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Sunday, February 24, 2013

How complicated is a note-taking app, anyway?

I use Apple's built-in "notes" program to keep track of ideas and other things which aren't fully-baked. Many posts start life as a line or two in there and then grow organically until they can finally graduate to the "real world". You'd think something which just accepts text input would be relatively simple, but no, it's not. They found a way to mess it up.

Yesterday, while in the middle of the maelstrom surrounding my "mortgaged future" post, I went to write another post about a picture of crazy quote characters bending the wrong way. While attempting to crop that picture, it blew up with a warning notice I've never seen before.

Not long after that, I got an idea for a different story and dropped back into Notes. I got about half of a sentence entered and then it stopped responding. Instead of taking my trivial text-based input, it sat there and started spinning that twirling beachball / fairy princess that pops up any time programs stop working. I don't know what it was doing, but it sure wasn't listening to me.

A couple of seconds after that, I was rewarded with this:

Notes crash

Exactly how hard is it to have a text box which accepts typed input, saves it locally, and eventually pushes it to somewhere else without crashing? Apparently, if you are Apple, the answer is "quite".

There are other anomalies, too. Any note I edit from my phone (which supposedly has access to the same content via iCloud) has a non-zero chance of going pear-shaped. By that, I mean it might stay on the phone and never appear on my computer, or it might multiply.

Imagine if you have a note called "story ideas". Then one day, you have two. One of them has certain revisions and the other one doesn't. A few weeks after that, you have a third. There's no provision for running a comparison (like "diff") in there, so you can't easily find out what happened.

One of the weirder bits of UI in Notes is the lack of search. Under "Edit", then "Find", the first item is "Note List Search" which is some two-modifier-plus-F keystroke. The one you'd think would be there on command-F to search the current document is permanently greyed out. Let me make that clear: if you want to look in the current note for a word, you have to copy it into another program and do it there.

Now consider these two issues together. First, you have things appearing and disappearing and forking themselves into different variations. Then, you don't have any way to compare them directly. Finally, you can't do your own low-tech comparison by searching for certain unique words since there is no way to "find in document".

I don't go looking for these problems. They just find me.