Wishing for a better Apple Notes

// Fuck AI, give me some good old feature

With the upcoming Apple event in June, everyone is wondering about Apple’s AI or the new MacBooks but here I am, hoping for Apple to give its note-taking app some love.

It’s fair to say that Notes has received substantial updates in the last few years. We now note linking, smart folders, and tags, for example.

These changes are what initially brought me back to it and, after a bit of hesitation, I now find myself using it on a daily basis to store various kind of information in such a flexible way that, whenever I try another app1, I end up coming back to Notes.

The app is almost perfect, I can scan and edit PDFs, write or draw with the Apple Pencil, organise notes with folder and tags2, and summon a new quick note whenever I need thanks to iPad and iOS widgets or the handy 🌐 + q shortcut on my MacBook.

So, what’s still missing? Well, a few things…

Markdown support

First item on the list because it annoys me so much that I had to learn absurd keyboard shortcuts (see below) just to add some styling that will not be copied to Notion or iA Writer when I copy my content there.

Since its conception, markdown has spread and it’s now common to find (if not by default, at least supported for exporting) in basically every new note taking app. There must be a reason for that…

Probably one tricky thing is to understand how to store images and other stuff, but Bear and NotePlan seem able to do it, so that’s not really an excuse.

Honestly, this is the one point that, from time to time, pushes me to look for something else. I’m afraid of storing all of my notes in an app that doesn’t offer a great export functionality.

Bi-directional linking

Linked notes were a great addition last year but why did Apple stop half-way through? It’s nice to be able to go from one note to another through a link, but what if I want to go back? Or see which others are linked to the one I’m looking at?

It’s pointless to share examples or possible implementations here, as all note-taking apps are doing it for the last few years3.

And yes, we can add >> to the list of random-and-absurd-shortcuts. Every other app uses @4 and/or [[ so why the fuck would you go for something else?

Search for folders

Let’s say I have a folder called Kitchen and search for it: Apple Notes will show me all the notes that are tagged #kitchen, contain the word kitchen in the text, or have an attachment that contains it, but not the actual fucking folder.

More powerful Smart Folders

I’m not asking for much here, just give me one thing: include/exclude the selected folder(s) and its subfolders.

Here, the first example that comes into my mind: I want to see all of my notes inside the Projects folder (and its subfolders) with uncompleted tasks.”

What Apple Notes tells me: Sorry, that’s not possible. Why don’t you add all those subfolders one by one? And, obviously, please do the same whenever you add a new folder to it.”

As of now Smart Folders are severely limited by this small shortcoming, which is why I have over 500 notes and only two Smart Folders.

Focus mode support

It seems absurd to wish for this since it’s an Apple feature and you would think they added support for it, like they did with Mail, but hey, neither Notes nor Reminders allow filtering based on Focus Mode.

After all, why should I wish to see only my work tasks and notes when my devices are set to Work mode?

This could be somehow achieved with Smart Folders but, as we’ve seen before, it’s not possible to create complex” filters.

I don’t know how many times per week I would love to be able to right-click a folder or note, click share, then Copy link, and paste in another app.

Instead I have to create a link and share it with myself online, opening a series of menus and modals that make me forget why I needed that link to begin with. After all of this is done, this note that I shared just with myself will obviously end up in the list of shared notes in the sidebar.

Improve sync …

… or allow me to manually refresh my notes list. This is something that happens from time to time but it’s incredibly annoying when I start something on my iPhone, then try to continue with my Mac but I have to open and close the app a hundred times before it syncs.

OK, that’s it for the list of shortcomings that make me suffer inside whenever I use Apple Notes and see how unnecessary capped it is.

Now, for some other small stuff…

Filter tags when I select a folder

If I select a folder, the list of tags should automatically update to display only the ones that are used inside the folder (and all of its subfolders ideally).

Click twice on a tag to de-select it …

… not to filter it out. In particular, this becomes extremely annoying when you select more than one tag.

Isn’t there a better way to allow this? And how often do people need to filter out a tag? If not, just remove it. People will still be able to do the same using Smart Folders.

Show subfolder contents

Add a toggle somewhere that allows me to click on a folder and see all the notes contained inside of it and all its subfolders.

Smart folders inside folders

Just let me organise my sidebar the way I prefer. Why can’t smart folders be stored inside a simple folder? Instead, they now sit all together at the bottom of my folders list.

Sort folder alphabetically

I love being able to re-organise my folders as I prefer, but seeing the list of folders ordered alphabetically would help a lot when scanning through it (either in the sidebar or when moving a note).

OK, but if I complain so much, why do I keep using Apple Notes?

As I said at the beginning of this some-how-organised-rambling, Apple Notes offers a set of features that it’s basically impossible to find anywhere else, and which adapts wonderfully to what I do and how I take notes.

  • It’s a native apps, which automatically gives it extra points in my score book
  • It works great with the Apple Pencil, which I use a lot do write or sketch ideas
  • Between keyboard shortcuts, Apple Shortcuts, widgets, and Apple Pencil, it requires no friction when adding a note.
  • It gives me the right level of structure and flexibility, thank to to both tags and folders, which
  • On iPad it has that little Quick Note window that you can summon on the right border that I use a lot when reading books or watching videos to take notes.

Now, here’s a list of some of other note-taking apps I tried and what annoys me the most about them:

  • Obsidian: Not native, a pain to use on iPhone, annoying to work with attachments and images in general, not as great with the Apple Pencil.
  • Bear: Would be perfect if it just had folders and Smart Folder/filters. I know you can filter with the search bar but, honestly, fuck it.
  • NotePlan: OK, apart from the Apple Pencil stuff this would be basically perfect. The only thing stopping me is the hefty subscription price.
  • Drafts: Doesn’t support images and sketches
  • Workflowy: I love it but again, images, sketches, native app, etc.
  • Craft: This is a tricky one. I used to like it a lot but they started focusing on teams and never delivered some features (like tags) that I’d really love.
  • Evernote: Why should I pay for a subscription when Apple Notes offers me 99% of what Evernote does (plus some other things)?
  • All the other apps: Fall short in one or more criteria from the list.

Bonus: The absurdity of Apple Notes’ shortcuts

Want to use Apple Notes like a pro? Better prepare your brain to memorise some random key combinations:

  • + + t for title (H1)
  • + + h for heading (H2)
  • + + j for subheading (H3)
  • + + 7 for bullet list
  • + + 9 for ordered list
  • + + l for todo list
  • + + u to mark an item as done

But hey, that kind of make sense. How could any other app do it better? I don’t know, let’s look at how Bear handles it, for example:

  • + 1 for H1
  • + 2 for H2
  • + 3 for H3
  • + l for bullet list
  • + + l for ordered list
  • + t for a todo list
  • + . to mark an item as done

Case closed.

  1. And trust me, I tried all of them.↩︎

  2. Hello, Bear 👋↩︎

  3. But hey, think different…↩︎

  4. Which in this case it’s already used to tag people.↩︎

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