I love applications that synchronise over as many platforms as possible. As bare minimum, I look for sync across Macs and iPhone/iPad and it has to be sync via the cloud rather than local wifi1. Favourite apps that do this well are OmniFocus (which I sync via MobileMe), MacJournal (MobileMe), Evernote (proprietary) and Dropbox (proprietary). Frankly, an application that doesn’t support data synchronisation is practically useless. Bento, which I otherwise adore, is a big culprit here. Even the iPhone app has to be synchronised over a local wifi and there is no sync between Macs.
Quick notes, either entered on the iPhone or on the Mac, are essential sync material because you never know when you’ll need them. I can make notes in OmniFocus, but the entry process can be a long-winded (it is, after all, a powerful application for managing tasks and projects). And OF is relatively slow to start if you want instant access to a note. Evernote is reasonably quick for text entry, but the problem with Evernote is that it is just too convenient. I end up stuffing it with PDF files, images and all sorts of other files with the result that it isn’t the quickest application for opening and searching. And the Evernote iPhone application is particularly slow and downloads only what is needed at any particular time. If your iPhone is out of wifi or 3G range you have a problem.
So I was fascinated to hear the enthusiasm in a Mac Power Users podcast for Simplenote, a free iPhone app that does just what it says–simple, quick text notes. No fancy formatting, just simple text. And I was even more interested to hear that the Simplenote website offers synchronisation with a number of Mac desktop applications including Notational Velocity and JustNotes. There’s also a Dashboard widget called DashNote. I’ve tried both the desktop applications and Simplenote on the iPhone. All stay in sync perfectly. Both Notational Velocity and JustNotes attempt to do the same thing and both do it well. JustNotes is marginally prettier and reminds me of Apple’s Notes, but Notational Velocity has a very minimalist and straightforward presentation that I really like. Absolutely no colour, no icons, no frippery. There are keystokes for all the editing you’ll need and it works without a mouse. This is something to sit on the desktop for quick note taking and you can be sure that all your ideas will be in your pocket when you leave home or office. This combination of Simplenote and Notational Velocity is perfect and, what’s more, it’s free. Simplenote has premium versions with added features for a few dollars (from $3.99 to suppress ads) while National Velocity is open source and, I presume, donations would be welcome.
1 Honourable exception to universal cloud syncing is the excellent 1Password. While the 1Password data file, the Agile Keychain, syncs perfectly across all your Macs via Dropbox, the iPhone sync is still manual via network wifi. Both computer and iPhone must be present on the same network and talking to one another. I know the reason for this is security: you don't want all your passwords and bank details being bandied around some internet cafe. In time, I suspect, Agile Web Solutions, the masters of 1Password, will think of a way of achieving cloud sync, perhaps with a secure proprietary server.