Posted by: Frank | December 26, 2008

Application Consistency Across Platforms

If I was important enough in the software industry to give an award for application of the year in 2008, my award would go to Evernote. There are three things really cool about this application:

  1. Character recognition within pictures. If you have a camera phone, snap a picture of a something with text and email it to your Evernote account. Then go into Evernote and search on any text in that picture and the program finds it! Notetaking applications have two critical features: ease of note creation and ease of note searching and Evernote wins with both.
  2. Cross platform support. If you run OS X and Windows there are client versions for both operating systems. Clients also exist for the iPhone/iPod Touch (is there an actual name for the operating system on both of these devices?) and Windows Mobile. A web version is accessible from most web browsers, with a mobile web version accessible from Blackberries and other mobile phones.
  3. Storage in the cloud. The glue that makes cross platform support work is the storage of your notes on Evernote’s servers, which are accessible via the Internet. This enables you to access your information anywhere that you have access to the Internet. Evernote also supports local hard drive storage of information if you are concerned about the security of their servers, and one of my wishes is that they would provide a point to point synchronization of notebooks between personal computers so that I can share my secure notes across my computers.

Evernote’s cross platform support presents an interesting problem to me. I may be a somewhat unique use case in that I use the program on both Macs and Windows computers, and I am sure that each client was developed with the expectation that users would only use one or the other platform. Consequently, the each version of the program is developed to the user interface standards of that operating system, which means that many of the program’s features are accessed differently between the platforms. A quick example, a right-click in Windows and a right-click in OS X produce different menus. (I know that the concept of right-click is a bit foreign to Macs.) The problem is that if you are used to right-clicking to access a feature in Windows, it doesn’t work the same way on OS X versions.

One feature I use a lot in Evernote is adding to-do checkboxes to notes. If there is something I need to follow-up with I add a checkbox, and later utilize Evernote’s attribute search feature to generate a list of all notes that have un-checked check boxes. In Windows I can add the checkbox by holding the Alt key and clicking, or I can right-click and select a menu item, or click Edit, ToDo, or press Alt-Shift-C. In the OS X version I can press Command-Shift-T, or select Format, Insert ToDo. As you can see, the steps to insert a checkbox are not the same between the two platforms.

I believe the reason for the difference has to do with the UI navigation requirements of the two operating systems, but I think when a software developer is writing the same application for multiple platforms it should take into consideration the possibility that the app (particularly if it is free like Evernote is) will be used by people who own both platforms. At a minimum, I think the OS X version’s keyboard command for the checkbox should be Command-Shift-C, or the Windows Version should be Alt-Shift-T so at least one of the methods is remotely the same. The ideal solution, IMHO, is for the developer to add a user-selectable feature that either provides a Windows compatible mode or a OS X compatible mode in one or the other program so that they could work the same. The bottom line, though, is that I think the Evernote should try making the navigation within the two versions similar enough so that one doesn’t have to think as much when moving from one platform to the other.

P.S. Evernote, if you read this, please provide an Android version of the program.


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