Daniel Eran Dilger
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Using iPhone: Notes, ToDos, Attached Files, and Mac OS X Leopard

Using iPhone: Notes, ToDos, Attached Files, and Mac OS X Leopard
Daniel Eran Dilger
Apple’s Notes are about to get a major overhaul in Mac OS X Leopard. Here’s how it relates to the iPhone, and how Apple will use all those iPhone sales to dial up new Mac purchases.

I mentioned iPod Notes in 2005 as part of my Leopard wish list, and again last year as one of the hoped-for software upgrades for the 6G iPod, along with the ability to display PDF documents. Apple has since demonstrated how it plans to expand upon Notes in a major way and address all three items.

[Generation 6 iPods]
[Leopard Wish List]

Starting Off On the Wrong Note.
Starting with the 3G iPod, Apple offered a way to sync Notes, which were simply little text files with hyperlinks. Apart from the Shuffle, all iPods since have had the ability to run them. They can link to other Notes or to media stored on the iPod, allowing users to make a selectable menu of songs, for example.

What Apple didn’t provide was a good way to create or distribute Notes. Users had to learn how to create their own HTML files by hand and manually copy them to the iPod.

Third party developer Talking Panda released a smart looking tool called iWriter for creating Notes, but users were so unfamiliar with iPod Notes that the company refers to it as a way to create iPod study tools to distribute to students.

[iWriter – Create study tools for iPod in minutes – Talking Panda]


iPhone Notes.
The iPhone appears to introduce an entirely different type of Notes, which function like a yellow notepad. To get Notes off an iPhone, they need to be sent out via Mail, as they don’t sync in any useful way with the docked computer; they are only backed up into a hidden database.

I suggested in the previous article that it would be great if Notes could act like a Scrapbook-style replacement for the iPhone’s missing copy and paste, so that within Mail, SMS, or any other text field, one could insert the contents of a saved Note.

This would work like shortcuts on Palm OS devices and serve as a mechanism for choosing between multiple email signatures. There is only one barrier to such an idea: Apple already has plans for Notes.

[Using iPhone: Text and Data Entry vs T9, Graffiti, Thumb Keyboards]


Leopard Notes.
Apple has publicly demonstrated a new kind of Notes integrated into Leopard. They appear in the Mail 3.0 screenshots, but are are not a feature specific to Mail.

They are really just specially formatted HTML emails with a distinct font and background style that sets them apart from other emails, and they reside in a special IMAP mailbox.

As Apple’s ad copy says: “Since your notes folder acts like an email mailbox, you can retrieve notes from any Mac or PC.”

Apple also notes that Notes can “include graphics, colored text, and attachments,” and depicts a Camping Trip Note that hyperlinks to Yosemite National Park and includes an attached map graphic.

Leopard Mail

A Quick Roundup.
It might look like Apple is all over the place on Notes, but it all falls into place nicely:

• On the iPod, Notes are hyperlinked text files.
• In the iPhone, Notes are a static yellow notepad, written in Marker Felt.
• In Leopard, Notes are HTML emails used as a multimedia yellow notepad, written in Marker Felt.

That makes it easy to predict that under Leopard, the iPhone will sync Notes as special HTML emails with links and attachments, written in Marker Felt (and yes the font can be changed if you can’t handle whimsy).

Currently, Apple makes no mention of Notes on the iPhone and excludes it from the iPhone’s online demos. It’s mainly a stop gap tool designed for text scribbles, waiting for the delivery of Leopard.

I use Notes to capture thoughts that can then be fleshed out later. I formerly used Palm’s Memo function, but there was no way to mail a memo out after I was finished with it, and it never synced properly. It might make more sense to keep mobile notes in the iPhone’s Mail as drafts, as these can sync, even over the web.

[Inside the iPhone: Wireless and Sync vs. Palm, WinCE]

Syncing Data Using iPhone Emails.
Mail is already the primary way to get data files into the iPhone. While there’s no way to directly copy over a PDF or a Word Doc or Excel file to the iPhone, each can be emailed to the iPhone, or simply copied into a draft email on an account that is synced with the iPhone.

Mail on the iPhone has no problem rendering HTML formatted emails, and attached documents appear as a button that can be selected to reveal the document in a resolution independent, read-only view. So it’s no stretch to suggest that Leopard’s Notes will help make the same file attachment process more obvious.

Rather than setting up a convoluted file transfer and sync system, users will simply use Notes to organize ideas in progress, with included graphics, files, and links to related web pages. All the syncing work is done by iTunes, so any corrections or additions made on the phone appear on the desktop as well.

Notes would also work as a store for creating rich HTML stationary email templates that could be sent directly from the iPhone. There is currently no way to send out an email with more than one graphic, or to send both the contents of a Note and a graphic in the same email.

Notes Not New.
Of course, Apple didn’t invent the idea of email Notes. Microsoft’s Outlook had a provision for Notes, which in turn borrowed the idea (and directly copied the look) of the Macintosh’s original Notes, which had copied 3M’s Post-its.

Notes in Outlook are just text emails formatted to look like a Post-it note. While there are a lot of menus and options related to Notes in Outlook, they’re not all that useful, because of its rather cluttered interface and poor presentation. And what’s up with the dog?

[Outlook’s Electronic Notes]



Notes are really only very useful if they can be stuck somewhere they will help one remember things. Having a cluttered list of text-only Notes in Outlook isn’t really better than having a cluttered list of text files in a folder.

Multimedia Notes created in standard HTML–searchable and sortable by date on the computer and kept in sync with the iPhone–is rather useful. It makes it easy to convert incoming emails into personal Notes, and makes for an intuitive way to attach files and related web links together in a package that is available on the go.

• Imagine a kiosk that emails you a Note containing a map of the local area along with a graphical tour.
• Imagine preparing a Note listing the bullet points you want to raise in a meeting, with links to sites you may need to visit to answer any questions.

Note QR Codes.
With my Notes wish list fulfilled, I’ll start over with another Notes related idea I’d like to see on the Phone. It involves that QR Code that reader Keller pointed out was big in Japan.

Well, now I want my iPhone camera to recognize barcodes and insert them as Notes. A QR barcode scan can decode 4,296 characters or about 2.8K of data. It would be great to be able to print out barcode stickers the iPhone could read.

Cities could tag tourism or transit signs with codes that present more information, or with links to a website. How about tagging coordinates or Google Map links?

[Readers Write: the iPhone in Asia, iTunes OTA, and a CueCat?]

Still To Do.
The other related function in Leopard Mail is To Dos, which are like the email version of calendar events in much the same way that Notes are the HTML email version of text files.

In Leopard, a new calendar architecture is replacing the standalone iCal. There’ll be a central event store, where iCal and Mail–along with any third party apps that tap into it–will communicate using the same data.

 Rd Rdm.Tech.Q3.07 4824Acae-F10C-4E4D-9771-241Fbd31D46D Files Mail Gallery Todo20070611

This is like Address Book, which holds contacts in a shared repository that any other application can access. Now, iCal will hold your calendar events and action items in a system wide repository where any application can add, change, or embellish them.

Apple depicts iCal as the mail interface to your calendar in Leopard, but Mail also presents To Do events. This allows users to create and manage priority lists directly in their mailbox as they sift through their incoming messages.

Tiger only has limited support for To Dos within iCal, and it’s really such a dog that nobody makes much use of it. The iPhone was originally scheduled to ship next to Leopard, but as things started to slip, Leopard support was pulled and the iPhone was shipped without any support for To Dos. Apple left that on its own To Do list.

With Leopard, Apple will no doubt ship iPhone support for multiple calendars’ To Dos, each with due dates and completion dates, and its own set priority.

[What Does Prioritization of the iPhone Mean for Leopard?]
[Apple Takes On Exchange Server]
[Apple’s Open Calendar Server vs Microsoft Exchange]


The next article in this series will look closer at the iPhone’s Clock and Calendar features.
What do you think? I really like to hear from readers. Comment in the Forum or email me with your ideas.

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  • Herve5

    Nice and synthetic discussion which I just discover today, in search of a way to sync notes to an iPod Touch.
    Now we are a couple of months later, do you have some news on this topic?
    I just found where is the Touch notes databases (apparently an sqlite file), but I don’t see up to now any mac app that would sync them… (nor any PC one, FWIW).
    What I need is the possibility to upload some hundred text-only notes on the touch, be capable to search them there if possible, add some on the touch, and keep them in sync…
    All the best for roughlydrafted which, in spite of its name, is quite cute and synthetic ;-)