Monday, December 07, 2015

Special needs smartphone: looking for a Notes app with a difference

I’m working on a book about iOS and Android smartphone use by special needs teens and adults; It will have a special focus on supporting independence. The project is in its early stages, but sometime in the next few weeks it should get a companion domain and a blog. In the meantime I’ll have a few posts here on related topics.

One of the things I don’t have an answer for is the “deletion problem”. My #1, for example, hates clutter. On an iPhone that means he compulsively closes open apps, deletes his browser history, old email, saved images, iMessages and even the Notes I’d like him to have. Notes that consist of things that it would be useful for him to remember.

The only thing he doesn’t delete are his Contacts.

From a psychological perspective this is interesting, but since he has significant memory disabilities it’s rather self-defeating. So I’m looking for a solution in the myriad of iOS note-taking / extended memory solutions. My high level requirements are:

  1. Plain text support (anything more is either “nice” or unwanted complexity).
  2. Search
  3. Web client (key to a support person creating or contributing to notes). Native clients are a plus, but the support model I’m using must include Chromebook
  4. Efficient backup/restore of all or part of a notes collection from the web client and/or the ability to make some subset of notes read-only for our smartphone user.
  5. Simplicity.
  6. An exit strategy — ability to move content to another solution if needed.
  7. At least a 3-5 year expected lifespan (which is a long time in this market)

Apple’s native comes close to meeting my requirements. It even has limited undelete functionality on iOS, but as of Dec 2015 not via iCloud [1]. (I investigated Apple’s legacy support for Google (Gmail) IMAP notes sync, but this does not allow remote authoring or backup and has other limitations.)

I personally use Simplenote; it can be paired with nvAlt on OS X to allow bulk import of a standard set of text files, but that’s a geek-only solution. There’s no backup or import ability in the Mac client.

Anyone have ideas?

- fn -

[1] Apple’s support article on iCloud Notes data backup is a bit humorous. “… Copy the text of each note and paste it into a document on your computer, such as a Pages or TextEdit document. Save the document to your computer.” Must have been painful to write that!

Update: Shawn Blanc’s 2013 post has some good ideas. Reviewing it I see Simplenote eliminated Dropbox sync, and, which Shawn liked, has been discontinued. Byword, Nebulous Notes, and Notesy use Dropbox as a sync repository; Byword and Nebulous Notes are complex but Notesy might be an option. Microsoft OneNote is powerful and impressive, but also complex.

Update 2: allows sharing of note by the email addressed associated with a Simplenote account. Shared notes can be collaboratively edited, which is good and bad. On the other hand, if one collaborator deletes a note then they are only removing themselves as a collaborator — every other collaborator keeps the note. So this may actually work reasonably well, with the additional option to use nvAlt (Mac) or ResophNotes (windows) for more robust backup and restores.

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