The perfect app does not exist, but I can dream of its existence…offline.

Sorry. You’re offline.

This question is something I regularly ask myself. I have used a lot of note-taking apps, daily planners, to-do list managers, productivity all-in-ones, and even Microsoft Notepad.

Often, they don’t stick, or I use them half-heartedly because I worry my full investment would make it harder to switch if I found something that caused a bump in the road.

Full access. Everywhere.

Part one of my series will look at offline and online accessibility. As I start to migrate to a digital workspace, I am coming up against brick walls that stop me from leaving the trusted pen and paper approach. Still, to this date, I use a physical daily planner at work and for most of my family endeavours. I know I will have access to it at all times.

Just like the Christmas Carole story, I have revisited the past applications, looked at the present ones and analysed what I will use in the future. There are some features I deem essential for any app I use, yet my app stack currently in use does not meet the standards I require. Their awesomeness (subjective), lets them have a free pass. Finding workarounds makes the application work for me (kind of).

My list of requirements is longer than I could possibly write in one blog. However, I am going to attempt to list what I would deem the ‘perfect app’ below.

My context, within the education sector, makes my needs different from someone who works in business or the tech industry. It is not a Fisher-price ordeal. The education sector can be quite demanding when it comes to the technology to record, analyse and respond to student’s educational needs.

In addition, I have my personal life, blogging and keeping a family running with never-ending commitments. My soon-to-be teenage son has a busy social life to organise.

Prerequisites of a good note-taking planner

Here is a list of prerequisites I look for in an app for managing the daily tasks, ideas, events, and light journal entries.

  • First and foremost, offline access across operating systems (that includes Linux, too).
  • Security. Preferably end-to-end encryption.
  • Encryption for attachments
  • A quality extension for capture, including a Safari extension.
  • Sketching capabilities with OCR detection.
  • OCR across text, images, handwritten notes and scanned documents.
  • A daily note function.
  • Backlinks with a list of connected notes.
  • Share sheet functionality across the entire Apple ecosystem.
  • Calendar integration with Apple Calendars.
  • Apple Watch integration, including Siri input for when I am not near a computer.

The problem with the current landscape (for me)

Offline desktop access

I am not going to name names or single out specific apps here. The problem I am having is access to notes offline. All the apps I have tried, with an iPhone and iPad app, work exceptionally well and offer the convenience for my needs.

Unfortunately, they fall flat when I require offline desktop access. There are three times in the week when I go somewhere will little to no internet access to tether my phone to my MacBook Air. I have to resort to using Apple Notes, which is why Apple Notes is my primary note-taking application.

It is why I don’t properly commit to the said applications. I would rather not enter lots of information in an application to not have access to it when I am offline. It is becoming a real issue as I am writing more and using technology over my trusted pen and paper approach these days.

Please stop using Electron. It is a quick fix for deploying said ‘apps’ across multiple platforms, but native apps have better options for users as well as global shortcuts. I get that supporting multiple platforms takes time and a crazy amount of money to work effectively. I am willing to pay for this convenience.

Two services I will mention are Reflect Notes and Amplenote. They make use of PWAs (Progressive Web Applications) that operate through a web browser and your content is accessible offline. This is perfect for those who need access at work where applications are not allowed to be installed.

I would like to see software companies explore this approach because offline access on desktop is essential. Imagine having a great note-taking app that you can’t access when you are not online. It is becoming a real bugbear of mine at the moment.

Web access

It might appear to be an oxymoron, but I also require online web access, too. Like most businesses (and schools) out there. Installation of applications can be prohibited if they are not on the list of approved workplace folklore.

This part winds me up a little. Applications will E2EE can be considered unsecured, yet outdated Microsoft Office is allowed at work. Moreover, what is with all the telemetry, Microsoft?

I have some application services that work amazingly offline in their native apps. One of them, for example, is a note-taking application I use each day at home for referencing articles, storing coding snippets and learning content. However, I can’t access it at work because I am not allowed to install the app from the Microsoft Store.

Without web access, I can’t retrieve my information from the note-taking application. Is there such of an application that gives you full access, everywhere?

Again, I resort back to my little bullet journal to record an idea, task or thought. When I have time, I will input it into the relevant application when I have time to access it.

My issue at work is I am not always at a computer. I could possibly estimate I spend 60% of my time away from a computer. If, for some crazy reason, I forget my bullet journal or daily planner, I can use my Apple Watch to input through Siri or on their well-constructed complication on my watch’s home screen.

Final thoughts

I don’t think I am the only one with this issue. I would love to get people’s input on this matter. I’m under no illusion that the perfect app does not exist. There are some apps out there that have come close.

I know 2024 will be an interesting time to see what happens in the note-taking space. I have seen many applications come out with calendar, tasks, and notes all rolled up into one nice package.

My fingers are seriously crossed that one of them comes out with a service that offers offline and web access across all the platforms I use. Namely, macOS, iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, Windows and Linux (I know my demands are complicated).

Anyway, thank you for taking the time to read my post. Part two will be coming out in January 2024.

Mark @ CodeMacLife

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