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Evernote: dead unicorn or struggling teen pop star

Among some circles, particularly productivity and venture capitalist groups, there has been some talk about Evernote becoming a dead unicorn. Considering how the product has become ingrained in today’s digital lifestyle, it’s not surprising to see how polarizing the topic has become. It doesn’t help that the company is indeed showing some signs of struggling, particularly with its workforce and management, though it is definitely not out of the running yet. This David turned Goliath, who has managed not only to displace but also shut down some of its rivals (Sprinpad) might be finding itself losing some steam, and here might be some of the reasons why.

The Problems

1. Cross-platform but not quite

One of the best features of Evernote is that it is almost literally everywhere. It’s even on physical notebooks if you consider the special edition Moleskine notebooks. But for all its cross-platform goodness, the Evernote experience cannot be said to be the same for all of them. It’s understandable that platform limitations and hardware constraints might dictate what features are available in Evernote or what interface the apps take. But sometimes even core functionality is either missing or implemented so differently it barely makes a difference. Need to make a table while you’re on your smartphone? Good luck! Started a handwritten note on the desktop? Don’t be surprised to see it as an attachment on mobile. Or vice versa. Let’s not even mention things like editing history, word count, or even creating saved searches.

To put it simply, Evernote is cross-platform. The experience, however, is not.

2. Losing your data

Evernote hasn’t exactly had a perfect record when it comes to server uptime, but of late it has been having some rather worrying problems. As if it weren’t bad enough that the server sometimes goes down, preventing users from syncing their notes, sometimes these outages can lead to very destructive results. There have already been recent cases, though admittedly still somewhat rare, of people actually losing their notes after some server-side corruption. While not a widespread epidemic, it does bring to light one sometimes hidden cost when using Evernote. Your data, the notes that you write on Evernote, is ultimately not yours. Nor are they primarily stored on your device. Evernote’s default behavior is to store everything on their servers, with some options for local storage, depending on the platform and subscription tier. If anything goes wrong, and it always does, you do lose your data. Especially if, by some freak accident, Evernote’s servers don’t have a backup copy. These days, people take it for granted that they don’t own or have a copy of the things they create or store on the cloud. But considering how essential Evernote has become to both personal and professional lives of some users, that’s a rather fatal assumption to make, as some have found out, much to their horror.

Breaking into new ground

After a period of intense development, Evernote seems to have quieted down. In some ways, it is good that it settles down on improving its core strengths. But on the other hand, it could lead to stagnation, which can be a death sentence for a once fast-growing company. If Evernote’s recent attempts to break into new interests, it might have hit a brick wall when it comes to innovation. Evernote Peek, Hello, and Food have been swept under the rug. Skitch has been more or less killed after its main features were integrated into the main app itself. After being acquired, Penultimate has practically been left in limbo, with no major update or, a long standing wish, an Android version. Some have pointed out Evernote’s inability to innovate, both on other products but even with Evernote itself, as a sign that the company’s creative minds are slowly drying up.

Evernote-Food

The Competition

But if Evernote were really to become a dead unicorn, it would be leaving a void of epic proportions in the digital lives of users. That hole will need to be filled up by Evernote’s rivals. Sadly, many of those, in particular the once popular Springpad, have succumbed to Evernote’s onslaught and waved the white flag. But things are changing in this digital note-taking landscape, and apps and services, both new and old, seem to be preparing to for war.

With Springpad out of the picture, OneNote was left as the biggest threat to Evernote’s throne. And by big, we mostly mean the company behind it and the legacy behind the name. OneNote predated Evernote but, until recently, it has been more of an offline program like Word or Excel, so it didn’t directly compete with Evernote. But Microsoft has shifted its focus to the cloud and OneNote is on more than just desktop PCs. Its feature list and user experience is even more or less consistent across those platforms, at least if you consider the “modern” touch-based version of the app on Windows 8 and later. That said, OneNote is feature filled, which sometimes translates into bloated and its offline access to notebooks is not always consistent or obvious.

With the arrival of the iPad Pro, Apple has beefed up its own Notes app with some scribbling abilities across all supported devices, which practically means iOS and, to some extent, OS X. Apple is poising it to be an even better productivity tool and not just a basic and bland note-taking app. Of course, it only works on Apple’s platforms and requires at least an Apple account.

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Google Keep is also one that adheres more to a notepad, or to be more exact, Post-it, metaphor than either Evernote’s or OneNote’s big notebook idiom, but its simplicity belies its power. It has almost everything you’ll ever need for a note-taking app. It’s fast and simple, allows you to add checklists, photos, or audio notes, and, most recently, lets you add hand drawn notes and annotations. Sadly, that’s pretty much it. Google Keep lacks more sophisticated features, like organization aside from tags and, perhaps more important to some, notes with hundreds if not thousands of words. For the latter, Google recommends using Docs instead, though there is no integration between the two.

Wrap-up

Evernote has integrated itself so deeply into many people’s lives that it wouldn’t be simple to replace it should the service go under for one reason or another. And for its flaws, it still has some laudable features that you’d be hard pressed to find even in its closest rivals. But it’s hard not to get worried about it as well, especially after recent layoffs and a new leader that doesn’t seem to inspire much confidence in the future. But does it mean it’s on the way out? Probably not yet.

Instead of just a unicorn, it might be easier to see Evernote as a teen pop star whose time in the spotlight has started to wane. It’s entering into a troubled phase, marked by scandalous headlines and rumors of going into hiding. Some of these celebrities do end up riding into the sunset. But some are able to rise up to the challenge and, after a brief hiatus, return with a new mission and a more mature image.