By Dan Moren
June 18, 2021 12:27 PM PT
Rewiring my brain with Quick Note
To my surprise, as much as anybody’s, I’ve ended up using Apple’s Notes app a lot over the last several years. I use it when I want to jot down things about my novels, when I’m taking notes for podcast episodes, and even for making checklists.
But I don’t use it because it’s the most full-featured note application around, or because it’s even the most attractive. Simply put, the one thing that Notes has going for it is its ubiquity: I can guarantee that anything that I put in Notes will immediately be available across all my devices. And with the next updates to Apple’s platforms, that ubiquity just got a whole lot… more ubiquitous(?), thanks to the introduction of Quick Note.
Quick Note is a fascinating feature from both usability and philosophical standpoints. On the iPhone and the iPad, there’s nothing else that’s had this kind of systemwide support; and only Picture-in-Picture has boasted a similar interface: a floating window that can appear, hovering atop everything else, no matter what app you’re in. But Picture-in-Picture is a far more passive feature, without the complexity of interaction that Quick Note has.
In and of itself, that would be enough to get me interested. On the Mac, plenty of apps have offered the option to trigger actions via global keyboard shortcut, but on iOS and iPadOS, that option’s always been limited to a feature like screenshots, which has only recently been designed to really be user-facing. But, as Jason pointed out, Quick Note on the iPad is never more than a Globe-Q away. Or a swipe with the Pencil, or—according to Apple’s own feature description, though it doesn’t yet work in the current beta—a swipe with the finger. Simply put, it’s always there.
Scrivener, my app of choice for writing fiction, has a similar sort of feature within the app called the Scratchpad, which serves as a place that you can jot down notes and information, regardless of which app or document you currently have open. But it requires you be running Scrivener.
Quick Note takes this idea and runs with it. And not just like a slow lope, or a jog, but like Usain-Bolt-runs-with-it. Barry-Allen-runs-with-it. Because not only can you pop up Quick Note wherever you want on the system, but it can interact with Safari, letting you capture information on web pages. That pops a link to the information in your note, but it also highlights it on the page. Persistently. Tap the link in Notes, and it takes you back to that web page and highlights that information again. Visit that website, and your Quick Note pops up.
This is fantastic if you want to take a note about a specific thing on a page. Although, it does raise questions about page mutability—if you note something on Wikipedia, for example, which later changes, what happens to your highlight? (My quick test suggests that the link to the page will still function, even though your highlight no longer shows up).
Quick Note scales very nicely from those complicated use cases of researching, linking, highlighting, and so on, all the way down to a basic example that we can all get behind: you’re on the phone and you need to quickly jot down some information. In the past, I would have turned to a Post-It note on my desk, or maybe—if I was in front of my computer—opened the Notes app, created a blank note, and then typed in the information. But Quick Note is like a virtual version of that Post-It pad, always at my fingertips.
My biggest concern, when it comes to Quick Note, is that it’s exactly the kind of thing that seems to get Apple into hot water about these days: a feature that it can create and take advantage of, but that nothing else on the system can come even remotely close tod duplicating. I’m sure there are plenty of note-taking (and other) apps that would love to offer this kind of ubiquitous capture, but just can’t. Perhaps that will change in a future update, and Apple will open up this floating window or global keyboard shortcuts to third-party developers, but I can’t say that I’m holding my breath on that one.
The real challenge with Quick Note is that it’s going to require rewiring our brains. Right now, I’ve only had the chance to play around with Quick Note on the iPadOS beta, so I’m intrigued to see how I’ll end up using it on the iPhone or my Mac; having it available everywhere makes a big difference, but I still need to remember it’s there, and have the presence of mind to bring it up instead of reaching for pen and paper.
I’m not sure what it will take to get my brain to adapt to the idea of an always-on feature, but the fact that it’s building on the benefits of an app I already use will likely help. This is transformative for Notes; it’s more than just an app—it’s a service1.
- Though not a capital ‘s’ Service. ↩
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at @firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him by email at email@example.com. His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is out now.]