The Perfect Notes App

I take a lot of notes. Whether it is meeting notes while meeting with my team or a quick photo of something I want to remember for later I’m always adding to my collection.

Over the years I’ve tried so many solutions to make the task easier. Nearly all of the apps are buggy in one way or another and paper notes tend to be too slow for me to make them all that useful.

Today I’ve settled on Apple Notes, for now, as it is just simple. That said, it isn’t perfect, it’s just the best solution I’ve found to date. Here’s how I got here.

Requirements for a notes app

I like to think my requirements for a notes app are simple, but that would apparently be wrong as finding them all has been nearly impossible. That said, there are still a few things I absolutely need in any app.

My notes should be available everywhere. This means that if I need to get to my notes on my phone, my laptop, my tablet or a website, they must be there. This one is non-negotiable. I’ve seen so many note apps that just won’t let you use them with more than a limited set of devices.

I need to record the content I need. If my note is a photo, so be it. Text, no problem, a sketch, easy. The list goes on. Most apps fail here because they’re text only or integrating photo or other support is nearly impossible.

I want my notes to be as private as possible. This is a hard one and my biggest issue with my current solution. The bottom line, however, is that my notes are mine and mine alone.

The contenders

There are a few apps I’ve tried over the last few years including Standard Notes, Evernote, Google Keep, Notion, Joplin, regular markdown files and Apple Notes.

Rather than listing the merits and issues with each individually I can sum my attempts at notes into one of two buckets. Either the privacy is so bad (Google Keep and Evernote) that I simply won’t use them or they’re difficult to get in and out the data I need (all the rest).

For now, the fact that I’m moving back towards Apple this year means its default notes app is “good enough.” I can get all my data on any device (or the iCloud website), I can enter text, images or even sketches if I use my iPad and the data is, if nothing else, not used for advertising or other massive data mining.

If I was to go back to Linux today the front runner has been Standard Notes for a few years but it has some near-fatal flaws. First, installing it on many Linux distros is a real pain as its AppImage installer hasn’t had the appropriate app icon for some time. Second, connecting it so it can save images was quite difficult and, in my experience, not very reliable. Those two issues together mean that I could make it work for me if I put enough effort into it but it can’t currently, be a solution for the people I support.

My dream solution

So what would I change with Apple Notes to make it the perfect solution? First, I would prefer an open solution that I can sync anywhere. This would mean that no company has access to my data. Second, it would need to be available on any device I use and sharing data between users, especially my wife, would have to be doable within a few clicks. Finally, it would all need to be reliable enough that supporting it wouldn’t cause me headaches.

I’m not sure if that perfect solution will ever present itself so, at least for the moment, Apple is good enough. As I look to move away from the Apple ecosystem once again, however, I’ll keep searching for something better.

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