I stumbled upon the app Notebooks a few times already, when browsing the market of note taking apps. It seems that they are just about to release Notebooks 10 for iOS. Their macOS app (now version 2) was also just released in fall of last year.
The app has an interesting approach, as it basically stores its data locally in a folder structure, instead of in a database. So every note created will get a new document on the hard disk or inside a cloud-sync destination like Dropbox and will be indexed by Spotlight natively. To that extent Notebooks is similar to the iOS-only app 1Writer. However Notebooks trumps 1Writer by having a feature-compatible macOS version.
I like to not be locked into software and be able to freely move my data. You never know how the export options of an app like Evernote or Bear might change in the future. Only raw data (.txt, .md, .pdf etc.) are safe to bet on.
What fascinated me was that any external change made to the folder structure or their files will also be reflected inside the Notebooks app, once it has re-indexed! (Not sure about performance on mobile, if sync is involved, though.)
Notebooks 10 claims that it will handle at least previewing most of the document-type file types. It seems to me that they make use of Quicklook (at least on macOS) to display previews inside the note-content area, if the file format is anything besides .txt/.html/.md. I tried a few and they will indeed show tables from Excel files (styling is similarly butchered to Quicklook), PDFs and Soulver sheets etc. in the macOS version. Not sure how this will work on iOS, as the release is still pending.
Notebooks also offers native markdown support and you can choose your markdown flavor and add your own CSS to influence how the markdown text should look rendered. Switching between editing mode (syntax-view) and the rendered version is done by hitting ⌘ + ⏎ on macOS.
My current setup
I have put all files that are not media (photos, video, music etc.) and are not coding-related into a strict
area/project structure in all the applicable apps and I am hosting them in the cloud.
I have recreated this structure ever since in:
- Things (to manage tasks and deadlines regarding that project),
- Bear (general notes, quotes, recipes etc. + project specific notes),
- academic papers are kept in Papers (+ some just locally and some indexed in DevonThink)
- other files are kept locally (file system) and
- PDFs in GoodNotes, if handwritten digital notes are necessary new GoodNotes notebooks get created on demand and
- I often even create a physical binder for larger projects that involve a lot of “paper-based” files that I have to work. I usually scan those on demand during a project or at the end when I archive everything after a succesful project close.
It feels as if I’m jumping between programs a lot and the information is scattered in far too many silos.
Furthermore I never really fully implemented DevonThink for everything, as it in my opinion is insufficient and unpleasant to use as an all-purpose note taking app. It however does a great job for indexing large data sets and libraries of papers, when doing research. So DevonThink played a unique role and has so far been only used for a few research-heavy projects. Since my notes resided in Bear and GoodNotes they weren’t accessible for DevonThink.
GoodNotes 5 now allows to live auto-backup all notebooks as a PDF to Dropbox, which allows for convenient quick access to handwritten notes. Sure there is the GoodNotes macOS app, but I rarely edit those files on macOS. To quickly review your handwritten notes or annotated documents a PDF this will work just fine. Also PDFs are the quintessential standard for sharing layouted information and it can be used on practically any platform.
Now to the crazy idea …
I guess it would be possible to create just one folder structure for everything, which is located inside of Dropbox (or another cloud storage provider). The downside is that this folder structure would sadly have to be maintained from within GoodNotes, as it is the only app that does not index an existing local folder structure. So your starting point for changes will always have to be GoodNotes for renaming folders and moving GN-critical files around.
Example structure created in Good Notes:
However the GoodNotes app will then auto-backup all pdf-copies to said folder structure, which will be index by both Notebooks and DevonThink. By that the GoodNotes PDFs will be shown in Notebooks amongst all the stored notes (as .md) and will rest aside other files that I need for project, such as Word/Excel/Soulver files or images, which can be managed via Finder/Files.
The synced folder structure, mixed with other files and indexed by Notebooks:
If you need the powerful DevonThink search it will be directly usable. Even changes made to .md or .txt files in DT or any other app via Finder will be reflected in Notebooks.
By that I would have all my notes in one place and in one folder structure and also conveniently indexed by Spotlight.
If you right-click on a folder (book) in Notebooks it will offer the option to copy a link, which could look like this
notebooks://show/Private/Notes. It can be pasted to the note section of Things 3 to be able to quickly jump to the regarding project in Notebooks. (I’m assuming that this will work on iOS as well!)
Every “project” would simply have its own sub-folder in an area-folder and once a project is done it could be copied (archived) to my NAS for reference.
I have downloaded the trial of Notebooks 2 for macOS and set it up to index the GoodNotes auto-backup folder in Dropbox. So far everything seems to work flawlessly, including DevonThink indexing.
I can’t say anything about the upcoming iOS version, yet. The planned release date is Monday (20th of January).
- Is somebody on the TestFlight beta of Notebooks 10 and can confirm that this will also work on iOS?
- How would DevonThink To Go play into this? I haven’t had the time to really look into it.
- Are there any downside that I haven’t foreseen besides the issue that Good Notes needs to be the starting point for any changes regarding the main folder structure and GN-edited files?
- What are your thoughts in general?
Love to hear your opinion