Posts tagged with "Notes"

Obsidian’s Importer Plugin Lets You Move Your Apple Notes to Any Note-Taking App That Supports Markdown

As Club MacStories members know, I’ve been spending time the past few weeks decluttering my digital life and setting up systems so it’s harder for things to come undone again. One of my strategies to make life easier for ‘future me’ is to minimize the number of places I store things.

For notes and articles I write, that means Obsidian. In the past, I’ve resisted putting every text file in Obsidian because the app’s file management tools haven’t always been the best. Part of that historical weakness is undoubtedly the result of Obsidian’s emphasis on linking between documents. Fortunately, Obsidian’s folder and file management tools have come a long way. Paired with Omnisearch, a powerful third-party search plugin, I’ve overcome my hesitation and gone all in with Obsidian as an editor and text storage solution. So, when I heard that Obsidian’s open-source import tool had been updated to work with Apple Notes, I thought I’d export some of my notes to Obsidian to get a feel for how well it works.

The Importer plugin.

The Importer plugin.

Apple Notes doesn’t have an export option. Instead, as Obsidian’s blog post on the Importer plugin update explains, it stores your notes in a local SQLite database. The format isn’t documented, but the developers of the plugin were able to reverse-engineer it to allow users to move notes and their attachments out of Notes and into two folders: one with Markdown versions of your notes and the other with the files attached to your notes. The folder with your notes includes subfolders that match any folders you set up in Notes, too.

Importer is an Obsidian plugin that can be downloaded and installed from the Community Plugins section of Obsidian’s settings. The Importer’s UI can be opened using the command ‘Importer: Open Importer,’ which gives you options of where to save your imported notes, along with options to include recently deleted notes and omit the first line of a note, which Obsidian will use to name the note instead. Click the Import button, and the plugin does its thing. That’s all there is to it.

When you run Importer, it requires you to confirm where your Notes are stored, which is easy because the plugin takes you there itself.

When you run Importer, it requires you to confirm where your Notes are stored, which is easy because the plugin takes you there itself.

I ran Importer twice to see how well it worked in practice. The first time was on a set of more than 400 notes, many of which hadn’t been touched in years. The import process was fast, but it failed on 36 notes, and it wasn’t clear from the plugin’s interface whether that caused it to get stuck part of the way through or if the plugin just skipped those notes. I don’t know why some of my notes failed to import, but the results weren’t too bad for an undocumented file format of an app with no official export feature.

Importer isn't perfect but it's close enough given my large collection of old, rarely touched notes.

Importer isn’t perfect but it’s close enough given my large collection of old, rarely touched notes.

The import process is non-destructive, meaning it doesn’t delete the notes in Apple Notes. I took advantage of this by deleting everything I’d just imported into Obsidian. Then, I went back to Notes and cleaned them up a bit, deleting old notes I didn’t need anymore and reducing the total note count to 149. I re-ran Importer, and this time, I got no errors. I haven’t checked every note, but based on a spot check, the import process looks like it was successful.

The end result of using Importer is a folder of Apple Notes and related subfolders, plus a folder of attachments.

The end result of using Importer is a folder of Apple Notes and related subfolders, plus a folder of attachments.

One limitation of Obsidian’s Importer plugin is that it requires you to use the Obsidian app. However, the beauty of plain text is that once you have a folder full of Markdown files, you can use them with any app that supports Markdown, so it’s a tool worth considering whether you’re an Obsidian true believer or not.

That said, I don’t intend to abandon Apple Notes completely. It was easy to move a bunch of reference notes to Obsidian, where they’ll be easier to use alongside other notes. However, Obsidian’s Achilles heel is its lack of a workable system for collaboration. Until there’s a fast, secure, and simple way to share and edit notes with others, I’ll still use Apple Notes’ sharing feature. For everything else, I’m in deep with Obsidian because the portability and flexibility of plain text combined with a rich selection of third-party plugins make it the best tool for the sort of work I do.


macOS Sonoma: The MacStories Review

In one sense, the story of this year’s macOS update is that there is no story, but that’s not exactly right. Instead, it’s a bunch of stories. It’s the tail end of the realignment of macOS with Apple’s other OSes that began with macOS Catalina in 2019. However, Sonoma is also part of a work-at-home story accelerated by COVID-19. The OS is also linked to the story of visionOS, only part of which has been revealed. Sonoma is a bundle of narrative threads built on the foundation of past releases, adding up to a collection of updates that will be less disruptive for most Mac users than recent macOS updates. Instead, Sonoma is packed with a variety of useful new features that help draw it closer to iPadOS and iOS than ever before, design enhancements, and a few disappointing omissions.

The timing for a more modest macOS update is right. In recent years, Mac users have had to adjust to substantial redesigns of everything from their favorite system apps to the Finder’s windows and toolbars. The changes were inescapable and necessary to harmonize the Mac with Apple’s other products, but also disruptive for some long-time users.

Sonoma adds a vast collection of new wallpaper and screensaver options.

Sonoma adds a vast collection of new wallpaper and screensaver options.

With macOS Sonoma, the biggest design shifts seem to be behind us – at least for the time being. Interactive widgets on the desktop are a big change this year, but it’s not like macOS dumps a bunch of them on your desktop by default. If you never want to see a widget anywhere near your desktop, you don’t have to. Other than the subtle way the login screen has changed and the new screensavers and wallpapers that are available, the core macOS experience has barely changed.

Instead, this year’s update is primarily about refining and building upon the foundation of the past few years, coupled with a handful of more significant updates to system apps. So, while the marquee features and design changes may be less notable than in recent years, there is still a long list of new and refreshed items that touch nearly every aspect of the OS, so let’s dive in.

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WWDC 2023: Notes and Reminders to Gain Significant Productivity Features This Fall

Source: Apple.

Source: Apple.

Every WWDC, I look forward to what Apple’s Notes and Reminders teams have in store for the next version of the company’s OSes. Notes debuted with the iPhone itself, and Reminders wasn’t too far behind. All these years later, both apps remain actively developed, and in recent years have significantly extended their capabilities, adding new features that remain approachable for all users but also extend further to meet the needs of people who want something more.

Let’s take a look at the highlights of what both apps have in store for users in the fall.

Notes

Notes will add several new features this fall, including PDF tools, linking, new formatting, and Pages integration.

Probably the most extensive set of new features coming to Notes is related to PDF documents. With the update, you’ll be able to read and annotate PDFs and collaborate on documents with others. When you drop a PDF into Notes, it can be navigated by swiping from page to page or by displaying a strip of thumbnails above the current page. All of the markup tools available in Notes can be used to draw and type on a PDF, add shapes to it, or sign it. Notes will be able to detect fields in a PDF, so you can fill out forms with an enhanced version of AutoFill using data from the Contacts app too.

Users will also be able to collaborate in real-time when editing PDFs by sharing a note with others. As you draw, annotate, type on, or add stickers to a shared PDF, Apple says the changes will appear immediately on your collaborator’s device.

Source: Apple.

Source: Apple.

Also coming to Notes are a couple of new ways to add links. You can select text and add a hyperlink to a website, but you can also link to existing notes. I love this feature. It doesn’t automatically add backlinks to the source note the way an app like Obsidian does, but you can do that manually if you’d like, and I expect one-way linking is plenty for most users. With the new internal linking, users will be able to create tables of contents for related notes and split what might otherwise be a long note into linked sections, making the content easier to navigate and read.

Finally, Notes will add Pages compatibility in the fall. If you begin a document in Notes, you’ll be able to open it in Pages to take advantage of Pages’ more extensive set of styling tools. That will allow you to do things like use more fonts, resize graphics incorporate video, and more.

I’m excited about the updates coming to Notes. PDFs are at the heart of a lot of workflows. I don’t use them as frequently as I used to, but students, teachers, lawyers, and many others who depend on PDFs as a core part of their work, should get a much more robust solution for adding them to their note-taking setup with Notes this fall.

I’m also impressed by Notes’ addition of internal linking to other notes. The update should allow for vastly better organization of information in Notes. I’m envisioning it as a solution for our internal documentation needs at MacStories, along with project management and a lot more. I’ve used Notes for that sort of thing before, but once a note reached a certain length, it became hard to manage, especially on smaller devices. With internal linking, I expect that will be a thing of the past.

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Creating Lock Screen Widgets for Specific Notes via the Apple Notes URL Scheme

All I wanted was a widget.

All I wanted was a widget.

A few days ago, as I was playing around with my Lock Screen on iOS 16, I wondered: would it be possible to use the hidden Apple Notes URL scheme to create widget launchers to reopen specific notes in the Notes app?

That led me down a fascinating rabbit hole filled with hidden Shortcuts tricks and discoveries I thought would be useful to document on MacStories for everyone to see.

You know, for posterity.

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Fast Capture with Quick Note for iPad and Mac: The MacStories Overview

When I’m researching, speed is essential. Whether I’m planning a family trip or preparing to write a story like this one, the first step is research, which starts with collecting information. This stage is almost always a speed run for me, no matter the context. That’s because the goal is collecting. Reading, thinking, organizing, and planning come later.

There is an endless number of apps and automations for collecting information, but I’ve always found that the best options are the lightest weight. You don’t need to fire up a word processor to collect links, images, and text, for example. By the same token, though, a plain text editor doesn’t always fit the bill either, reducing links to raw URLs and often not handling images at all. Moreover, the notes you take are completely divorced from their source, losing important context about why you saved something.

This fall, when iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey are released, Notes will gain a new feature called Quick Note that’s designed to handle this exact scenario. Quick Note can be summoned immediately in a wide variety of ways on both platforms, and your notes are stored where they can be easily found again. Best of all, notes can be linked to their source material in apps that support NSUserActivity, a virtual Swiss Army Knife API that enables a long list of functionality across Apple’s devices.

Notes needs work to make it easier to get the information you gather with Quick Note out of the app, but already, there is a long list of apps that support the feature thanks to the wide use of NSUserActivity among developers. Some years, Apple introduces interesting new features that I hope will take off, but there’s a lag because they’re based on new technologies that developers don’t or can’t support right away due to compatibility issues with older OS versions. Quick Note isn’t like that. Even during the beta period, it works with apps I use that haven’t done anything to support it. As a result, I expect we’ll see many developers support Quick Note this fall.

Although Quick Note already works well on the iPad and Mac, there’s still more Apple can do to make it more useful. Chief among the feature’s drawbacks is that its capture functionality is nowhere to be found on the iPhone, which is disappointing. There are also many built-in system apps that would benefit from the sort of tight integration with Quick Note that Safari has implemented but don’t yet.

Let’s take a closer look.

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