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Revisiting the Evernote/Microsoft OneNote Competitive Landscape

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Evernote and Microsoft OneNote are chameleon-like tools for information management and collaboration. Both can be used as simple note-taking tools, but they also can address far more elaborate scenarios, such as advanced hypertext content and distributed collaboration capabilities. Peter O'Kelly highlights some of the differences between the two tools.
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Microsoft OneNote and Evernote are the market-leading note-taking tools for a variety of device types (PCs, smartphones, and tablets). In March 2011 I wrote a competitive comparison, "Evernote and Microsoft OneNote: Comparing Two Noteworthy Tools/Services," and I encourage you to take a few minutes to review the earlier article if you're not familiar with both products.

This article shares my perspectives on what's new (since early 2011) with Evernote and OneNote, including a brief comparison of the iPad versions of both applications. I'll start with "big picture" updates for both Evernote and OneNote, share some observations about how I continue to gain value from both, and close with some projections about what may happen next, as both tools continue to evolve.

What's New with Evernote?

The Evernote team has been very busy and productive over the last year. Some highlights:

  • Evernote now has more than twenty million users, according to the late 2011 PC World article "The Rise of Evernote--and Why You Should Take Note," although, as a leading "freemium" offering, only a small percentage of the Evernote user population actually pays to use Evernote.
  • Also on the financial front, Evernote accepted a large venture capital investment in mid-2011.
  • Some of the venture capital funding was used to accelerate Evernote's evolution through a series of acquisitions, including new tools for sketching, uncluttering web pages, and capturing information about to-do items (in beta testing as of February 2012), people, and food. It also introduced Evernote Peek, an innovative study tool for the iPad 2.
  • The ecosystem of products and services built on Evernote as a platform and set of services continues to expand. Evernote Trunk is a resource for products and services that complement or extend Evernote. A growing list of tools tap into Evernote services; for example, the ability to send an information item (such as a scanned image) directly into Evernote, treating Evernote as a distributed information management service.
  • The Evernote team introduced and/or enhanced Evernote clients for several device platforms, with a primary focus on Windows and Mac OS personal computers; Android, iPhone, and Windows Phone smartphones; and tablets, including the iPad and Kindle Fire. Evernote also continues to offer simpler clients for less-popular device platforms such Blackberry, WebOS, and Windows Mobile (the Windows Phone predecessor). The Evernote client for Android smartphones is especially feature-rich at this point (reflecting, I assume, the readily extensible nature of the Android platform).
  • The browser-based Evernote web client gained new capabilities, and it now provides a useful client alternative for a variety of usage scenarios. Evernote also delivered several updates to browser extensions for clipping web content and sending it to Evernote, with special emphasis on Google Chrome. (I assume that's because Chrome is more readily extensible than some other popular browsers.) These updates make it possible for some combinations of platform, browser, and search service to have Evernote-managed content appear in web search results; for instance, to have content that you created or captured in an Evernote notebook appear in Bing or Google search results. Note that Evernote Web doesn't currently work on the iPad, however (using Safari or non-Apple browsers such as Dolphin).

Occasionally it's frustrating to use Evernote on multiple device platforms, because the various Evernote clients are inconsistent in some respects and evolve at different rates. However, in general it's easy to learn how to use Evernote clients on a wide range of device types, and the Evernote service keeps everything in sync across your device collection.

Evernote for the iPad is a very popular tool, and it has been updated with new features and bug fixes several times since it was introduced in April 2010. Figure 1 shows an example of a web page (the previously referenced PC World article) sent to and viewed in the Evernote iPad client.

Figure 1 Evernote for iPad note-reading view.

In this example, I used an Evernote notebook titled "Harvest" to collect various web pages and other information items to read on my iPad. Using Evernote browser extensions (automatically installed along with the Windows and Mac OS Evernote clients), it's easy to capture and send web content into Evernote. Many features available in the Windows, Mac OS, and web Evernote clients (such as the ability to use stacks of notebooks) are missing in the Evernote iPad client, but I believe that's reasonable, as the iPad client is optimized for content consumption, and the iPad's touch-based interface is in some respects less flexible than PC interfaces.

Figure 2 shows an example with the same Evernote page as in Figure 1, but viewed in edit mode.

Figure 2 Evernote for iPad note-editing view.

Figure 3 captures setting options for the Evernote iPad app (the settings window isn't resizable, so I took one screen shot, scrolled, and took the second). The options including setting a passcode for security; users who sign up for the Evernote Premium service also gain the ability to specify which notebooks are available offline (that is, with no iPad Internet connection).

Figure 3 Evernote for iPad settings.

This is far from a comprehensive review of what's new with Evernote over the last year, but I hope that you've gained a sense of what the Evernote team has been doing. Track the Evernote blog for a more detailed set of ongoing Evernote updates.

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