iPad Pro

My first tablet was the Samsung Galaxy Tab, the first Android tablet ever, and I still have it and I still think that, for its time it was a splendid piece of technology. I have since moved wholly to the iOS universe where my first tablet was the first generation iPad Air, and today, two years later, I upgraded it to a 9.7 inch iPad Pro, with a spacious 128GB storage, and so far it has been a lovely experience.

The fact that I am typing these thoughts on my new iPad Pro goes to show just how capable this tablet is for “real” work. By contrast, I only ever used my iPad before to make notes for articles, and never to type the articles themselves. But to say the tablet alone is responsible for this would be wrong: it is a combination of iPad Pro, the new Smart Keyboard, and Apple Pencil. In fact, I have come to believe that it is this ecosystem of basic but incredibly capable accessories that makes the whole experience feel worthy of a pro tag.

I do not mean to undersell the iPad itself, but a closer look at its specifications will show that iPad Pro is really a next-generation iPad Air. It performs almost twice as well as its predecessor, the Air 2, and a whopping five times better than my old iPad Air. During daily tasks (read, media consumption) even iPad Air is plenty; and if that is all your usage is, then an upgrade to the Pro device is unnecessary. The specifications of the Pro shine when under stress, because you will find it hard to stress the A9X processor and the 2GB of RAM with any app currently on the App Store. There may be apps that put the device to a real test a few years from now, and this is where the older 12.9 inch iPad Pro wins — a better shelf life — but this 9.7 inch device is not to be dismissed, because in real world performance it is just as good as its larger counterpart with the added perks of being portably and not being ridiculously unwieldy.

The company’s new stylus, the Apple Pencil, is remarkable. It could just be that I am not thoroughly familiar with styluses in general, but this one is extremely accurate and goes a long, long way in making the iPad feel like a notepad. Couple this with apps like Penultimate or, my personal favourite, Goodnotes, and you have a complete solution to take notes, annotate, and maintain texts. On similar lines, with apps like Adobe Sketch, Paper by fiftythree, or the humorously named but powerful drawing app, Procreate, the Apple Pencil takes both dimensional iPad Pro devices several strides ahead of the competition.

The fallacy lies in viewing iPad Pro as a laptop-replacement, a flawed concept that was birthed with (as far as my own knowledge goes) the Surface lineup by Microsoft. Now the Surface is a PC that runs a PC operating system and looks like a tablet. That is completely different from iPad Pro, which is a tablet that runs a mobile operating system. Besides, when Steve Jobs first introduced the concept of a “tablet”, he never advertised it as a PC that is even more portable than a laptop. He intended to fill a void between the mobile phone and the laptop. Something that overcame the small-screen restriction of the mobile phone and coupled it with beefier hardware that allowed you to maintain the same portability while carrying more capabilities around. So iPad Pro, or any iPad in the foreseeable future, will not be a replacement for my MacBooks, but will hold its own place as a media consumption and ntertainment device as well as a text and photo content creation device.

This is precisely how I use my iPad and have been for a couple of years now. However, as far as content creation goes, it used to be my mind palace and notes area as well as where a lot of thoughts sparked. With the new Pro device and its peripherals (not to mention four brilliant speakers with channels that shift based on screen orientation) I have started using my iPad for more serious work: this whole article was typed from start to finish with great ease using Byword on iPad Pro, with split screen alongside Safari, and continuously backed up to my Dropbox. Would it have been impossible on my old iPad Air? Not necessarily, but it would have been cumbersome enough to become off-putting without the new Smart Keyboard.

Speaking of the Keyboard, the travel in the keys is considerable for a device wrapped in cloth that looks so thin. It is neither fragile or unusable. The travel is enough that once you get used to the smaller dimensions of the keyboard (not all that hard) typing is a breeze. The dimensions of the keyboard have been made sufficiently airy by reducing the size of companion keys like tab, return etc., and not by shrinking the alphanumeric keys. My Smart Keyboard had an issue where the keyboard itself would rise and flop around, creating an imbalance in the stand, all of which had nothing to do with the weight of the tablet itself. The guys at the Apple Store were courteous as always and agreed to replace the keyboard for me. I still with the keyboard was backlit and had function keys, but it certainly is good as it stands.

Fortune describes iPad Pro as “the best of both worlds”, because it takes all the power of the 12.9 inch behemoth and makes it portable in a more familiar 9.7 inch form factor. But the new device also brings a much, much better display. Samsung has long been the maker of supposedly better smartphone displays and, of late, cameras. But, as someone who makes a lot of photographs, I have always preferred the more realistic colours on iPhone to the over-saturated mess on Samsung phones, despite better rendition of blacks on the latter. Apple takes the proverbial game to the next level with a much brighter screen on this new iPad, with an improved colour gamut and the same digital colour space as that used by Hollywood, all wrapped up in a nice screen that is much less reflective than previous devices. And a new technology, dubbed “True Tone”, subtly modifies screen temperature with the help of four dedicated sensors depending on the environment you are in, to mimic paper. This felt like always-on Night Shift at first, but within hours I had stopped noticing it — unlike Night Shift.

Apple’s bid to sell an iPad as a “Super. Computer.” seems like a desperate move at this point. The future of the iPad is not threatened because nobody considers it as their next computer, rather because nobody seems to realise it for what it is. It is an iPad. And instead of forcing it to be something it is not, we should all take another look at iPad Pro and appreciate how differently it lets us do intensive tasks — and with ease too — and Apple should take that mindset and begin working on making tablets their own, entirely new class of devices as was originally intended, instead of presenting them as wannabe computers. What must also change is apps, most of which still boast enlarged iPhone UIs, and a file system needs to be made available, not to make iPad more like a computer but because, half-a-decade on, it is time we came up with a whole new manner of working with tablets: if the hardware fills a void between smartphones and PCs, so too must the software.

The best thing about iPad Pro is that it has made me use it a lot more and has reduced my iPhone use. When, earlier, I used to simply grab my iPhone because my iPad was in another room and it made no difference anyway, the Pro device does make a difference. And boy is it thin. Thinner than my iPhone 6S, and sporting a darker space grey brushed Aluminium back, it is a joy to carry around, and is much easier as well. The Smart Keyboard cover does add bulk, but is nothing unforgivable. And my new iPad Pro is fast becoming my device of choice for select tasks, not stealing the limelight from my MacBook, but carving out its own space in my workflow.

What is it with people and weather apps?

“Weather forecast for tonight: dark.” George Carlin was probably the only one who ever gave an accurate weather forecast. Knowing how incredibly unpredictable the weather can be it always surprises me how much people seem to love weather apps. Perhaps it is just me but never in my life have I ever looked at a weather forecast before wearing “appropriate” clothes or grabbing an umbrella.

I love umbrellas and perhaps the only reason I would ever use a weather app was if I needed to find a reason to carry one, but the umbrella is a versatile device: you can use it come rain or shine. On a more serious note, however, weather apps are, quite a lot of the time, little more than entertainment. You would have just as much fun as if someone made an app that predicted all your shots in a game of billiards. Sure, given all the variables to enough degrees of accuracy, you could predict precisely where the cue ball goes and how much you score, but there are so many variables you are bound to go wrong sooner or later.

Sample forecast message, courtesy of NOAA.

Sample forecast message, courtesy of NOAA.

Model Output Statistics, says the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is a technique used to objectively interpret numerical model output and produce site-specific guidance of the weather. And there are a huge number of variables involved, all of which are measurable, but all of which are constantly changing. (See an old sample from the NOAA’s technical procedures bulletin above.) Couple this with the fact that it takes time for data to transfer from the detection site to the weather people (some call them meteorologists) to their machines and human interpreters — whom we will talk about presently — and then for the softwares to get updated and then for data to upload and transfer to everyone’s smartphone and you have a surefire recipe for missing the mark, sometimes narrowly, sometimes widely, but missing the mark nonetheless.

As the New York Post elaborately reported last year, some people are really going to town with their weather apps, treating its word like the Gospel. Had humans not been involved to inject a certain degree of subtlety, purely numeric, machine-forecasted data would show a chaotic earth. This is all a first world problem like no other. On top of which, most weather apps log the user’s location all the time and eat away at the battery life.

With all this in mind, here is an idea for CERN: make a “what particle will we discover today?” app with dress-codes associated with various possible quark arrangements and charge a premium for it. There is little doubt in my mind that this app (which we should definitely call The AcuParticle Underground Channel — show of hands if you get the joke) will suggest dresses with greater accuracy than any weather app available for your smartphone.

If you think my suggestion is far-fetched, take a look at what a Pennsylvania college did back in 2007. They made a prediction market where students bet on what the highest and lowest temperatures would be and their predictions were off from those of professional forecasters by a frequency less than 7%. Weather forecast is, in spirit, gambling with limited known data that will increase our odds of winning — or the odds of making accurate predictions if you will — but never make anything a certainty. Certainly not a soothsaying about this evening’s rain, so you might as well put your phone back in your pocket.

Locked out of Instagram

This week started with a bang: I somehow got locked out of my Instagram account. The account itself still exists and you can view and like my photographs and — as I expect will start happening now — leave a tonne of spammy comments. The reason my account was flagged was likely because I posted from travel abroad, which already resulted in an e-mail seeking clarification about accessing the account from a previously unused location or something to that effect. Back in my country now (which probably got flagged as another major change in location, although that does not make much sense) I find that the e-mail associated with that account has been mysteriously deleted and access to my account revoked with only one possibility of restoration: contacting Instagram directly.

While a lot of people wrote to me saying that Instagram will restore access if I write to them, and that the system may have made a mistake flagging it, I would, myself, look at this as a good thing — not unlike William’s curfew, for any of you who have read Sellars and Yeats’ 1066 and all that, the classic satire: “Another very conquering law made by William I said that everyone had to go to bed at eight o’clock. This was called the Curfew and was a Good Thing in the end since it was the cause of Gray’s Energy in the country churchyard (at Stoke Penge).” Coming back to the present, I have decided not to contest the blockade and instead let the account rest, or even be scrapped if Instagram chooses.

Like always, there are two ways to look at everything. I could whine about losing my half-decade old Instagram account, or I could make it a good thing. One of the qualms I have had with Instagram, and Google+ before it, has been that they encourage photo sharing, full stop. I got into the entire Instagram/G+ bandwagon (the latter before it ballooned, when at beta, and when it was more promising than it sadly is today) solely because of love of photography. But I often disliked how, like the internet itself, these networks can quickly become more of dictators, and, instead of encouraging and developing one’s photography, they become machines harvesting content, regardless of its quality. In their defence, they never really set out to improve anyone’s photography, but I still find it interesting how offline, say an art gallery, also meant mainly for showcasing, can still help improve your work. I digress. In a splendid personification of human tendency to band with one’s own kind, with others who share our views, both of these networks have people who enjoy and promote select photographic styles, and it is far too easy to get caught up in that. 500px is another excellent example of this, or at least the most obvious one, with its streams rich in heavily photoshopped work bordering on or often even crossing into the unnatural. However, all this is fodder for another article that is currently in its final editing phase and which I intended to publish before the whole Instagram fiasco happened.

There is one problem with this entire setup, however: photography is my hobby after all and it makes little sense if I have no place in which to collect my final works. This was primarily what I used Instagram for; the social aspect was a tacky add-on as far as I am concerned. VSCO has a social feature that feels, quite literally, tacky, but it will do for now. What I do love about VSCO, as much as I detest their new app UI, is that there are rightly no concepts of likes, favourites and other absurd means of measuring one’s worth. (This should really be no surprise coming from someone like me who quit Facebook when everyone the trendy thing to do was join it — I have never been one for following trends anyway.) All said and done, and despite my complaints about VSCO earlier this month, I think we ought to pick our battles: between Instagram and VSCO, I pick VSCO without a second thought, so that makes it official. See you, Instagram. It was great while it lasted.

Evernote is not dying

News has been making rounds on the internet about the impending death of Silicon Valley’s first “unicorn”, Evernote. The term (which is likely a slang) refers to a startup that is worth one billion dollars; the uni in unicorn refers to one. Startups worth ten billion are therefore “decacorns”, while those worth a hundred billion dollars are “hectocorns”. On the other hand Canada calls them “narwhals” so they seem to have missed the pattern here entirely. In any case, a low hum about the “death” of Evernote had been in the background for a couple of years now and noisily rose to the forefront following a Business Insider article late last year.

I may be biased here because to me Business Insider has long been like BuzzFeed trying to be serious. However, the author of that particular article was Syrah founder, Josh Dickson. (It was later brought to my notice that the article was a re-share by Business Insider from Mr Dickson’s blog.) Citing its chain of funding worth tens of millions of dollars each, the article talks about Evernote’s inability to stabilise and therefore questions its future:

Unicorns die a slow death as their core products lose relevance, new product initiatives fail, user growth slips away, costs mount, and key employees and talent drain from the system.

This was at a sensitive time when former CEO, Phil Libin, was giving way to Chris O’Neill, who worked on Google Glass. This followed months of seeming stagnancy and half-hearted shambling at Evernote, topped off with Mr Libin finally admitting that he was “not passionate” about his duties as CEO. In the article Mr Dickson goes on to say, “Attracting and retaining talent is a core responsibility of the CEO, and if Libin is seriously disinterested in the latter, he should have departed long ago” — and I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, this is all well and good until you realise that despite all its messy array of services (and socks) the core product — the titular, Evernote, the note-taking application — has been as strong as ever.

I was a free subscriber and saw no problems that the rest of the internet seemed to be complaining about back then. I also think it is a good sign that Chris O’Neill hopped on-board because of two things: one, he has, in the past, spoken openly about his love for Evernote and how he uses it daily; two, he brought a host of much needed changes to the product. I remember receiving an e-mail one morning explaining that Evernote will be shuttering some of its products — Peek, Hello, Food, and Marketplace — and I remember thinking, “They came to their senses at last”. When these products were launched I was getting a sense of vague and reckless self-exploration going on at Evernote. I never expected them to last and therefore never got on the bandwagon. I did, however, immediately begin using the capable standalone scanning app, Scanable, since it made a lot of sense and tied in with what Evernote’s main product is — taking notes — and it has since survived the company’s guillotine.

That Evernote was able to experiment with all its funding is a good sign. However, just because their experimentation failed does not mean the company is dying. What Mr O’Neill brings to the table is some much needed focus. Price cuts to the “Plus” and “Premium” annual subscriptions accompanied the death of other, often completely unrelated products Evernote was drowning in. They are now once again thinking of Evernote as a note-taking application — or should I call it a file cabinet app? — and, while this may have come late, the point is it has come, and it will do much to take the company public. This is something Mr Dickson and others see as farther than before, and while they may have the marketing smarts, I speak purely from the perspective of an Evernote user: I feel the company is bettering itself, thanks to its renewed focus on its core product and a more passionate CEO at the helm.

Talk is on the one hand, but I think what says the most is the fact that after over four long years of using Evernote for free, I bought a “Premium” subscription last week simply because I was happy with the product and the way it was functioning — plus it is actually affordable now: there is thoughtfulness in the pricing where, once upon a time, the USD price was simply converted to local currencies and ended up making Evernote comically expensive, at least where I live. Things like this are what give people the impression that the product is alive and well. There are other areas of the app that have always been just as thoughtful: forwarding e-mails, clipping entire web pages for offline viewing (as opposed to links like Apple’s Notes app stores them) and other such small but useful additions that make Evernote a well-rounded product that is additionally flexible enough to fit into anyone’s workflow. Despite all of this, what Mr Dickson wrote has some validity. The only misstep is calling a company’s journey of self-discovery and establishment a sign of death. Evernote has gone through its teenage phase and is finally starting to focus on what it does. This is especially apparent to the majority of people outside intense tech scenes à la Silicon Valley since we are not also drowning in competitive products like Slack and One Note and what not.

When you live in a society that sprouts a new allegedly world-changing app every other day, it is easy to mistake new startups with revolutionary products simlpy because of the aura of newness surrounding it, or the slightly different approach they take — none of this is exactly “revolutionary”. What is revolutionary, is when a product leaves tech circles and becomes an everyday workhorse for people across all occupations and countries. This is what Evernote has achieved, and what Slack has achieved, and Dropbox has achieved. This league has apps in the dozens, not hundreds. Further, I name these three apps because they are often credited for making Evernote irrelevant. Slack is a communication tool that has been touted to replace e-mail (to some extent anyway) and this is true in my experience using Slack too, but it was never meant to serve in place of a filing cabinet. And Dropbox is a great place to store notes, but try note-taking in Dropbox and you will quickly realise how bulky the product is. Of course, Dropbox is a great storage area and you can use another note-taking application that syncs to your Dropbox, and not the Dropbox app itself. The point remains that cloud storage was here long before Evernote and yet Evernote made its mark just fine for one reason alone: while there are areas where these services may overlap, they have ample usecases that are unique to them and at what they are among the best. You cannot store and handle media as well in Evernote as Dropbox or chat as well as Slack for the same reason that you cannot store and clip notes as seamlessly and with as little obstruction as you can in Evernote. Each app has its place. (As far as chat goes, the Libin era Work Chat was probably Evernote’s worst product till date, but a good experiment that showed them where their focus should not be. Unfortunately, it still remains in the app today, like a sad reminder of a forgettable past.)

In addition to all its note-taking, Evernote is powerful by way of integrations. Almost every app, popular or otherwise, links to Evernote in some format or other. This is not something that comes easy — for one the app should matter enough to users for other app developers to provide support to it on priority. I have seen apps that provide support to Evernote and nothing else. These integrations are the core proposition of Evernote as well, alongside note-taking. “Forget worrying about whether you’re going to be around in 100 years,” says Mr Dickson, “and refocus on making products that people want that will make money.” He is referring to Phil Libin’s comment about wanting to make Evernote a product that will last the coming century, and, once again, I agree with him. It was this misguided urge that diverted Evernote from its core product and was probably what led to Mr Libin’s failures in making some aspects of his company successful. Perhaps he was building a suite — although the products never seemed to coalesce into a unified experience — or maybe he had something entirely different in mind. Unquestionably, Evernote is changing, perhaps even evolving on some level, and they are both stages in a company’s life that can easily be mistaken as the death of a product. It remains arguably one of the best and most powerful electronic filing cabinets today, although its competitors are catching up. Evernote is, today, the best product of its kind, and the company had better use that to their advantage as they move forward. There is both time and space for the product to grow if Mr O’Neill takes the correct steps, and so far he has.

Take notes: nvALT and Simplenote workflow

Little work gets done when we spend a lot of time thinking of how to go about it. This is, in fact, the quintessential problem with trying to stay organised — we often end up overdoing it. Notoriously enough, over-organisation (with little action) is far too easy and gives the same kind of satisfaction, to most people, as action itself. This is in the same boat as the “Fake it till you make it” philosophy1 and, before we realise it, knowing that we have planned a task gives us enough satisfaction to take our eyes completely off the fact that we have not taken any steps whatsoever towards actually accomplishing the task. (You may skip the philosophy/reasoning behind my workflow, explained in the following two paragraphs, and start reading about the workflow itself.)

Evernote was something like this to me. I see and know that a majority of people swear by it, but as my note-taking habits evolved I realised it was not for me. Evernote is extremely capable, with three levels of organisation (four, if you count tags), a lot of bells and whistles that are useful to most people and weighty hinderances to me. WordPress founder, Matt Mullenweg, once put it effectively: “You don’t open a letter with a chainsaw”. As a storehouse and manager of large projects with hundreds of files, links and notes, Evernote works, but I prefer my Dropbox for that especially because I saw absolutely no appeal in a service that does not even keep my notes offline. Plus the organisation simply got in the way. I eventually reverted to my older, simpler workflow when iOS 9 came out with a vastly better, but still skeuomrphic, Notes application from Apple. The two-level organisation (folder and notes) was refreshingly simple and a sigh of relief, but iOS sync was not the best. Plus, as I addressed in my older article, all my notes were stuck in Apple’s walled garden. Now, however beautiful that garden may be, I have seen enough of the tech scene to know almost nothing lasts long enough2, so keeping all data device agnostic is simply a clever thing to do.

There were other reasons I disliked Evernote that had nothing to do with its note-taking capabilities (which are undoubtedly stable and robust). For instance, the app constantly urged me to shift to a paid subscription, and the notification once dismissed did not stay away for a while, not even, say, for even a fortnight: I had got used to seeing it on a daily basis. There was also “Work chat” which had that strange feeling of being abandoned by birth. It was like an old creaky door that kept making noises and refused to get off the hinge.

And to top it all off, Evernote kept asking me to use Work Chat at every corner. It had almost gotten to a point of resembling a pop-up ridden underground site and I found it surprising — and still do — that nobody else seems to be complaining about all of this. In any case, all said and done, our safest bet, generally, is on open source software with good standing in the community. This ensures there is always someone out there willing to spend a few days to keep the software alive, or, in the worst of cases, the software remains available for free download and use as long as it remains usable. The latter case often gives users sufficient time (often years) to look for alternatices, and it gives ample time for developers to come up with new apps too. I still use Apple’s stock Notes app for the rare picture note or handwriting, but about 95% of the time, Simplenote and nvALT it is.

After nearly four years, several unorganised messes on Evernote, and hundreds of minutes of waiting for iCloud sync while it took its own sweet time, I decided to return to my original note-taking workflow involving nvALT and Simplenote. I used the free version of Simplenote back when Simperium owned it and moved to Evernote around the time when Auttomatic acquired Simplenote (perhaps one of the few acquisitions I wholeheartedly supported). Evernote seemed to, and did indeed, work better and offer more control over notes and complex structures for research or projects and felt like amore rounded product back then3 but I digress. Simplenote, which is my notes app on my iOS devices, has zero organisation (unless you fancy adding tags to notes like it is a WordPress blog — separate from the context of the note itself) and yet Simplenote is just what your pocket notebook is, a blank page to write on, with one key difference: notes are searchable.

On my MacBook Air and Pro there is the open source programme, nvALT, a fork of Zachary Schneirov’s Notational Velocity, the stellar note-taking application for OS X from 2011 that really looks like it was made in 1991. Design aside, however, the functionality of Notational Velocity is second to none. Once development was stopped the same year, developer Brett Terpstra took the app further along with a dedicated community, improving it with Markdown among other features, and released its final build around 2013. Mainstream development of nvALT has since stopped, much like Notational Velocity, although small forks are still active on Github. Understandably, this has prompted many users to look for alternatives, with Github’s own text editor, Atom, being quite popular. However what is important to note is that both apps still work flawlessly on the latest version of OS X, El Capitan, and this is precisely what led me back to this duo. With it being a solid programme, I see no valid reason to give up on nvALT anytime soon. (In fact several programmes in active development have crashed more often than this lightweight gem.) Plus, neither Simplenote nor nvALT (or Notational Velocity for that matter) lock notes into proprietary formats and, if one app fails, my notes are always available on the other, all in plain text format (or, optionally, encrypted) with readable Markdown syntax, ready to be shipped off safely elsewhere.

I think nvALT is something of an acquired taste: you will either love it as soon as you start using it, or you will be completely put off by its design and then love it once someone forces you to start using it. Either way it is hard not to enjoy and quickly see the power that nvALT weilds — that is, unless excessive photo notes and digital scribbles are your thing. Like Evernote, nvALT shines when you have hundreds, even thousands of typed notes in it; and like Simplenote, nvALT has zero organisation and works entirely on search. Infinitely fast search is where it excells and where its cleverness begins: if your search has an entry, the entry gets highlighted and opened, else a new note is ready for you to start entering with that search term as its heading. This is the sort of deeply thoughtful software design Apple prides itself of (but is sorely missing from the Calendar.app as of iOS 9). A simple hit of the Escape key brings you out of search mode while a customisable shortcut key lets you call nvALT from anywhere, any programme, any time, instantly. This sort of instant accessibility is note-taking 101. The programme makes note taking frictionless — you literally just have to start typing.

On the iOS side of things, Simplenote does an equally good job. It is not as slick or as fast as nvALT, but it is likely the quickest iOS note-taking application you can lay your hands on. That is to say, Simplenote is not nvALT, but the closest thing you will find. It does not support Markdown, much like nvALT itself, but that does not bother me much and I write in Markdown anyway: content written in Markdown makes sense whether the text is in syntax or plain. Above all that, it makes my notes futureproof, should Simplenote ever start supporting Markdown, or if something better than Simplenote comes along — some, including nvALT developer, Brett Terpstra, were already speaking of 1Writer a year go. Today Editorial and Drafts are worthy alternatives full with script capabilities. But, with my first priority being simplicity, these go straight out the window and make way for Simplenote. While Automattic got rid of Dropbox syncing for Simplenote in preference to their own syncing service, nvALT’s ability to connect to Simplenote remained because of the open-source nature of both apps. While this gives decidedly less control (you cannot, for instance, ever access notes in any other manner or via any other app) it still works just fine. The method is efficient and quick. The only issue I have with simplenote is its awkward handling of tags. Whereas most apps cleverly parse hashtags from the note body, Simplenote requires that you add tags separate from the note. I have not exactly got around this, but I just add hashtags in the note and pick them up from the app’s excellent Search bar while I abandon the tags filter altogether. It works, but it should not have to be this way.

A lingering question now may well be why I opted for two seemingly old note-taking solutions instead of dropping a few dollars on a dashing new one. 4 Simply put, they work, they do what is expected of them, they are free, and they have an excellent track record. A bonus is that they are open source so development may be picked up in one form or other. There is, of course, not guarantee, but they work beautifully and reliably, and at the moment, that is of paramount importance to me. A lot of my research gets managed elsewhere, and this workflow is for taking notes on the fly, which is exactly the kind of thing nvALT and Simplenote are good at; and their speedy search functionality makes it easy to lay your hands on any past note. I cannot say how long I will carry on with this workflow, but if there is one thing I have learnt, it is that simplicity lasts — from my iPhone to my dSLR, I try to maintain simplicity in work so that more gets done with less fuss, in less time. That, of course, is productivity 101.