My Main Concern With Apple Notes: No Good Export

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Feeling Trapped with Apple Notes_1

The last time I wrote about Apple Notes was in early July. I wrote that post to try and balance out all of the very strongly-worded posts about dumping Evernote and jumping to Apple Notes, the newest free note-taking solution that synced across all Apple devices.

I can see why most people don’t want to have to pay for a Notes solution, so moving from Evernote to Apple Notes seems like a very easy switch. However, I was wary of fully committing to Apple’s service because there doesn’t seem to be any easy way of getting your data out of the service in a meaningful way. You can get plain text notes to export from Apple Notes…but that’s about it. All the pictures, rich URLs, media, and any files you’ve attached to your notes…those can’t be exported en masse or imported into any other service at this time.

Despite all of that, I decided to give Apple Notes another solid try for the past month and a half.

What Apple Notes Gets Right

One big draw to Apple Notes is that you know it will be around as long as there are iPads and iPhones to run the software on. It may not be updated as often as dedicated third party apps, but for most users who just need a place to park text and pictures, Notes can work very well.

The app supports more than that, of course. You can add files to Notes and use it to keep important references organized, like the PDF ticket for your upcoming concert. The notes take up space in iCloud Drive, which is pretty affordable cloud storage that’s also usable for your documents and iCloud Photo Library, as well. So even though I pay $4 towards iCloud storage each month, it isn’t just for notes in the same way an Evernote subscription is. iCloud benefits a lot of other apps, as well.

I also really liked having the “append” option as part of the Notes share extension. I could create one single not for all the interesting bag designs I like, and simply append URLs to the list from Safari. The note would be updated with the new content at the bottom, and I’d never even have to open the app. Evernote and OneNote also have share extensions, but only for creating new notes.

Feeling Trapped with Apple Notes_2

There’s also a certain minimalist appeal to Notes — not really in the design of the UI itself, but rather in the fact that Notes is a first-party app. There are times when Notes would scratch a certain itch in me, and made me feel like I was keeping my workflow streamlined and using only the apps I needed. But there were, unfortunately, a lot of other ways that Notes slowed me down in the past 1.5 months.

Notes Was Slowing Me Down

Notes is great if you have the kind of job where you can work on Apple devices, so that your notes can follow you anywhere, but as open as my workplace is, I still work in a Windows environment on a daily basis. This means that my only recourse is to use iCloud.com to access my notes, and frankly, the web app just isn’t very good. It doesn’t even have feature parity with the iPad version, let alone the Mac version.

It wasn’t just the lack of a native Windows client, though. Notes was actually, literally, slowing me down because its UI couldn’t keep up. I am running the iOS 10 betas right now, but I actually downgraded my iPad to iOS 9.3 earlier this summer because of some SD card issues with the beta. Even with the current stable release, Notes just wasn’t as snappy as OneNote or Evernote while dealing with hundreds of notes. I tried to help performance out by creating folders and splitting my notes into smaller folders, but that didn’t really help either. I’d still lag when opening up a note, or have the UI freeze on me as I loaded the app up.

No Export

It was for the above reasons that I started thinking about transferring back to OneNote. But the nail in the coffin was when I actually started to transfer Notes over for testing. There isn’t any way for OneNote (or Evernote, for that matter) to import Apple Notes with attachments and images, and Notes on the Mac doesn’t have any clean way to export your notes in batches. I had experimented with OneNote earlier this year, so there were really only a few hundred notes to migrate and update, but the process was still painstaking.

What I did was load Notes up on the iPad, with OneNote loaded in Split View. I tried the share extension first, but it might be a bit broken due to the beta, so I just copied and pasted my personal notes one by one from Notes to OneNote. Attachments had to be done individually, since there seemed to be issues copying and pasting them in multiples. What I lost in this transfer was valuable metadata, like the Creation Date and Last Modified date of each note. I’m OK with that because I knew that using Apple Notes was an experiment, but that kind of metadata is sometimes just as important as the content of the notes. Being able to look back and see that I’d made a note about a movie in 2010 means that I knew about the movie back in 2010, and just having that date, along with the last date I modified the note, provides a lot of context.

As I said earlier, I don’t think Notes is going anywhere, so I’m not worried that Apple will suddenly vanish in three years time and take all my notes with them. But I don’t like the idea that choosing Apple means that my Notes are stuck with them, without any way to export text, attachments, and metadata to another service, should I choose to switch.


Thomas

My name is probably Thomas (yes, it is). I'll be able to help you figure out why Evernote isn't syncing, or recommend your favourite new RSS reader to you. That's partly because I am enamoured with the iOS ecosystem and hardware, but mostly because I'm Canadian.

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