I revisited the iPad mini on my YouTube channel recently and revealed why it remains a great buy in 2022. In fact, it is still Apple’s most interesting iPad, despite the fact we’ve been ‘treated’ to new devices in that range this year.
Combined with the second-generation Apple Pencil and a Paperlike, the iPad mini is a beast of a tablet.
For me, it’s mainly a digital note-taker, and I’ve been flitting between Notability for written notes and Apple Notes for my second brain. That is, until now, because there’s one feature I’d completely overlooked in Apple Notes which has prompted me to completely ditch Notability.
Harsh? Possibly. Questionable? Definitely.
Let me explain.
An easily overlooked feature
When you use the Apple Pencil to write a new note in Apple Notes, the app will use some AI trickery to ‘read’ the first line you write and automatically turn it into the Note’s title. That title is what you see within the list of notes.
With Notes undertaking the job of creating the title for you, there is no need to manually type in a note title alongside your scribblings. It is blindingly simple, obvious, seemingly foolproof, and utterly brilliant.
Notability doesn’t do this; you have to remember to type in a title for your note or leave it as the nondescript default (which can be customised, but will be the same each time, minus the date and time stamp). This has always frustrated me and resulted in far too many notes missing meaningful titles.
This Notes feature has prompted me to remove Notability from my iPad mini dock and go all-in on Apple Notes.
Sometimes, it really is the simple stuff that matters.
Why this matters
Although I’m not the most organised person you’ll ever meet, I do like to maintain some kind of order within my digital life. It’s why I don’t leave files and folders strewn across my desktop and why I’ve invested time recently in pairing down my iPad Air productivity setup.
When it comes to note taking, 2022 will go down as the year during which I learned the benefits of keeping everything as organised as possible. What used to be a mess of incoherent scribbles, references, and random meeting notes, is now neatly and intelligently filed away in my second brain (more on that in a moment).
Key to this is the aforementioned note title. Without a clear heading that can be picked out easily among a sea of other notes, an important idea, plan, or checklist could be lost forever.
It all comes down to time (or the lack of it). My written notes typically only happen off-the-cuff and during calls. That means I don’t really have time to write the contents of the note and remember to manually add a coherent note title. The fact that Apple does the job for me saves time and solves the problem of disorderly written notes.
All I have to do is remember to treat that first written line as a note heading – simple!
The potential problem
I know what you’re thinking – by ditching Notability, I’m working myself even more comprehensively into the depths of Apple’s walled garden.
You’re totally right. But this is how they ‘get’ you, and I hold my hands up – Tim and co. are frustratingly smart at wrapping their fingers around customers and refusing to let go.
This tiny Notes feature is all that was needed to wed me completely to Apple’s note taking app. And it’s unlikely I’ll switch apps anytime soon, given just how well Notes integrates with every Apple device I own and the brilliant handoff features I rely on each day to get stuff done.
This is a problem. I’m aware of the perils of becoming too invested in one brand. The challenge is that the choices I’m making result in time saved, higher levels of productivity, and increased user satisfaction. I can’t really ignore that.
It’s frustrating. I don’t really like my reliance on Apple when I think about it too deeply. However, I’m not sure what the solution is at the moment.
The importance of my second brain
I’ve mentioned my ‘second brain’ a couple of times in this post, and I’m conscious that I should perhaps elaborate.
If you’re not aware, the second brain is a concept developed – or, at least, popularised – by a chap called Tiago Forte in his brilliant book Building a Second Brain.
The idea is that, rather than creating a bunch of disorganised notes you completely forget exist and consequently to which you never refer in the future, you instead build a personal knowledge base. This is far easier than it sounds, thanks to Forte’s methodology, which encourages you to collect, organise, distil, and express the ideas, thoughts, meeting notes, and snippets of information you encounter every day.
This approach has completely changed the way I take notes. I now have a bunch of folders in Apple Notes into which I place the stuff I don’t want to forget. New notes are entered automatically into the default ‘Notes’ folder, which I triage every Friday, thus reminding myself of the stuff I’ve jotted down each week and giving me the opportunity to file away each note into an appropriate folder for future reference.
The fact that my handwritten notes now reside within Apple Notes by default (previously I’d have to remember to export them from Notability) has, once again, saved a huge amount of time and ensures my second brain is as comprehensive as it should be.
Some Apple Notes feature requests
Apple Notes is far from perfect. Although it has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, there are still a few areas in which I’d like to see improvements.
I’m not a Notes power user but the following feature requests are currently the only missing pieces of the jigsaw that could one day tempt me out of Apple’s walled garden and into a competing product:
- Internal linking. Often, I find myself wanting to link to a note I’ve created previously in order to gradually build a network of interconnected thoughts and ideas. Unfortunately, there’s no way to internally reference another note within Apple Notes.
- Better implantation of hashtags. I don’t quite understand Apple’s thinking when it comes to the use of hashtags in Notes. If you add a hash before a word, Notes treats it as a tag, which consequently appears at the bottom of the Notes home screen. It’s messy and doesn’t appear to offer any organisational benefit. It’s also a nightmare if you happen to occasionally write in markdown.
- Improved organisation. Part of the reason I use Apple Notes for my second brain is because of its simplicity; I don’t want my note taking to be hampered by the elaborate feature sets found in apps like Evernote. But creating and organising folders in Notes is rather fiddly (for instance, why don’t they automatically organise themselves alphabetically?).
- Better external sharing. Apple provides a number of ways to share notes, but each one requires the recipient to be just as welded into the Apple ecosystem as the author. What I want is the ability to share a web version of any note which simply reveals the note (in either read-only or editable format) within any web browser, without the need to log into to anything.
I don’t think those are big requests, are they? Let’s hope we see some more Notes progress at WWDC next year (or maybe I really will have to look beyond Apple’s walled garden).
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Hey Mark, Great article thanks for this. I am more and more using Apple’s standard apps. Bi-Directional Linking is a dream of mine as well for AN but in the meantime I’m using tags. Not close to BDL really but if I have time and I’m in a curious mood, searching by tags has been pretty useful.
Hi Bill, take a look at Hookmark (https://hookproductivity.com). It does a decent job of linking things; not quite to the level you mention but better than nothing. It’s also available as part of SetApp if you are a subscriber to them. I’m not associated with either by the way! Just a desperate user looking for linking!
What are your thoughts on Apple Notes vs. Evernote?