A Guess At Evernote’s End Game

Ben Brooks on Evernote Acquiring Penultimate:

Anybody else confused about Evernote’s end game?

This actually seems like a highly logical move for Evernote and a smart strategy. Evernote wants to be our external brain and our brain tends to capture a variety of media in a variety of ways. That doesn’t always lend itself to a single application. As it continues to evolve, I see a world where Evernote’s prime offering becomes less about capture more about storage and recall. The app, both on OS X and iOS has always been an impressive step towards ubiquitous capture, but it always falls short in certain areas. This left Evernote with three options:

  1. Stop expanding their offerings, continue to improve on them, but limit their potential.
  2. Continue to add features, bloating the main offering and making it far less tempting to use.
  3. Create or acquire applications that offer a focused and optimized experience that act as part of a larger ecosystem.

I believe the acquisition of Penultimate is yet another step towards the latter.

One of my biggest problems with Evernote has always been the feeling that I am crossing streams. I don’t want to blend notes, sketches, recipes, contacts and more, I’m already disorganized enough. Sure, I could create folders (or use a naming convention) that separates all of these things, but that’s not how I like to work. I tend to use my applications as filters. Different apps for different intentions, so the idea of keeping things separate, while also storing them together is a tempting one.

I enjoy the separation that comes from using Evernote Hello for contacts, Evernote Food for recipes, Skitch for taking and annotating screenshots and now Penultimate for handwritten notes (not to mention Evernote’s already impressive core functionality). It provides a focused experience in an optimized app when I want it, as well as universal access in the main Evernote application when I need it.

Related side note: anyone care to take bets that a dedicated text editor can’t be all that far behind?

Cloud offerings such as Dropbox and iCloud offer the storage, but neither focuses on capture (although both work with several applications that do). By providing integrated options that focus on all aspects of capture, Evernote sets themselves apart from these platforms.

This will sound a little lofty, but these latest steps echo things we’ve seen in Apple’s own ecosystem. Owning the end-to-end experience between hardware and software has always helped set them apart. While I don’t think Evernote is going into hardware anytime soon, I can’t help but wonder if they are looking to do something similar by not only providing the platform, but by creating or acquiring the applications that make the experience better.

17 Responses to A Guess At Evernote’s End Game

  1. The interesting thing to me is how far Evernote has gotten by ignoring the openness that made products like Basecamp so successful. As a paying customer, what I want to see Evernote implement is a clean export function that lets me get data OUT again, intact. I’ve tried Skitch and Hello and Food; they’re not interesting. I own Penultimate, and it’s just another iPad app that’s nicely done and largely unused. In terms of direction, functional enhancements of Evernote, these feel more like distractions than the playing-out of any long-term strategy. If there’s a strategy at play, it’s talent-acquisition.

    • Don’t forget that people said the same thing about how far iPhone could get because Android was so open :) I’ll always take better over open, as long as I get what I need out of it.

      I know this is a big issue for some, but it’s never bothered me. I see Evernote as a filing cabinet and all I really care about here is access, not portability (feel free to rub that sentence in my face at some point in the future :) ).

      I hear you on food and hello (and think these were just MVP tests), but disagree on Skitch. I use it for customer service, training and for creating images for my own blog. It’s a damn useful tool for me. And while I can’t draw and have horrible handwriting, I see how an integrated note taking/sketching solution could be valuable to many.

      I also don’t think this strategy is aimed at us, it’s more the. “every-user”. Only time will tell, but I don’t think it is purely talent acquisition… They wouldn’t be looking to expand these apps to the extent that they are if it were.

      • No doubt Skitch is handy. That particular itch is already being scratched by OmniGraffle, Snapz Pro, Photoshop, Illustrator, LittleSnapper, Pixelmator, and Acorn in my case… Having too many tools gets in the way sometimes. ;)

        The export issue isn’t even related to wanting to leave Evernote: I’m happy with it. But it is nagging at me that with regards to exporting my data, it feels like they’re saying “there’s nothing to see here; move along…” Which is more than a bit disconcerting. Imagine if Dropbox let you put things in but didn’t allow you to get things back out in exactly the same format you put them in.

        I can draw and I can write/print. I never find myself doing much of either on my iPad, despite having a (useless) stylus and many drawing/painting apps. I’ve even given Penultimate space on my homescreen; still never use it. :)

        • I think you’re looking through the lens of “us” you’re right. By us, I mean tech geeks :) If you look at it through the lens of “them” which make up the bulk of Evernote’s users, things look very different. Chances are Skitch was their introduction to screen grabs and annotation (beyond native tools).

          They also don’t even know that export exists, none the less care to use it. Evernote is not a niche product, it’s trying to be a mass product and mass consumers, they don’t care about data export. In fact, their eyes will glass over when you talk about it. Tell them they can put their crap somewhere and easily find it later… now that will get their attention. Tell them they can take screen grabs or iPhone pics and annotate them… they understand that. Tell them they can take handwritten notes and have them on their Mac, alongside other work for a project and they get interested.

          Think about it like this. What percentage of the overall user base cares about this?

          • Those are all good points, Michael. I disagree with none of them. It’s the Facebook model. Sigh. I’m so much more comfortable with Simplenote/nvALT/text-files/Dropbox for my hand-generated note data.

  2. I was a big fan of Evernote when it first came out until I tried to extricate my data and found that it: 

    a) isn’t as easy getting it out as dragging it into Evernote

    b) the over simple export options are not useful formats for me

    c) the data becomes easily mangled with the mass export function

    At that point, I realised Evernote is an arcane walled garden and not for mass storage of really important  documents.  Now I just use it sporadically.

  3. I use Evernote. But as with the various twitter desk top and mobile platforms I always find something missing. Like my fiance said this weekend ‘Write this down. A bleeding heart plant for my mom from us for mothers day’ so I entered a note. And I thought would be nice for a reminder to pop up. Uhm can’t find such an option.

    Curation is REALLY tough whether curating media or notes or tasks. Everyone likes certain specific things. And we want each app to integrate with our other apps or OS’s seamlessly.

    • That’s a great example of a task related time activated item that works superbly well in OmniFocus.  Stuff like that put into Evernote or Simplenote simply gets lost in melee of data.

  4. I just have one problem with these acquisitions. Evernote is not doing anything with them. They are buying applications that they do not integrate well with. They add a sharing button but none of the features ever make it deeper into Evernote. 

    If the applications continue to work just as they did before the acquisition, then I am not sure why Evernote is even bothering. I would much rather have them add the features into their own app. Maybe they are looking to become a platform instead of an app maker and acquisitions are the easiest way to start. But they are not buying Evernote value, not even for the most basic user. An average Evernote user does not follow press releases. They have Evernote. They use Evernote. They don’t even think about Skitch or Penultimate when they think about Evernote. To them these things are other apps they may or may not have. What I really don’t understand is why Evernote buys these applications and lets them languish (see Skitch). Just fold the primary features into Evernote and be done with the messy ordeal. Evernote needs image editing and handwriting support. Buying Skitch and Penultimate does not change that.

    • You’ll get no argument from me that they aren’t doing enough with them. Still think more of this will come down the road. I think step one is to get them on more platforms. Hopefully step two will be deeper, native support within Evernote. Although I still believe they will remain separate entities.

  5. In some way I don’t like Evernote’s sharing. Those who are shared with cannot edit notes (if they don’t have premium). You can only send notes by mail or using URL. 2. Synchronization happens most frequently every 30 minutes. The rest of the time you need to sync manually. 3. Synchronization with the mobile version is slow and I’m still waiting. 4. Interface is stuffy, small font, hard to concentrate. i stiil prefer cloudstorages (Dropbox and 4Sync) and Outlook for time-management.

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