Overview of the Notes App
It has been awhile since I last posted, so I am going to jump right back into things and write about one on the most used apps on my iPad: Notes!
Notes is one of the core apps included in with iOS so it is a free app and that is always a selling point for me. If you have not downloaded a copy of the Apple iPad User Guide for iOS 5.1 I highly recommend that you do so. Beside being a very good manual on how to get the most out of your iPad and the latest operating system, I found that I learned a couple of tidbits about the Notes app that I was not aware of and I have used the app for over two years. I have included a link to the User Guide at the end of this post. It is a free ebook and I keep a copy ready for reference in my iBook app.
So what is the Notes app? Well basically it is a text only application that makes capturing notes and ideas very easy. The app has a full text search capability that allows you to enter in your search criteria and the text in every document in Notes is searched. The results are displayed for your use.
The app also supports Spotlight searches that can be initiated by going to the iPad home screen and swipping to the right. This swiping action displays the Spotlight search function.
In addition, when using the iCloud capabilities of iOS, the individual note files on your iPad become available on your other iOS devices and Mac computers. Notes you make on your desktop or iPhone become available on your iPad.
The app is currently “text only”, but with each update of the OS the app is becoming more capable. For example, changes introduced in the Mountain Lion version of Notes on the desktop support inserting pictures into a Notes document. The picture is not visible on the iOS device, but I am betting that in iOS 6 we will gain the ability to view pictures within the individual note files on the iPad. That will make this app even more capable and nicer and more powerful to use as a day to day text editor.
Once you have created a document in Notes there are a couple of ways that you can share your documents. The app allows export of the text using the email app or the document can be printing using the an Airplay capable printer.
You can also select the entire document and paste the text into another app that supports cut and paste operations. This may seem limited, but I find it useful in support of my workflow on the iPad.
How I Use Notes
Notes supports a basic workflow that I use for capturing ideas. For example, the app is great as a quick way to capture ideas as I am listening to podcasts, reading documents from the web or watching television. The app fully supports cut and paste allowing capture of information from a web site or pdf very easy. The search capability allows me to easily go back and find this information when I am ready to use it.
In addition, I use the app as a way to capture my daily writing tasks. Later I will open these notes and copy and paste the text into my desktop MacJournal application. Once I am finished with an individual Notes document I delete it from the Notes app. I also use Notes to capture ideas that I will then email to my work account to capture tasks or ideas that I will implement at work on Windows machines.
I also store short notes such as quotes or inspirational readings that I enjoy periodically reviewing. Every few weeks I go through my notes and delete files that I no longer need.
I recently started using Apple’s iCloud service after upgrading to Mountain Lion on my iMac. I am very happy with this capability! I love the way my notes are automatically synched between devices. When I first started using iCloud I had a little problem with duplicate notes, but once I cleaned up the database (by deleting the dupes), I have not had any issues. iCloud works in the background and it is a wonderful feature of the program. I find iCloud to be much easier to use than DropBox, but I recognize that each of these programs support my work flows in different ways. I need both for now.
There are a number of strengths to this app. For one it is a native app that is part of iOS. This means it will be supported by Apple and I don’t have to worry about it suddenly being dropped by a developer.
It also has iCloud synching. So far I have found no significant issues with iCloud and I am looking forward to improvements that Apple will be making to this new service. I am especially eager to see an upgrade to iCloud that would allow a web browser interface to my notes. For details on how to set Notes up to utilize iCloud see the Users Guide and the Apple Support article that I have listed at the end of this post.
Another strength is the search capability, within the app you can do a full text search of all notes. I routinely maintain almost 200 notes and I find this search capability very useful.
You can also do full text search by going to the iPad Home page, flicking to the right and using iOS Spotlight. Using this method to search will also conduct searches of all other Spotlight capable apps on the device. This is similar to how Spotlight searches are conducted on a desktop computer.
In the app you are limited to a choice of three fonts, to change fonts go to the Settings App, scroll down to the Notes section and tap, and then select one of the fonts.
I have noticed that if you change the font, all your notes will be changed to the font you have selected. This is not a big deal to me, but can be a little confusing as older notes that were written using a different font suddenly change.
The Notes app does not synch to other web based services. There is no Dropbox sharing in Notes. With only iCloud synching you are able to utilize the documents you have created in Notes only on Apple products and not on other platforms or through the web. This may may change as iCloud matures, but is currently a limitation compared to other apps that are available.
The capability to export your documents is also limited. You can currently only email a note or print it, you cannot export the note as a plain text file to other apps, but you can copy and paste the text into other apps. I consider this a minor inconvenience.
Comparing Notes to Other Note Taking Apps
Notes may not be for you, it is a simple app that lacks features found in other apps. I find it very useful for my work flows, but each of us have different needs. If you are interested in learning about other note taking apps available for iOS I suggest taking a look at the link to Bret Terpsta’s website that is provided at the end of this post. The site has assembled a detailed document that compares a slew of note taking apps available on iOS devices. The list provides details of features you may find of interest. In reviewing this site, I found it interesting that Notes is not one of the entries!
Important aspects of these note taking apps highlighted in this list include;
(1) built-in TextExpander support,
(2) import of Markdown and Multimarkdown files, and
(3) synchronizes to the Cloud or to Dropbox.
In my work flow, I utilize other apps to provide these capabilities, I will be exploring the apps I use in later posts!
iPad User Guide for iOS 5.1
Brett Terpstra spread sheet of iOS text apps
Why I Use Plaintext
Apple Support article iOS: Synching Notes