Sunday, May 5 2013

Evernote iOS gotcha

Evernote is an extremely useful cross-platform application, allowing you to keep lightly-formatted documents in sync across Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android devices. Heck, they even support Blackberry, Windows Phone, and Windows RT tablets, and if you’re masochistic enough to run a Linux desktop, you can at least run it in Chrome.

The basic product is free, and most of their money seems to come from an array of partnerships rather than the small monthly fee for premium use. The friends I know who use it mostly don’t even know there is a premium option; they just like the convenient syncing.

The feature that made premium useful for me was offline notebooks; my phone and laptop are usually online, but I tend to leave the wireless off on my Sony Android tablet unless I’m actively using it, because it drains the battery. However, it turns out that there’s another feature that is really, really useful, and that allows you to recover from an annoying issue in the iOS client.

I was using my iPhone to make a small change to a long note that was filled with images, and I wanted to remove some gratuitous formatting from a paragraph. When you pull up the formatting panel, there are two buttons side by side: “Simplify” and “Plain Text”. If you accidentally hit the second one, all formatting including embedded images is removed from the note, and there’s no undo. If your phone has a data connection, your change will sync up as soon as you close the note, and wipe out the good version everywhere else.

(technically, there is one level of undo, but most people don’t know that “shake the device” is the iOS gesture for “undo typing/delete”; I certainly never would have guessed it after two years with an iPhone and several more running apps on an iPod Touch, because 90% of apps that implement shake do something else with it, and it’s usually something stupid that I want to turn off. Coincidentally, a lot of people apparently would love to turn off “shake to undo”…)

Fortunately, one of the other features Evernote premium gives you is version history; if the good version was ever synced up, you can get it back… from the desktop or web clients, at least; this feature hasn’t been implemented in iOS yet. It’s also possible to use offline editing to modify the good version that’s cached on another device, and generate a sync conflict that preserves both versions.

If you don’t have premium, your only real option is generating a sync conflict by editing on another device before closing the note on the iOS device.

Why was I messing with the formatting in the first place? Because Evernote’s cross-platform nature often results in some really hideous font and text-size issues when you paste things in on the different clients. I have no idea what’s going to happen when I paste text into it.