Outlining is a fantastic way to organize ideas for everything from a detailed narrative to an app review. ThinkBook has always been my go-to outlining app, but the lack of robust syncing or export options makes it difficult to edit outlines on anything except the iPad. I would venture to say that no one likes to edit outlines in TextEdit, but I’m sure that there’s at least one text evangelist out there who’s crazy enough.
Cloud Outliner by Denys Yevenko is a basic outliner that trades complex features for easy export and sync. The app supports iCloud and Evernote syncing, and can export to OPML. Is the promise of robust outline syncing too good to be true, or does this little app pack a powerful punch?
Cloud Outliner is all about simple outlines. It doesn’t offer multiple columns or complex styling options, but each line does contain a checkbox, which users can toggle on and off in the app settings. These checkboxes are useful for checking off topics upon completion. There’s a detailed example outline that lays out all of the app’s features, but there isn’t much to it.
Once a new outline is created, tap the + button to create a new line. The new line is inserted at the bottom of the outline, but users can highlight a line and Cloud Outliner will insert the new line below the selected one. The new line can be moved around using the arrows in the toolbar. Once it’s completed, users can either tap Next to create another item, or hide the keyboard to enter viewing mode. Simply double tap an entry to edit it.
There are several ways to rearrange data in Cloud Outliner. It’s possible to select several lines by tapping one and dragging it to select additional lines. They can then be moved together, deleted, copied or pasted. Each item has a drag tab, so single items can be rearranged with a simple gesture. Aside from depending on toolbars, highlighted items can also be indented by dragging them to the left or right of the screen. The combination of gestures and toolbars works well for users with a variety of working styles.
Syncing and Export
The app’s syncing implementation is simply phenomenal, seeing as outlines can be synced with both iCloud and Evernote at the same time. This means that outlines are available and editable on nearly any computer with an Internet connection. Evernote represents each line item as a bullet, and it even supports the app’s checkboxes. Initially, users will have to log into Evernote in all instances of Cloud Outliner, but once the outline is synced to Evernote it will sync automatically across all devices. This awesome sync makes Cloud Outliner an excellent choice for heavy Evernote users.
Cloud Outliner also syncs an items checked/unchecked status with Evernote.
Syncing is just a part of an app’s appeal, but export and import are just as important. Cloud Outliner can import or export to OPML, which is great news for mind mappers, or anyone who wants to move beyond the app or the walls of Evernote. Syncing means that outlines are available anywhere, and OPML export means that nearly any app can open them. This in itself makes Cloud Outliner worth the pocket change.
Simplicity by Design
I firmly believe that, besides skilled development, one of the reasons that sync with Cloud Outliner works so well is the app’s simple feature set. This snappiness is complemented by a minimalist design and useful gestures.
Simplicity does come at a cost, especially for those looking for a customized experience. On the app side of things, users can enable/disable iCloud and sounds, but that’s it. Every outline has the option to show/hide checkboxes or checked items, but there are zero options to customize the style. This may be enough to turn some away, but I see these limitations as a strength rather than a weakness. There’s no room for tinkering in Cloud Outliner, which aids focus but also ensures that literally all settings and changes are synced across iCloud, Evernote or both.
Cloud Outliner’s iPhone and iPad experiences are identical. The app feels as if it’s designed for the iPhone, since outlines and toolbars fit snugly on the screen. The iPad version has slightly larger text and toolbars, but there’s quite a bit of white space. All-in-all this doesn’t hamper the iPad experience, but it appears that the developers simply copied the iPhone app, without giving too much thought to the user experience on the iPad. Hopefully the iPad version will receive some design love in the future.
Cloud Outliner’s smooth syncing and solid performance make it easy to recommend, but OPML export and import is icing on the cake. This app is great for anyone looking to produce simple outlines that are editable anywhere. Users looking for multiple column support or complex features will certainly want to look at apps like OmniOutliner, but Cloud Outliner offers the basic features for a price tag that’s impossible to pass up.