Penman: Speak your notes

Penman is an iOS notes app with the power of Speech To Text. Here’s the story of how and why Penman was born:

Sobhan Eskandari
Design + Sketch
Published in
7 min readOct 10, 2018

Checkout Penman V2 with cool new iOS13 features:

Who are we :

Penman is the first collaborative project between myself, Sobhan Eskandari and my fiancé @MohadeseRaoufi.
Creating apps has always been a passion of ours, what’s driven us is the fact that apps can have such an impact on peoples lives.

We’ve been creating apps for the last 5 years, and despite both of us working full time as developers; in order to “make it” financially, we needed big projects like Penman to tackle during off time. Although finances played a role in our motivation to develop the app, the enjoyment we get out of creating, developing, designing and implementing have far out weighed the income potential of a project like this.

Our previous app Speech Calculator (deprecated now) was released three years ago and was downloaded more than 250k times. This was impressive for us at the time, and the feedback that we got was amazing.

A few years later we decided to create another Speech To Text app but this time, a Note app.

Note taking has become a part of our daily lives, there’s always something to jot down. Be it an idea, shopping list, a “to do” or any random thought that comes to mind.

Writing your ideas down or spending a few seconds typing isn’t always the most convenient, or even possible for some of us with vision, or motor function altering disabilities.

That’s where we come in, Penman takes the work out of typing and writing; we’ve developed an app that is accessible to all individuals and a better alternative to the note app you’re currently using.

So What’s Penman ? 🤷‍️

With Penman, you can literally have the best of both worlds : note taking and speech to text.
Here’s just some of the features we have to offer:

Tell your story

With the power of Googles speech to text software, you can seamlessly convert your words to notes and write in over 120 different languages! Just start it and tell your story. Here is the list of all the supported languages (more than 120) :

Write your story

We have implemented a powerful text editor that pens your thoughts into text easily and in a way that is visually stunning. Additionally, our app supports bidirectional writing as well as a number of features that you can take advantage of during the process of turning your speech into convertible text.

Stay Organized

You can categorize, group and coordinate your notebooks in an order that flows seamlessly and cohesively. Moving through your ideas, lists and stories in a way that fits your lifestyle.

Stay Synced

With the power of iCloud, all of your notes are saved and synced with your iCloud account where you can access them across all of your devices.

Stay Secure

As you write your story we use iCloud to save your notes so they are always safe and up to date.

Stay Global

Using Penman, you can convert your working file into the following formats:

  • PDF
  • TXT
  • Image
  • Html

How we made it:

It all started after a strong cup of coffee, me and my fiancé Mohadese were sitting in the car pouring out ideas on our vision of the app. She did most of the sketching and I did most of the coffee drinking, in the end, she came up with these incredible mockups that we later used in drawing up our final draft of the app :D.

We started out with a general idea about a speech to text note taking app. We decided to do some digging in the Appstore and (came up with interesting results). We must have downloaded many apps related to note taking, read hundreds of user generated reviews, and analyzed the trend concerning consumer interest and opinion.

Throughout our research we came to conclude that there were two kinds of note taking apps.

Apps with great note taking features like Bear (we personally love these guys), iWriter, Zoho Notebooks. These apps are great in note taking but lack the STT (Speech-to-Text) feature. On the other hand, there were STT apps like iSpeech or Speech-To-Text but these are barebones apps only useful in transcribing speech to text with no note taking capabilities. After working with all of these apps, we were more determined than ever to develop Penman.

After finishing the design of MVP, we used the prototyping feature in Sketch to create an interactive model converting our drawings on paper to Sketch UI that contributed to the final modeling of the app. We must have shown these early UI sketches to a hundred people, it was our first priority to build the app around our users rather than our users around us. This is what got us to our desks early in the morning and kept us there long into the night. After that, it became a process of trial and error in terms of picking the very best framework for the app in regards to design.

The transition from paper drafts to a complete prototype in Sketch took almost 3 months. It could have been done way faster but me and my fiancé are full time developers.

Currently, we are finalizing the app and it will be available in less than a month. For now, you can pre-order the app from the Appstore. This is a free app, so don’t worry about being charged when its released.

Let’s get technical 👨‍💻:

We’ve been coding Penman for the last 4 months and from the beginning we had no doubt that we are going to code in swift .There were a number of challenges in the developmental process but the biggest one, that we’re still working on today, is to make Syncing with CloudKit possible.

Sync failure and data loss is a serious concern and information loss is an unacceptable fate. This is why our sync and save platform is done through Steam3 library, which so far has quieted most if not all of our concerns in relation data loss and sync failure. Despite our confidence in the framework we have in place, we are open to new ideas; so if you have any ideas or suggestions. Shoot us an email, we’d love to hear from you.

Speech To Text:

The main qualifier of the app is STT, and thanks to Googles API this has been a breeze in the development stage. Not to mention, the costs are relatively fair in terms of the market.

At the moment, Googles API supports 120 languages and accents. I can almost say that there is no language that they don’t cover which makes the whole process that much more accessible for our users.

Where we heading with Penman :

We have a lot of great plans for the future of Penman; for one, we want to put more focus on the accessibility aspect of Penman such that people lacking fluid motor functions can use their phones text-to-speech functions to the fullest extent possible.

Last words:

Designing Penman was among our first professional endeavors. We have a track record of design experience but seldom has it been this comprehensive. Throughout the process of design, we relied on the feedback that we got from our peers and the traditional pen to paper drafting process. The benefit of the former is self-explanatory but in terms of the latter; we found that efficiency increased and idealistic interpretation was better conveyed this way.

These 2 resources gave us perspective on what direction to move in. We all have ideas and opinions but until you put pen to paper, those thoughts are fruitless. I, for the longest time, didn’t view myself as a designer; there’s a myriad of technical literature that I still need to cover in order to perfect the craft. Although, I’ve found that when It comes to understanding the trade, nothing beats simply going out and doing.

🎉 Give Away 🎉

So we’re not some million dollar company with tons of money to spend on advertising. Instead, we’re focusing on small ad-campaigns and word of mouth. Help us spread the word and as a thank you, we’ll give the first 100 users who retweet this tweet: discount codes to unlock some of the amazing premium features of Penman.

Download Link 🤞:


For those of you interested in beta testing versions of the app. Contact me on twitter @sobhanes or shoot me an email directly to



Sobhan Eskandari
Design + Sketch

iOS Developer former Frontend and Android Developer