This week, Apple announced some exciting additions to their Notes app during the WWDC21 keynote.
Sure, it’s not on a par with Universal Control in macOS Monterey, the ability to watch and listen with others via SharePlay or the surprise emergence of iCloud+, but for me, any tweak to Notes is good news.
I’m a pretty inconsistent notetaker. I switch between digital and analogue constantly. As a result, my notes are, literally, all over the shop.
I’ve grown used to this, and it hasn’t really hampered me because I’m a short-term note-taking kinda guy; I rarely refer to notes taken months ago. This means their short shelf life needs an ultra-simple method of capture and review.
About 12 months ago, I made the switch from Evernote to Apple’s own Notes app for digital note-taking. This happened naturally, and I only realised recently that Notes had become my default app of choice for jotting stuff down.
Let me explain how this happened.
Why I stopped using Evernote
Evernote is a powerhouse. But that’s part of the problem.
Unless you’re particularly organised with your notes and want the ability to categorise, tag and file them to the nth degree, Evernote is absolute overkill. It has been developed past the point of a simple note-taking platform, in my opinion, and felt more cumbersome for my needs with every release.
There’s also the licensing. I love paying third-party developers for their apps, but they need to give me a reason to do so (ahem, Notion).
The problem with Evernote’s pricing is that the paid step-up from the free plan only includes one thing I’m interested in: syncing across unlimited devices (you can only sync two on their free tier, which isn’t enough for me). At £4.99 per month, it isn’t going to break the bank, but in the new world of low-cost software, it isn’t cheap, either. Annotating PDFs, searching for text inside Office docs, customisable templates and a 10GB monthly upload limit doesn’t excite me.
You also can’t access notes offline unless you pay that monthly fee, which is an odd piece of feature-crippling, in my book. And before you tell me off for not supporting third-party developers, I did pay for Evernote for a good two years – just for the device syncing.
I have nothing against Evernote – it’s a wonderful app. It’s just not for me. I needed something simpler, which is why I inadvertently found myself increasingly reaching for Apple Notes.
1. It’s uncluttered
I’m a big fan of simple app design. I love white space, limited controls and clear affordance. It’s why I recently switched back to Things from Omnifocus for to-do list duties.
Apple Notes consists of a pane on the left for your folders, the contents of the selected folder to the right, followed by the note itself. That’s it. The majority of controls are nestled neatly at the top of the screen, and they’re all pretty self-explanatory.
Part of the issue I had with Evernote was that the more capable it became, the harder it was to navigate. It’s easy to poke fun at some of Apple’s apps for being too dumbed-down, but when it comes to notes, I think that’s exactly the right approach.
2. It’s immediately accessible
Notes uses iCloud to sync everything between pretty much any Apple laptop, desktop computer or handheld device you have, and it’s the best I’ve found at doing so. It’s even accessible on most web browsers via the web version of iCloud.
iCloud had its issues with syncing at launch, but they appear to have been largely ironed out. I’ve never had a note disappear, conflict with another version or fail to sync entirely. It works, immediately, every single time. This makes a huge difference.
I can also pin the notes I need to refer to regularly (YouTube video description templates, brand colour HEX codes – that kinda thing). This isn’t unique to Notes, but it is well implemented.
Notes enables me to immediately dive in and use it, and that’s exactly how fleeting this sort of app should be during your day.
3. It has JUST the right feature set
One of the main reasons I used to give Notes a wide birth was because of the limited formatting options. It took Apple rather too long to improve this, but they have done exactly that.
For me, you can format notes just enough, and the fact it automatically creates a heading at the top of the note is both aesthetically pleasing, and a time saver.
It deals with copy and paste formatting pretty well, too. But my notes are nearly always plain text; I just need somewhere to bash in a few words; I’m not after Microsoft Word’s endless ribbon menus to turn my notes into works of art.
I can add tables, checklists, images and, if I want, share notes with others. That’s enough for me. I know you can dictate via Siri, export notes as PDFs and scan documents, but that’s beyond my use case.
It may also surprise you to hear that I don’t use Notes with the Apple Pencil. That’s the one area for me where it falls down a little; it feels far more tuned to drawing than note-taking with the Pencil, which is why I still use GoodNotes for the rare occasions I physically write on my iPad.
4. It’s ultra-secure
There are, essentially, two layers of security for Apple Notes. The first is biometric, in the form of either TouchID on my Mac or FaceID on my iPhone. You ain’t getting anywhere near my notes unless you have my finger or face to get into the device for starters.
The second is the ability to ‘lock’ notes with a password. I’ve done this with a couple that contain personal data I’d rather keep away from prying eyes. Once again, the implementation is perfectly straightforward.
I also know that, given Apple’s admirable stance on data privacy, it’s probably one of the most secure ways to keep my notes safe.
This brings me to the next point.
5. It doesn’t scare me
Apple devoted a significant portion of this year’s WWDC keynote to privacy. It runs through the company’s DNA; to Apple, privacy is a human right and something they’re deeply concerned about protecting.
Apple’s attempts at this are, sometimes – and almost entirely in my opinion only – rather too forcefully implemented, but you can’t deny that their stance is admirable.
This, combined with the fact that Apple is unlikely to disappear overnight, gives me ultra confidence that my notes are safe. I’m acutely aware that placing entire portions of my business within third-party apps is a risk. Notion is a great example of this; I love that app and the company behind it, but what if they cease to exist tomorrow or get hacked? What happens to my content plan then?
Apple Notes stores its data securely on both the devices I own and iCloud. No one else can see it. If Apple does disappear overnight, I’ll still have a local copy on my iPhone, Mac or iPad that’ll be accessible.
Notes really is the only app that doesn’t scare me in this regard, and there’s subsequently no reason at all to form some kind of backup plan just in case everything goes wrong.
What I’m looking forward to later this year
I mentioned earlier that I don’t currently use Notes with the Apple Pencil. That might change later this year when the new Quick Note feature is added to iPadOS.
A quick swipe up from the corner of your iPad will reveal a small, windowed note into which you can either type or physically write. This seems ideally suited to the latter, and now that I’m using the iPad more wholesomely as a photo editing tool, might be the one new feature that takes me away from GoodNotes.
This is the one thing that really caught my eye during WWDC’s Notes coverage. Tags, activity and the ability to mention people are less interesting, but nice little additions nonetheless. I just hope Apple keeps this slow pace of development with what is easily one of their best apps.
What’s your note-taking app of choice? Get involved in the comments!