The worst part about Kno is probably its name. Pronounced like "no" or "know," it is frustratingly hard to talk about with someone who is not familiar with it:
"Do you know what Kno is?"
"No: Kno, K-N-O."
"No, I mean I haven't tried Kno. I don't know what Kno is, no."
If you're a college student, and you don't yet know what Kno is, then maybe you should get to...maybe you should become acquainted with it. Kno is a free app for iPad that can be used for reading digital textbooks and taking notes in them. The developers at Kno have rolled out a new release for the iPad and their own website with several excellent new features that are sure to make many college students rethink navigating the campus bookstore; the fact that all of your textbooks and the notes you take are now available from any device via the web and your Facebook account, together with improved note-taking features in the app itself, make Kno one of the most impressive arguments to ditch your backpack for a tablet on the market today. After flirting with making its own "educational tablet" for some time, the Kno team has settled on making software, and the decision seems to have paid off.
Click through the slideshow below to view screenshots of the new Kno app and to see exactly what it is that makes the updated Kno such a compelling way to read your textbooks on a computer screen:
The front screen of the Kno iPad App is your course manager, where all of your textbooks can be dragged and organized into the classes you're taking, and all of the classes you're taking can be dragged and organized by semester.
Kno has negotiated licensing contracts with the major publishers, making their textbooks available for 30 to 50 percent cheaper than the heavy physical copies. A company spokesperson told me Kno was able to do this for two reasons: First, not having to print on paper saves the textbook company money, and second, Kno is apparently taking a small financial hit so that the price points for its digital texts would be more attractive to students who would rather buy used books and try to get back money by re-selling. Books are available in the Kno store and are attached to an account, so they can be viewed from any device with a student's username and password. Any PDF downloaded online can also be uploaded into the Kno app.
The ability to download textbooks and view them on your tablet, while cool and doubtlessly good for your back, are nothing without a useful way to interact with them. This is where Kno excels. Kno comes with all of the standard features you would expect from an eReader app: in-app dictionary and web lookup for text, the ability to pinch to zoom, a search function for text within the book. And here's a view of the app at work with two more mundane features: The sticky note and the highlighter, which comes in several colors for your color-coded note-taking pleasure. A spokesperson for Kno told me that he thought these features were a good start, but not powerful enough to convince readers to abandon physical books. That's why, he says, Kno has taken these standard features and presented them in its journal in a way that he believes makes Kno stand apart.
Though all of your highlights and notes are laid out for you in most eReader apps, Kno does so in a very visual and complete way with a separate journal panel for each book. When you swipe to the right, you pull up your journal; swiping back to the left returns you to the book. In this screenshot, you can see the Journal feature, which shows the page the material was culled from, the text that you've highlighted, a sticky note you've written, and an image that you need to remember. The journal is presented as one long vertical vertical scroll of notes, though it is also searchable by text or chapter from the main book view. Each student's journal is also automatically synced to the web, so it can be viewed from any device.
For those that study and memorize diagrams, Kno has a feature that makes viewing its in-book images much simpler. Double tapping on any image enlarges it and makes it pop out from the page, turning down the lights on all of the surrounding material as well. Here, a malignant tumor is spotlighted.
Perhaps the most forward-thinking feature of the Kno app is Quiz Me. Still in beta but available on the latest release, when you double click an image that has text accompanying it, you can click a "Quiz Me" button that puts little black bars over all of the labels and challenges you to match up those labels with their images. Kno believes this will eliminate the need to buy flashcards, and also covering up little portions of text with your pointer finger when you try to quiz yourself.
Along with these updates to its iPad app, Kno has also announced Facebook and web integration for all of its materials. Any book you purchase through Kno, and any notes you take using the Kno reader, will be synced online, meaning that you can read your books and your notes from any device that's hooked up to the Internet (including on non-iPad tablets). The Facebook integration also comes with a sharing feature: Kno hopes that, because teens are always on Facebook anyway, they will read their books there and ask each other questions about their texts, forming a Study Group 2.0 on what is already one of the world's most popular websites for college students.