Like the best origin stories, this article comes from humble beginnings. A few weeks ago, I had the idea of adapting my shortcut to save webpage selections from Safari (see Weekly 151, 152, and 153) to make it work with Keep It rather than a JSON file. Simple enough, right? Given a text selection in Safari, I wanted to see if I could create a shortcut to append rich text to an existing document in Keep It without launching the app.
As Club MacStories members know, Keep It is the app I've been using for the past several months to hold my research material, which played an essential role in the making of my iOS 12 review (see Issues 135 and 144) of MacStories Weekly). But then I remembered that Keep It's integration with Shortcuts was limited to URL schemes and that the app did not offer Siri shortcuts to append content to existing notes1. That was the beginning of a note-taking vision quest that culminated in this column, even though I'm not sure I reached the destination I was originally seeking.
Evernote is still alive. The popular note-taking app celebrated its tenth birthday last summer, but the last few of those years haven't been easy, with two CEO transitions and sizable layoffs at several points. Still, the core product keeps pushing forward.
I last reviewed Evernote in early 2017, when version 8 of its iOS app launched as a major redesign. I concluded then that one of the service's greatest strengths, particularly when compared with competitors like Apple Notes, is that Evernote strives to be more than just a note-taking app. It's a solid way to take notes, but it also aims to make those notes easily accessible, to create connections between notes, and ultimately serve as a valuable aid to productivity.
Though Evernote has retained a large user base all these years later, and in fact became cash flow positive nearly two years ago, there are a lot of former users who left the service long ago and haven't looked back. Personally, while I've kept an eye on Evernote over the years, I never put its recent updates to the test – until recently, that is, when I set out to revisit the popular note-taker.
As part of checking back in on Evernote, there were three core features I wanted to focus on evaluating: Templates, Context, and Dark Mode. These are some of the major developments Evernote has touted in its last few years of work, and they make for an interesting case study on the company's future direction.
Evernote has a long and storied history. It once reigned as king of note-taking services, successfully blossoming in an increasingly mobile world. But as the service grew larger, it became a less efficient tool for the core task of viewing and creating notes. New features and tangential apps added over time created bloat and became distractions. For a time, there weren't many worthwhile alternatives for Apple users to explore. That changed in June 2015, when Apple introduced a revamped Notes app for iOS and macOS.
I'd been unhappy with the clunky state of Evernote at the time iOS 9's Notes was unveiled. My experience with Notes in the past had been frustrated by poor syncing that led to data loss on multiple occasions. But what Apple demonstrated with Notes' overhaul looked promising, and I gave it a shot.
Notes has kept me satisfied since its big update, and I know many people are in the same boat. But Evernote recently launched version 8 of its iOS app, which led me to give that service another try.
In general, Evernote has taken a cleaner, simpler approach to the app's design. The tab bar along the bottom of the app features a prominent plus button for adding a new note. Pressing and holding that button gives users the option to record audio, capture images, and create reminders. Evernote has also added new ways to format the text of notes with colors and other choices.
Navigation has been improved too. What was the home screen, has been eliminated. Instead, Evernote launches to wherever you left off the last time you used it. Features like notebooks, tags, and reminders are still available but have been tucked away in the UI so they are less prominent, creating a less distracting experience overall.
Although I have not had an opportunity to thoroughly test the update, I am encouraged by Evernote’s renewed focus on note taking. The redesign is a good start, but the company has a long way to go to win back the trust of many users based on feedback we’ve gotten from MacStories readers. For those interested, David Pierce has a great piece on Wired covering Evernote’s recent missteps, where it hopes to take its product, and the ongoing challenges it faces. How Evernote addresses its past missteps and communicates the changes it’s made to users will be just as critical to its future as the redesign released today.
Reading through the article, three things stand out to me: I like his attitude; they don't need to raise more money; and, they seem to realize Work Chat hasn't been a success.
So let’s talk about business. Evernote invested significantly in a feature called Work Chat, which allows for collaboration around individual notes. But it doesn’t seem like the company has gotten much of a foothold. How will you tackle the business market? Should we expect the company will orient itself more toward collaboration uses?
No. It’s important to not try to be all things to all people. You have Slack, you have Hipchat. That’s a well-served market. Let’s just politely say, collaboration and chat is well served. So I don’t see it as, we need to try to do everything. If we do well with frictionless capture of ideas, and world-class search and retrieval, I think we can partner with a lot of other players.
I want to believe there's still hope for Evernote.
Today Microsoft announced a new Evernote importer app that lets you bring your Evernote data into its excellent OneNote application. If you’ve been thinking of leaving Evernote—especially if you’re already paying for Office 365, so you’re paying for OneNote—it’s worth considering.
Unfortunately, the tool currently only runs on Windows. Typical Microsoft. Fortunately, a Mac version is on the way “in the coming months.”
First Apple, now Microsoft. I wonder if Evernote is starting to regret adding the export option.
(I also wonder how much these import solutions are going to impact Evernote, and if they'll decide to turn exporting off eventually.)
Mikey Campbell, writing for AppleInsider, reports on the upcoming update to Notes on OS X 10.11.4, which is set to bring support for native Evernote imports:
The new Evernote compatibility comes as part of Apple's Notes buildout, a project that most recently resulted in substantial feature upgrades on iOS 9 and OS X last year. Adding to a rich in-app note-taking toolset, .enex file support means enhanced flexibility for those invested in Evernote's platform. […]
Apple marketing VP Brian Croll mentioned the forthcoming Mac feature in an interview with Japanese publication PC User, saying Evernote "capture" support would arrive for OS X Notes "soon." The report was spotted Mac Otakara on Monday.
I just tried it on my MacBook Air running the latest beta seed of 10.11.4 released earlier today, and it worked like a charm. I exported a handful of notes from Evernote, each containing rich text formatting (links, lists, fonts with different sizes and colors, inline images, etc.) and, despite it being a beta, the results were very good. The app displays an alert warning the user that notes may not look the same once imported – some formatting will always be lost in the transition from one proprietary platform to another – but, as a start, this should be more than enough to move everything out of Evernote without having to use scripts or other workarounds (you can import multiple .enex files at once, of course).
This is going to be an important addition for those who are thinking about moving from Evernote to Notes. I did last summer, and I continue to be impressed by the simplicity and functionality of Notes on iOS 9.
With a blog post published today, Evernote has announced they'll end support for various versions of Skitch (including iOS), Clearly, and Evernote for Pebble. Skitch for Mac will continue to receive support.
Specifically this means that as of today, we will no longer be making updates to these apps and as of January 22, they’ll no longer be available for download.
If you currently use any of these apps, you’ll find that they may continue to work for some time beyond January. We are not turning these apps “off,” but external changes like updates to your operating system or browser may break features or functionality at any point in the future.
Alternote for the Mac is like Evernote for the Mac, done right. It dumps many of Evernote’s advanced “features,” focusing on note-taking and note-using instead. If you ever get frustrated by Evernote’s bloat, Alternote is your answer.
Best of all, it runs on Evernote’s back end, so you lose nothing by trying it out, and it automatically integrates with all your other Evernote tools. Read more