Simplenote: Beyond the Basics

I remember having a discussion with a fellow writer here at AppStorm about how we write and what tools we use. He kept talking about how great Simplenote was, and how amazing it was to have all of your documents on every device you use. I remember thinking, “Why would I ever want that?” Then I downloaded the app and found out.

Simplenote is, at its core, a note taking app. But don’t let that stop you from using it the way I do: as a full fledged text editor. Find out the deets after the jump.

The Concept

The idea behind Simplenote is, well, simple: give users a quick way to jot something down, then sync it across every platform, everywhere. To do this, you can use the web app, a variety of different desktop apps for your Mac including Notational Velocity and nvALT, or the iOS app which works on both your iPhone and iPad.

Adding notes is quick and easy.

Adding notes is quick and easy.

What makes Simplenote so awesome is the Simperium syncing service. This allows users to quickly transfer data across multiple machines, and it’s at the core of the Simplenote system. When I say it’s fast, I mean it’s fast. While typing this very sentence, I had Simplenote running on the web in the background. By the time I finished this next sentence, the previous one was already on the web — as was most of this one.

How it Works

Before using the app on your iPhone, you have to start with setting up an account with Simplenote. Fortunately, you can do this right there on your iPhone, but if you’re feeling frisky, the website is another option as well. Once you’re signed in, you’re greeted with a few notes that teach you more about the app. Take a moment to read them. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Typing in landscape mode works just as well.

Typing in landscape mode works just as well.

So now what do you do with it? Well, you start writing. Most people use Simplenote for jotting down a grocery list, a quickie to-do system or even journaling, but you can do anything that has to do with words. Problem is, how do you find things once you’ve written them in the system?

How You Find Things Once You’ve Written Them in the System

There are two keys to Simplenote, and these work pretty well across the board. 1. The first sentence of your note is your title. Use it to name the file, or just keep it as is. 2. The Tags field in each note is used to store words so that you can sort your notes accordingly. Maybe some are tagged as “To-Do” while others are “Sports” or “Monkeys.”

Adding tags come in handy, and you have sharing options as well.

Adding tags come in handy, and you have sharing options as well.

But even if your tagging system is horrible and your titles are all over the board, never fear, Simplenote’s Search field is like free donuts on a Monday — awesome. Just type in whatever word or phrase you want, and just like that you’ll be presented with all the posts containing that information. Seriously, I just typed in “daihatsu” into my Search field (the first car I owned was a 1988 Daihatsu Charade. Yes, it was horrible), and it pulled up a blog post from June of this year. (It also pulled up this very post as I was writing it — that sync is really fast!)

Free Versus Paid

This is a free app and a free service, but you’ve probably already noticed the ad in the top of the Notes list. That’s a bummer, right?

With ads (left) and without (right).

With ads (left) and without (right).

If you want to support the service, you can pay $1.99/month, or $19.99 for a year. So what do you get for that money? Well, you can sync your notes to Dropbox for one, and that’s pretty cool (although you have to set it up via the web app). You can also assign a custom email address where you can send your notes, should you not have the Simplenote app on hand. Plus, there’s premium support and a private RSS feed of your notes. There are a lot of apps we all use for free, $20/yr doesn’t sound too bad for such an awesome service.

Using It For Writing

For me, Simplenote is more about the syncing platform and how it works in my writing system. Every note I enter into Simplenote is then backed up to my Dropbox account both via Simplenote and nvALT on my Mac (in separate folders, naturally). That means it’s on both my iMac and my MacBook Air, both of which are connected to Dropbox. Then, they’re all backed up via Time Machine and my cloud backup system. So long story short, there’s just a slim chance I’ll ever lose a file again.

It's like a vault for my writing.

It’s like a vault for my writing.

And that, is the core of my love of Simplenote. Because it’s so integrated into everything that I use, I know that my work is going to be kept safe, secure and backed up. Even though I don’t have to pay for Simplenote, $20/yr is pretty good peace of mind in my book.

Final Thoughts

There are apps that I use that are part of my daily workflow. Text Expander (which Simplenote supports), Dropbox, OmniFocus — they all help make me more productive, and as a result, get more done. With Simplenote, I know that my words are safe, backed up and available anywhere I have an Internet connection. It gives me the flexibility to write a story while at a Starbucks with my MacBook Air, or on a long car ride using my iPhone.

The way I see it, Simplenote is one of the most powerful tools in my toolbox. And since it’s free, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be in yours, too.


Use one of the fastest note syncing services available on your iPhone for quickly jotting down ideas, or writing full-blown novels — your call.