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This Week in Tablets: 5 Signs Evernote may need an overhaul

by George Jones

July 6 2013

George is a founding editor of TabTimes


As the ubiquitous note-taking and data-sharing app grows in popularity, it’s beginning to feel a little... unwieldy

It remains a surprise to me that most people I know continue to carry three devices when they’re on the road. Phone, tablet, laptop.

The good news about the tablet’s role in this lineup is that 1) it’s a solid battery back up in case your laptop loses all power; 2) tablets weigh so little that they don’t add considerable heft or bulk to your load; and 3) it makes checking your email in bed infinitely more tolerable.

The laptop? There’s no real good news, ultimately, and I bet that most people who carry a laptop and a tablet wish they could ditch the notebook. Unless you have a MacBook Air or an ultra book, heft and bulk are a requisite.

Whatever the case, a laptop is essential if you need to do a fair amount of typing. Working exclusively on an iPad—even with a great keyboard—is still a challenging proposition, as TabTimes editor Doug Drinkwater recently documented.

Barring a sea change in iOS or Android tablet operating systems, this would appear to be a tremendous opportunity for Windows tablet hybrid devices over time.

Perfect environment for Evernote

For now, however, this three- and four-device mentality is a great opportunity for software makers like Evernote—one that the developer is capitalizing on.

Life would be undeniably harder for me without Evernote. I use it every single day—literally. I take notes into it for work. My wife and I use it to make lists for groceries. My company clips web articles into it for research. I clip web articles into it for evening reading. And so on.

My expectation is that I probably won’t ever stop using it. At least, it’s hard to imagine something else coming along to kick it off of all the various tablets, phones, and computers I own. Especially the tablet, which is so often used for both my work and personal lives.

All this said, I’m beginning to grow more and more frustrated with Evernote’s shortcomings and limitations. As great as it is for basic text entry, as my needs, notes, and ambitions grow, it feels like the software is having a hard time adapting.

I’m wondering if Evernote isn’t becoming a victim of its own tremendous success. As the user base has grown to close to 45 million (including 4 million in China), the demand for more features and compatibility has grown also. Unfortunately, the end result is beginning to look and feel more like Microsoft Word or Excel, with features and navigational elements being added on a regular basis.

All of the frustrations detailed below occur often enough that they slow me down:

Widely varying look and feel. I’m surprised at how dramatically Evernote’s core user interface varies between different operating systems and platforms. There’s something to be said for inheriting the look and feel of the OS the app is running on, but for multi-platform users—and I’m betting there are many of us—it’s problematic.

Truth be told, the user experience varies pretty significantly on the same platform. On the iPad for example, I can count three completely different looks, including one very iOS6-ish skeuomorphic screen complete with a bound book metaphor.

On occasion, these UX variations make it feel impossible to find existing notes or information on any given platform at any given time. That’s a huge problem. Hopefully the automated intelligence Evernote CEO Phil Libin referenced in a recent interview with TabTimes will help address this. 

Tough job scaling. Now that I’ve been using Evernote for a few years, I find myself wondering if it wasn’t originally built for smaller hierarchical sets. That can’t be the case, because I’m sure there are far greater power users than me. But this doesn’t change my frustration with organizing notes. Trying to create nested layers of notes and folders is no easy matter—I still don’t feel like I’ve fully figured it out.

Lip service for checklists and task-making. One of Evernote’s core uses for my family is list and task planning. It’s surprisingly mediocre at this task, enough so that for more important (or detailed) events, we use Google Docs. This is partially caused by the interface inconsistencies noted above. But it’s also caused by inconsistent formatting, such as odd and unpredictable line spacing.

Checklists also are just flat-out limited in their function—they’re essentially cosmetic markers. No version of Evernote will erase tasks as they’re completed, for example, or drop them to the bottom of a list.

No direct OS native-app integration. You can now add reminders for your tasks and notes in the newest version of Evernote via a dedicated calendar, but you can’t add specific notes and tasks to your native calendar in Windows, iOS, MacOS, or Android.

No easy way to clip web articles on mobile devices. You can’t  quickly or easily save an article to read later on your iPad, unfortunately. Instead, you have to email the article to your Evernote email address. It’s not a lot more work, and to be fair, you have to do the same thing with Pocket, but over time, these extra steps add up.

The good news for Evernote is that, despite the presence of fairly solid competition like Notesuite, Catch, and even OneNote, Evernote remains at the head of its class. This said, the developers need to be careful—I’m seeing lots of features being added every few months, but not a whole lot of UX adjustments or feature reductions.

The upside of all of the above is that the software has a whole lot of power and flexibility. I just wish it was a little easier to harness it all.

This week’s loser: Dell

The PC manufacturer’s global vice president of personal computing, Sam Burd, admitted this week that the OEM has only sold “hundreds of thousands” of its XPS and Latitude 10 tablets thus far. Burd did express hope that enterprise sales will bolster its tablet numbers, but that this will happen at a fairly slow rate.

Dell’s financial woes can’t be helping matters here, but given Dell’s penetration into businesses around the world, if this company is struggling to sell Windows tablets, we’re betting that most OEMs are as well.

This week’s winner: Samsung

While Windows manufacturers continue to struggle to move their wares, Samsung continues to churn out tablet/phone hybrid. Late in the week, rumors are indicating that the Korean electronics manufacturer is going to announce the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 at the IFA exhibition in Berlin, Germany this September.

For what it’s worth, it appears that Samsung has a winning formula. There’s no better way to cement a market share lead over the competition than by rapidly releasing new products in the line.

Close runner-up: CloudOn, the company that delivers the Microsoft Office suite to your iPad or Android tablet via the cloud, told TabTimes earlier this week that it already has over 4.5 million users. That’s phenomenal growth over a 16-month period. 

George is a founding editor of TabTimes

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