Maybe One Solution Isn't The One Solution
For the last year, I have been looking, searching, researching, trying out, and tweaking what I thought might have been the one solution to my workflow woes. You see, what I want isn't hard - a simple synching solution for me to be able to compose classes and sermons on my computer (or iPad mini) and have them sync to my two other devices. I had some criteria when I began this mission:
1. It must sync to my iPad mini, because I do all my teaching and preaching from it. Additionally, it must look great and I must be able to format it in a way that I can easily glance at my notes when presenting.
2. It must be on iOS. A companion Mac app would be helpful, but not essential. iPhone app is also not optional as I do a lot of tweaking on the go.
3. It must be simple. No crazy layouts or unnecessary button on the app - just...simple.
Evernote seems like it's been around a long time, and that's because it has. It is a service that has never been accused of standing still. Evernote continually pushes new designs, additions, and features to its suite of apps which now include Penultimate and Skitch.
Pros: Evernote is very well designed. The iPad app is beautiful on a retina iPad mini screen (and on the iPad Air as well). The apps are designed to easily do what you want to do: capture anything and everything. Evernote can capture text, pictures, voice memos, and even has embedded To-Do lists. It allows rich-text editing (bold, italics and such). It syncs fast across all devices, has a Mac and Windows app, and is also cross-platform on Android and Windows Phone as well.
Cons: For me, it seems a bit too much. I don't often need to capture photos and voice memos, only text. So I end up completely ignoring those features, mostly because I refuse to pay for a premium account ($5/month or $45/year). I did have a premium account for six months and didn't use the features. While it's a great app for 90% of people, a power user like myself who wants simplicity above all else isn't going to be using it very much. Still a great app though.
Appropriately named, Simplenote is just what it says it is - simple note syncing across devices. I was just about ready to declare this platform dead when Simplenote relaunched with a new web design and app design as well as an introduction of a dedicated Mac app. I really thought this was going to be my solution.
Pros: Extremely simple and well designed. Fonts and text look great and a retina MacBook Pro and retina iPad mini. The app is active in development and syncs well with other devices. There is no clutter to deal with in these apps - they simply allow you to compose notes, title them, tag them, export them, and pin them to the top of your list. Composing and writing in these apps (as well as the Mac app) is a joy.
Cons: It's almost too simple. Simplenote allows no formatting of any type and does not support Markdown editing, so if you want to style your text at all, you are limited to bullet points, numbering, and capitalizations. This sounded great in theory but I've noticed if I can't bold some text or make section headings bigger in my notes then I frequently lose my place while teaching and preaching because all the text looks the same. Tagging is great, and if tagging is your thing, you're going to love this app. If it's not, stay away, because that's the only amount of organization you get from Simplenote. All you have is a long running list of your notes, in order of what was last edited first. There's the option to 'Pin to Top' which comes in very handy.
I've run into some sync issues (as late as Oct-Nov 2013), but most of those seem to have been ironed out. The apps still crash on me frequently (once to twice a week) - I don't think a day or two goes by that the Mac app hasn't quit for no apparent reason and once the iPad app crashed on me while scrolling and preaching in front of hundreds of people (ack!). The iPhone app has a bad bug where it will crash when trying to sort changes in a note. I know developers are active on this app and I love Simplenote, I just cannot afford to use something that's unreliable. If the apps were stable enough, I might have this as my go-to platform.
And here we are, talking about the joys of plain text once again. I really don't know why I migrated away from plain text, but it seems that my search has brought me full circle, back to where I started.
You may read this and discount the plain text preference as an uber-nerd thing, but, in fact, it's really not. It just works.
Pros: You can use a variety of text editors on all devices and plain text formats, including regular ol' .txt, Markdown, or Multi-Markdown. Markdown allows you to style your text how you want without changing to rich-text format. It uses simple symbols like asterisks to indicate bold and italics and hashtags to indicate headlines. Comes in handy when you get it down. The app I love to use on the iPad is Editorial, and on the Mac it's Byword. You can usually sync these apps to Dropbox and keep them in nested folders, easily categorizing what you need where you need it. Apps like Editorial, Nebulous Notes, and Byword are minimalistic and usually offer inline Markdown support, so you can see your bold and italics and headlines while writing. Best of all, plain text is future proof and my files are not tied to any platform, so I can move them around as I please.
Cons: No simple "Compose it and forget it" syncing. Syncing is pretty painless, but requires a little bit of file management as well. Syncing isn't instantaneous unless you save your files in the app you're using. So unlike Simplenote and Evernote, you can't just sync and go. Plain text may not appeal to many people because it's not as simple to set up as other services. There's an extra added step when syncing to Dropbox, and you must know where your text repository folder is located.
So looking at these three platforms, jumping back and forth between using them for the last year, I realized that there really is no "one solution" for capturing all my thoughts, pictures, and text (long or short). One solution is finding a small, precise suite of apps that fit your purposes. I'll use Editorial and Byword for all my writing (70% of the time), Simplenote for lists and occasional text capture (20% of the time), and Evernote for pics and logs (10% of the time).
For me at least, one solution ends up being three solutions.