Evernote's Loss Is OneNote's Gain


I've been an Evernote user since 2009. My life is in there. But after the company's pricing changes made clear that it's ditching its core consumer user base, it's time for a move. Hello, Microsoft OneNote.

Evernote became a huge success as a cloud-based note-taking tool with fast indexing, tagging, and search. Under the pressure of Silicon Valley expectations, it then spent years loading itself down with extra features: first consumer-friendly ideas like food blogging and flash cards, and then more business-oriented apps like work chat, collaboration, slideshows, and version control. It's now a giant Swiss Army Knife of workflow, doing a ton of non-note-taking things not quite as well as its more focused competitors do.

Looking at it from that perspective, you can see why Evernote thinks it can charge $69/year—the same price as the entire Microsoft Office suite costs for home users, including using OneNote on unlimited devices.

Evernote also has a new CEO, who explained in an interview with The Verge that he sees the company's future going forward as having more corporations pay for Evernote subscriptions. That makes sense, especially when you see what they've killed (the food, the flash cards) and what they've kept (the Slack and PowerPoint competitors.) But every shift in focus leaves some people behind, and I fear that Evernote is leaving its traditional consumer note-takers in the dust. It's also moving into more direct conflict with OneNote, which has plenty of collaboration and enterprise features because it's part of Office.

The change that's driving me away is Evernote's decision to charge for one of its most basic, low-intensity features: the ability to access your notes from anywhere. The new restriction of "two devices only" is designed to turn the free product into a teaser. That is the most basic feature of a cloud service. It's the whole point of a cloud service.

So initially, it sounds like Evernote doesn't want me, as a note-taker, and that's fine. I don't bring it revenue, after all. But the company may be making a mistake nonetheless. Its major competitors are all tied to a specific larger player. Microsoft OneNote, Google Keep/Docs, and Apple Notes all stay free to help entice people into a larger suite of services.

Evernote, meanwhile, has been willing to integrate with everyone else. It's been the cloud text storage app for everyone who needs to partner with a cloud text storage app, such as Dropbox and smartpen makers Livescribe. Partners have chosen Evernote because it's powerful and flexible, but also because it's free. "We've always been about open access to information," its CEO told The Verge.

But Evernote may no longer be the default for partner integration if it starts to retreat into the business world. Without a larger company to backstop it, Evernote may find that it becomes niche, rather than mainstream. That may make for a more profitable company in the long run, but it's one that won't be at the center of the note-taking world.

On to OneNote
Evernote has a cheaper plan, at $34.99/year, which doesn't include a lot of the business features. But since I already subscribe to Microsoft Office 365 (hey, ya gotta have Microsoft Office), and I have a massive collection of notes that's inappropriate for Google Keep's Post-It metaphor, I'm giving OneNote a try. I don't have a lot of recommendations yet. So far, OneNote's import tool has transferred all of my notes accurately, but as a disordered jumble that isn't even sorted by date.

OneNote seems to prefer Microsoft platforms, which is a problem as I use macOS, Android, and Windows pretty much evenly. You can add a lot of power—such as sorting—with an add-on called Onetastic, but it's only available for Windows. I also can't find the audio-recording option in the Android app. I'm starting to keep some article and email ideas and enjoying the inking a bit.

I'm just getting started. It's day one. I'll give it some time. If you're a OneNote expert, I'd love to hear more from you below.

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