I started with Notational Velocity on the desktop synced to Dropbox as my solution. There was a brief flirtation with Simplenote. I like to support friends and people I respect, and that’s where Karbon’s Scratch came in for a little while with a clunky workaround to get NV and Scratch to read from the same Dropbox folder. It worked decently but it didn’t stick, at least on iOS. Sometime after, Gruber announced Vesper. I didn’t switch just yet, but during a sale I decided to try it out. It stuck…somewhat. The app is beautiful in its clarity and approach to tagging and allowance of a photo. I started journaling in it a bit too.
However: certain limits started to roadblock me. Multiple photos weren’t allowed at that time (not sure they ever went for more) and as a very visual and photo-heavy person, that was important to me.
Cue the new Notes.app from Apple. When I saw it during the WWDC 2015 keynote, I immediately thought: “Oh man, that’s going to kill note apps.” I use Reminders.app for a few things, and hack it a bit for to-do lists, etc., but Notes looked like it would do everything I’d been wanting it to do, and even a bit more than I didn’t. Multiple photos? Check. Lists? Check. To-dos? Check. Expanded but simple text formatting? Check. Sketches? Oh! And all tied together in iCloud and available on all my digital devices? Biggest check.
It actually reminds me a bit of Backpack, 37Signals’ organization tool that allowed you to free-form notes, images and documents together, and order or organize them if needed.
I often find myself writing little snippets of a related thread in a Note, then organize it for clarity later. With the photos, sketching, colors and text formatting, it becomes very powerful and starts to act like a pre-draft for anything: from written articles, to photo essays, to proposals to work-related meetings.
In his postmortem, Gruber talks about the things they’d have done differently. I empathize because timing forced their hand in some ways, and a different roadmap might have resulted in an alternate result.
One of the things I’ve been pondering since Vesper’s shutdown was announced, is whether or not design is enough of a differentiator — as a bottom line, will design make you?
I used to consider myself far more precious about design — pixels had to be lined up just so, line heights correct, padding and border radii had to be right. I now think of those as finishing details, as they should be. At its core, a digital product is less about visual appearance and more about ubiquity — multi-platform, multi-audience, multi-function.
Notes.app isn’t the prettiest thing — I admire Apple’s decision to persevere with a paper texture for the background — but it works so well and because it’s a part of the Apple ecosystem, “just works.” It’s less friction, it’s built right in, it’s something people didn’t even know they might have needed.
Design is just one tool and many other factors come into play for what makes success happen.
In this ever-saturated world where many signals vie for our attention, discovery is the hardest thing. I’ve worked on a lot of projects where this was of at the top of the list of priorities. Where and how do we let people discover x or y or z?
This is where AI and machine learning are supposedly leading us to — getting our eyeballs more accurately onto the right thing.
Me? I’m interested in how we can expose the right things to the people that need it the most, when they need it most.
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