The Case for Apple Notes, a Reference Material and Writing Workflow, The Research Life.
You Can Certainly “Just Use Apple Notes” for Internet-Based Referencing and Writing. Here Are Some Practical Use Cases.
There’s a lot of talk about tools and note-taking in the creativity space. In effect, tools are just tools. They may help us write more efficiently in some cases, but to write, we could get by with paper and pen. Keeping that in mind, let’s talk about how other note-taking tools might be useful.
My main note-taking app is Craft Docs. It is a joy to use. Craft Docs works best with text-based note-taking. Since Apple Notes works well with external links, handwritten and text-based notes, I gave it a try on my iPad. I used Apple Notes for a writing project, and it’s a solid note-taking app. Below, I explain the features that I enjoyed the most and in which contexts Apple Notes worked best for my note-taking.
Quick notes are convenient
The Quick Note feature is like having a virtual notepad anywhere on the iPad. The default gesture to initiate a Quick Note is swiping from the bottom right corner. The power of this note-taking feature is its integration with Safari. You can highlight text directly in the Safari browser by selecting text and creating a new Quick Note. Once the note is created, any additional highlights are added to the same note.
This feature is useful because the highlights are persistent. If you revisit a web page that you previously highlighted on Safari, you will see the same highlights that you made before and can add additional highlights as needed. Another underrated feature of Apple Notes is that you can add links to supporting apps. For example, I can add a link to the drafting stages of this blog to a Quick Note. That means when I reference Apple Notes, I can open my drafting page in Craft Docs. These linking features make Quick Notes convenient and well integrated with source references (Safari) and writing tools (Craft Docs).
Handwritten notes are (mostly) well done
My interest with Apple Notes is based on the ease of handwritten note-taking. Quick Notes can be typed or handwritten. The Lock Screen note can also be handwritten. With a simple tap on the Lock Screen, you can start writing notes. The Apple Notes app will automatically open, which gives you near immediate access to a virtual notepad. This is a major advantage to using Apple Notes. For example, taking notes from the Lock Screen could work well for keeping a log of daily notes to process at the end of the day.
The Lock Screen note is configurable, so you could set it to use the same note for a given day, start a new note for each time you access the lock screen, or some specific time limit in between.
My Lock Screen note setup is configured to resume the last note that I created on the Lock Screen within that day. It’s a useful setup for keeping notes throughout the day to organize and parse at the end of the day as needed.
Something that I find incredibly helpful and impressive about Apple Notes is the ease of text conversion for handwritten notes. You can simple tap to select all scribbles in a note and convert them to text. This conversion is done with a single tap!
I sometimes take long notes that span several pages in other handwritten note-taking apps like Notability. To convert to text in most other handwriting apps, you have to use the lasso tool, meaning that it’s difficult to convert several pages at once. Apple Notes makes the process much less cumbersome by allowing users to select all scribbles on the page. And, the conversion is pretty accurate, even with my messy handwriting.
There are a couple of other cool features about handwriting in Apple Notes that aren’t common in other handwriting apps. One is the pencil option. The pencil allows for a different writing texture and shading capabilities that are often available in apps for digital art, but not note-taking. For me, the pencil is nice to have to make headings in my notes.
Another useful feature in Apple Notes is the option to “insert a space.” This lets you easily shift all text and handwritten notes down, creating an empty section. Then, you could add more notes above other notes without fiddling with the lasso tool and manually moving notes around.
One reason that the insert feature is essential is because Apple Notes does not currently have any zooming or resizing capabilities. So, you can’t easily write in small spaces, and it’s not possible to resize notes with the lasso tool.
A workaround for the inability to resize notes is to write in landscape mode. This makes handwriting space appear larger. When you want to read over notes and see more at a time, use portrait mode. Portrait mode makes the notes look smaller than in landscape mode. If you want a quick overview of the organization of the notes, look at the print preview.
Organization is easy
Tags make categorizing information simple. The tags can be typed or handwritten and converted to tags anywhere in the note.
With tags, you don’t have to manually make folders to organize information. In fact, Apple Notes has Smart Folders. With Smart Folders, I can easily categorize notes that are related to my academic research, blog ideas, and other writing while also allowing them to overlap. If I work on a task related to writing jobs that seems like it would be interesting for my blog, I can simply tag it as #writing, #blog, and #idea. Then, I have a blog ideas smart folder that aggregates all notes that have both blog and idea tags. It’s pretty neat!
How does Apple Notes work in practice?
I recently completed a writing project with Apple Notes. I was learning new information comparing degree programs. It was a fun and interesting challenge. Apple Notes makes it easy to integrate information from multiple websites into a single note, highlight web pages, and reference original sources as needed.
I enjoyed using Apple Notes on the iPad. I found that I could use four windows at once — two windows in the background (Safari for reference information, Apple Notes for project notes) and two in the forefront (Craft Docs for project details, Quick Notes window for a new reference link).
The iPad is a powerful machine when working with Apple Notes. I could easily view and integrate information from multiple sources while working towards drafting a cohesive, well-researched article.
Here’s an example of multitasking with four windows while working towards a common goal. I had fun working with (1) Apple Notes in the full view (2) the Apple Notes Quick Notes window, (3) Craft Docs, and (4) Safari.
So, is the stock note-taking app good enough?
Sure. There are really cool features in the Notes app. It has Quick Notes, internet-based highlighting and excerpting, tags, and pretty good features for handwritten notes. If Apple Notes had the zoom feature for handwritten notes, I would probably use it more often. Without zoom, my handwriting feels too imprecise.
Would I convert to only using the Apple Notes app?
No. While Apple Notes is useful for collecting reference material from web pages, I see it as a tool in an integrated system. Right now, all of my important notes are eventually migrated to Craft Docs. They may come from other places, including handwritten notes in Apple Notes, scans or summaries from physical notebooks, PDF markup in Notability/Goodnotes, or mind map links in MindNode, but Craft Docs is where my important notes live. It’s where information gets integrated.
Reading Notes For Idea Creation: A Multitool Method, The Research Life.
Annotate, summarize, process, and produce something creative!
So, I don’t think the question is if Apple Notes is good enough, or what’s the one app that you should use to “change your life.” You’ve just got to design a flexible system that works for you. For me, the core of it is connected and integrated ideas that I can interact with (i.e., handwriting, highlighting, grouping).
What does note-taking look like for you?
- This post was partially inspired by this video from Keep Productive, “Just Use Apple Notes…”
- I drafted this blog before iPad OS 16 was released. I use an iPad Air 4 that doesn’t have stage manager, so I still use slide over to view multiple windows.
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