Better Note Syncing Between Your Mac and iPhone

Today we’re going to look at how to create an awesome digital note system that automatically syncs between your Mac and iOS device.

If you’re using the default iPhone notes app, you’ll definitely want to read this and check out our suggested upgrade. It’s completely free, works across any number of computers and is much more robust than those plain old iPhone notes.

Isn’t This a Built-In Feature?

The iPhone default notes app has been there since day one and though the feature wasn’t there originally, Apple eventually figured out that we wanted the notes to sync with our Macs. So without downloading a single application you do in fact have simple note syncing between your iOS devices and your Mac.

However, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed or not, but the iPhone note app kind of sucks. First of all, we all got sick of the Marker Felt font real quick. The readability is horrible for large blocks of text and it makes notes look all cutesy like a bad cliche.

Beyond the appearance, there are some basic features such as tagging and post-trashing note recovery that just aren’t present on the default iPhone notes app. It would also be nice if the notes (and everything else for that matter) would sync over the air rather than through iTunes and a physical connection.

Is this too much to ask of a simple and free note application?

Meet Simplenote

Simplenote is exactly what it sounds like: a basic utility for creating notes. The notes that you create with Simplenote are text only, just like the notes on the default iPhone app.

Unlike the default app, the notes are shown in an easy to read sans-serif font on a plain white background.

simplenote screenshots

Simplenote

Your notes are presented in a simple searchable list with brief previews and titles grabbed automatically from the first line of the note. Simplenote is in fact ad supported, but they’re not intrusive and usually blend pretty well with the interface.

While Simplenote is about as basic as it gets, it does have the important features that are missing from the iPhone notes app. You can tag notes and browse by tag as well as view the contents of the trash after deleting notes. There’s also support for version history (how sweet is that?).

simplenote screenshots

Simplenote Tags

To make sure your notes stay nice and synced with the online database, you’ll be asked to create an account. This is a super quick process that only requires an email address and a password.

simplenote screenshots

Creating an Account

JustNotes for Mac

Since we’re shooting for a synced library of notes that exists on both a Mac and an iOS device, Simplenote is only half the story. For the Mac part of the equation, we’ll be using JustNotes.

JustNotes is an awesomely handy application that lives in your Mac’s menu bar. After using JustNotes daily for a few months, I couldn’t go without it. The convenience of having your notes a single click away can’t be beat and the interface is beautiful.

justnotes screenshots

JustNotes

JustNotes is super easy to use and has an almost nonexistent learning curve. On the left is your list of notes. Simply select one to see if pop up in the note area on the right.

The little plus and minus icons at the top allow you to quickly add and delete notes and the trash icon on the bottom allows you to view previously deleted notes.

If you have your account set up, the cloud button at the bottom right will sync your information. If you don’t like how the app looks, you can customize it in the preferences panel. You can choose between a vertical column view (shown above) or a stacked view. Fortunately, you can also change the font used in the notes (I use good old Helvetica).

Keyboard Shortcuts

One of my favorite things about JustNotes is that it is fully keyboard accessible. You can setup a global shortcut for showing the window and/or creating a new note and use the built-in shortcuts for all the other commands.

justnotes screenshots

Keyboard Shortcuts

In the window above you can see all the various shortcuts that are available. Holding down the command key, the arrow keys navigate the note list, plus and minus create a delete notes respectively, “M” mails the note, “F” runs a search, comma opens preferences and “S” initiates a sync.

Syncing

All you have to do to sync the notes between your Mac and iPhone is type your Simplenote account information into the JustNotes preferences.

justnotes screenshots

Logging into Simplenote

After this, hit the little cloud button and everything will sync in mere seconds. For some reason, JustNotes will occasionally give you a failed login message when you hit the cloud. This usually happens to me about once every two weeks. If it happens to you, just go to preferences and hit the login button again. This wakes up the connection and makes sure everything is still syncing properly.

Bonus: Simplenote Web Interface!

If you aren’t on your Mac or for some reason don’t like JustNotes, Simplenote has an awesome web interface as well that is always in sync with the iPhone app. In fact, the web app has even better support than JustNotes for the various Simplenote features (though JustNotes does provide offline access).

justnotes screenshots

Simplenote Online

You could even turn this into a desktop app using Fluid. Then you’ll have an iOS option, a menu bar option and a desktop application option! Surely that’s as close to digital note bliss as it gets.

Closing Thoughts

If you’re like me, you put off syncing your iOS device for days and weeks at a time. This tendency towards procrastination along with the pet peeves I have with the built-in iPhone notes app really necessitates a third party solution. I’m a huge Evernote fan and use it on Mac and iOS to store really important long-term notes, but it’s a bit too much for stuff that I want to quickly jot down.

The Simplenote/JustNotes combination makes for an lightning fast, extremely basic and distraction free note workflow that is by far the best solution I’ve found for my own personal needs. Give it a shot and let me know what you think in the comments below.

Also, if you have a different setup that uses other apps, tell us about it and how it matches up to the features and convenience of the solution above.


  • http://www.joshcrain.com Josh Crain

    I’m a huge Simplenote fan. Excellent overview for an app that has really helped me streamline.

  • http://www.appforthat.de Julia Altermann

    Very nice article, Josh!

    I’ve tried several different solutions and once I found Simplenote, I’ve stayed with it. I use it on my iPhone, the iPad and the Mac (web interface) and it’s a blessing to have my content available on every device.

    I hadn’t heard of JustNotes before, but I will check it out. Thanks!

  • Arnoud

    Don’t forget Notational Velocity, which has some nice features that JustNote doesn’t have. It’s an application not residing in the menu bar, but starts up really fast.

    Open source: http://notational.net/

  • Jangle

    Love Simplenote. Use it constantly. I use Notational Velocity on Mac with Simplenote apps on iphone and iPad. Instantly syncs so always have my notes at hand.

  • http://jejohaneman.com J.E. Johaneman

    I love JustNotes and Simplenote. Another option instead of JustNotes is Notational Velocity, which also syncs with Simplenote and is also free (I like JustNotes better, but some people swear by Notational Velocity). Nottingham is another option, though it’s not free.

  • http://andrewburgess.ca Andrew Burgess

    If I could only have one iOS app, it would definitely be Simplenote. For syncing with Mac, I prefer Notational Velocity, as others have commented. If you want to sync with a PC, you can use ResophNotes (http://resoph.com/ResophNotes/Welcome.html) or the beta of Notes (http://ufridman.org/notes.html) which is a lot like NV.

  • http://www.thamms.org Laurent Rathle

    I’ve tried Notaional Velocity and never succeeded to make the shortcuts work correctly. So the fact that Justnote is in the menubar makes it easier for me to use.

  • David Ferguson

    There is also a dashboard widget that syncs with SimpleNote if there are any dashboard diehards out there.

    http://dashnote.resenmedia.com/

  • Pingback: Wednesday Morning News | MacTalk Australia

  • http://davidlevine.posterous.com David Levine

    I love Simplenote. It is definitely the best note taking tool because of all the platforms it’s available on. I use Notational Velocity to sync notes on my Mac. Hopefully it’ll be updated in the future to take advantage of the new features Simplenote implemented such as versions and tags (which Notational Velocity has, but does not sync).

  • Danich

    “For some reason, JustNotes will occasionally give you a failed login message when you hit the cloud.”

    It because of free mode. Look here: [IMG]http://i56.tinypic.com/2uop1jq.png[/IMG]

  • Mats Beem

    If you are a “huge Evernote fan” and you “use it on Mac and iOS to store really important long-term notes”, why not use Fastever XL, which is just quickly jotting down notes, but it does save to Evernote, a lot more convenient than yet another notes-creation-and-synchronisation-platform, that doesn’t do all the things Evernote does…

  • Jenny

    Unfortunately JustNotes is buggy. It keeps resurrecting deleted notes, which makes it unusable.

  • peter ryan

    Justnotes web site says the app is not ready for the app store yet?

theatre-aglow
theatre-aglow
theatre-aglow
theatre-aglow