Evernote chief Phil Libin: ‘The laptop will just be a tablet with a keyboard’

by Doug Drinkwater

June 26 2013

Evernote CEO Phil Libin
Evernote CEO Phil Libin

Evernote CEO Phil Libin talks to TabTimes on surprising demand from business, the surge of smartphones, tablets and wearable devices and the possibility that Evernote might one day make hardware.

It’s fair to say that Evernote has been nothing short of a phenomenon since its conception in 2008. From its early days as a rather simplistic web service for saving digital notes, Evernote has grown over time into a platform-agnostic productivity suite with millions of users at home and in enterprise.

TabTimes caught up with CEO Phil Libin recently to catch up on the company’s progress and to gauge what we can expect from the California-based firm going forward.

TabTimes: Last year you said that Evernote had 34 million users, 75% of which started out on mobile. What’s the user base like now -- are you still seeing most new users coming from smartphones and tablets?

Phil Libin: The overall pattern has not changed. Most people still start on mobile and then come to the desktop. It’s more people than before but the same behavior.

We now have around 60 million users and probably 80-90% of them just start out on a phone.

What’s the monetization like between mobile and desktop? Are Apple users still more willing to spend on the premium service?

The revenue per user has not changed much from LeWeb 2012. Desktop still monetizes better than mobile. It maybe monetizes twice as well as on mobile.

Apple monetizes better than non-Apple – desktop and Android – but they’re all [platforms] worth going for. BlackBerry and Windows Phone actually get a lot of money per user, but there’s not so many of them.

Windows 8 adoption has been a slow burner to date. How have you found app adoption?

The numbers for the Metro-style Evernote and Skitch apps are pretty low because while a lot of people are buying Windows 8, most people are still using the desktop software.

The numbers [for metro-Windows 8] still look OK but we did expect the dedicated Windows 8 stuff to take two to three years to take off and do well.

You’ve mentioned in the past that a pretty high number of people use Evernote for business and you introduced Evernote Business at the start of the year. How has that fared since launch?

Evernote Business has been doing really good and it’s actually exceeded our early projections.

It’s mainly been done as a self-service model for people that already use and like Evernote, and who want to get their company to use it officially.

Have you seen any verticals in particular take to Evernote Business?

We’ve not been looking at a specific industry, but in general it’s being used by companies with 5 to 100 people and by knowledge workers.

Can we expect any updates in the near future?

We’ve got some big updates coming in the next few months, both for Evernote and Evernote Business.

Evernote requires users to search but you shouldn’t have to waste time looking for that information, and that’s something which is even more important in business.

So we’re looking at notes with automated intelligence but there’ll be some business-only features coming too, mainly relating to sharing.

And obviously Reminders is a major new productivity feature, and there’s a lot more work to be done there like integrating the calendar among other things.

What do you make of Google Keep? Is it a rival for Evernote?

There’s lots of stuff that could be seen as competition, but Google Keep probably helps more. It gets more different devices using feeder apps.

Take the stock trading app on the iPhone, for example.  It gets you thinking about using [the iPhone] for finance. These starter apps are good for the industry; they get more people used to an idea.

So with an Android phone, I can use Google Keep for note-taking and for some people that will be good enough. For the majority, they’ll want something more robust and they’ll try Evernote.

What is on the roadmap for Evernote going forward?

We’re interested in the modern definition of productivity tools, the essential tools for 2013, the tools you need to be productive in your personal or work life.

90% of our effort is going to make the core product a little better and that’s not a major shift from what we’ve been doing already.

So, there are no immediate plans to build something radical? For instance, you’ve previously been quoted as saying that Evernote could make hardware…

It was an off-the-cuff remark to a reporter, but the original idea of Evernote was of hardware and software together and we’ve since decided not to go there.

We want to best possible experience and want to deliver the best possible UI and we believe that is when the hardware and software are designed together. We never liked the distinction between hardware and software – it should just be product.

[When asked again on if Evernote is working on hardware, Libin responds…]

We’re working on it. We’ve got a lot of people focusing on UX design. We’re not just focusing on electronic gadgets, although we do already have partnerships with Moleskine and Livescribe.

Anything that that makes you smarter we’re interested. Eventually maybe we may make our own stuff but smartphones or tablets? Of course not.

When we last spoke you said that tablets were the most demanding platform to build software for. What do you make of the tablets today and what do you think they’ll look like in years to come?

I think laptops and tablets will be getting closer together in the next couple of years. I kind of expect that the laptop will just be a tablet with a keyboard in the next couple of years.

There’s going to be more types of hardware in future, from smartphones, tablets and laptops to Google Glasses. There’s going to be new market opportunities and that’s great for us.

Do you believe in the future of wearable devices? You say you’ve got a developer working on an app for Google Glass…

There’s a big future for wearable devices. They will completely revolutionize the way people are designing software.

The way people talk about the smartphone disruption will be small compared to this one – it’s going to completely revolutionize design thinking and not one person on the planet knows how to do it yet.

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