Writing has become a big deal in recent years for Mac, iPhone, and iPad users. You can tell because the nature of the trend thanks to the dozens of notes apps, mini-word processors, text editors, word processors, distraction-free and minimalist word processors, outliners, to-do lists, and task managers that inundate the Mac and iOS App Stores.
My Mac is littered with nearly a dozen such apps as I’ve tried this one or that one in search of the perfect notes writing apps. It’s a funny thing but the one I’ve settled on– and by ‘settled’ I mean ‘use the most’– is the one Apple includes in OS X and iOS 9.x. It’s aptly named Notes.
You can spend plenty of money and get more features and a steeper learning curve, but if you’re interested in capturing notes, ideas, checklists, and tasks, and more– and you want it simple, usable, and pretty much everywhere, that’s what Notes does. For what it’s worth, the Notes in OS X El Capitan is not the Notes you remember from OS X or iOS in the past. This one actually is usable.
First, it syncs your notes via iCloud so whatever you create on one device or edit here shows up there on another device in a few minutes. Second, Notes is easy to use, typical Apple for intuitive interface. Click All iCloud in the lefthand sidebar and view a middle column of all your notes (and if you have plenty, use the search form in the upper right corner for a quicker way to find what you want). Notes can also be categorized in the lefthand sidebar in to folders. The righthand sidebar is the main writing area and this is where the new version of Notes becomes most useful.
Notes is good for, well, notes, yes, but also a place to write a chapter, create a checklist of items to-do and you can drop in website links, drag and drop photos, even add Maps locations. You can even draw on a Notes page. Draw. Also built in to Notes is the Attachments Browser which lets you view all kinds of items you’ve saved, visually, rather than trying to remember a date or keywords.
The simple addition of an extra pane in the three-pane interface adds much more usability to Notes because you can create folders to organize your notes, and each note can contain multiple file format items (aforementioned photos, checklists, to-do items, graphics, even PDFs, audio and video clips can be stored and viewed).
The toolbar across the top of Notes is straightforward and self explanatory (really good to adjust text and fonts, add a checklist, and view items in the Attachments Browser (which, also oddly, is a toggle button found nowhere else). So, lots of good in Notes and the price is right. Sync in iCloud, mini-word processor, checklist and to-do items, drawing and photos, and an option to organize notes into folders.
All good, right?
The problem begins when you begin using Notes heavily. There’s no way to sort items and the more you use Note the more you’ll need to organize items other than just a pile of folders. That brings up another issue. Sharing. Syncing between devices is mandatory but sharing should be easier. It works OK via Mail and Messages, but Pocket shows up as an extension but nothing gets saved because there’s no link to a note in Notes. Oddly, there is a Sharing option inside Notes to share a note with, uh, um, Notes itself (also share a note with Reminders, which is handy; but Sharing options also include Fantastical but not Calendar and not to AirDrop to share a note with other iOS or Mac users).
Apple has added more useful features to Notes, which is good, but once you start using Notes more then you want more of the features contained in other third party Notes-like apps. This seems typical of Apple and it may be exactly how Apple helps the app industry by providing users with a basic application good for the masses, but which helps stimulate the development of other apps which do more.