Index Card for iPhone quickly becomes intuitive. It’s my favourite app of this sort on the App Store, and at this point, I consider it an essential tool in my workflow. It’s a perfect companion to Scrivener and a great way to structure stories. I highly recommend it to anybody looking to take their paper workflow and make it digital.


Summary

If you use physical index cards and are looking to de-clutter that part of your life, Index Card for iPhone is a must-buy.

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