Categories: Business / Mobile Apps


There are probably a bunch of things you love about your favorite mobile app. But one of them is bound to be that it’s easier than performing a given task with pen and paper.

The “pen and paper” test is about the most basic test an app needs to pass to be of value. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, not always.

Let’s take a look at why apps sometimes come in second-best to a simple jotted-down solution.

It’s hard to capture a complex workflow that spans multiple actors

It's hard to make a mobile app simpler than this.

It’s hard to make a mobile app simpler than this.

Netflix has just launched an app to help handle production development tasks. But one of the challenges here is flexibility. Such an app needs to span hugely disparate tasks including scheduling, budgeting and crew management. You’ve got complex workflows all involving complex different groups of people who need updates and documentation ASAP.

Is it easier to type all of this information into a mobile app, or just pop it onto a whiteboard? Time will tell.

Sometimes simple can’t get any simpler

There are thousands of to-do apps out there. And with good reason: a to-do app is a simple thing to write, right? Sure, but so’s a to-do list. And therein lies the problem with to-do apps. What’s easier: typing a to-do list into your phone, or jotting it down on a post-it note or piece of paper?

It’s not that mobile app developers haven’t cracked the secret of the perfect to-do app (well, sometimes it is). It’s that Pen and Paper 1.0 is still working just fine.

Pen and paper gives you visual space a mobile app can’t beat

Sometimes you need space to spread out.

Sometimes you need space to spread out.

If you’re storyboarding, brainstorming or pulling together a map, a tiny screen is a tough sell. These tasks are spatial by nature – they represent a macro view of a situation. Where apps are great for helping us out at the micro level, sometimes you need to be able to take a step back and really see your work spread out across an entire wall. We don’t anticipate butcher’s paper and Sharpies vanishing any time soon.

Not all contexts are smartphone friendly

There’s no shortage of workout tracking apps out there. And yet you’ll see plenty of gym bros (and gals) carrying notebooks around with them. The gym, just like many other contexts, just isn’t smartphone friendly. You risk damaging your phone, it’s awkward to turn it on and enter data between every set, and it’s hard to share that data if needed. Pen and paper is definitely a winner in contexts involving movement, physical activity and other phone-endangering variables.

Occasionally we just like to do things our own way

Sure, dev teams and optimize and validate flows until they’re perfect. But there’s always going to be some sort of compromise involved for users. Apps require us to approach a task in a particular way and by following a set sequence. Sometimes that’s fine – but sometimes it’s not. There’s a reason there are dozens of project management and team collaboration apps out there. Sometimes people just have different ways of going about things – and sometimes an app becomes restrictive rather than freeing.

Pen and paper may be old school, but there are plenty of situations where it still has an edge over the app world. Of course, as input and output becomes more seamless and apps become more flexible and personalized, we may end up capping those pens once and for all.

Have an idea you think passes the pen and paper test? Get in touch!



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Touchtap is a mobile development agency specializing in mobile development. Learn how to get mobile applications developed.

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