When I first got the iPad I loved Evernote. It was a great tool for keeping thoughts and ideas synchronized and readily available. I used it so much that I started to discover its weaknesses but still found it very usable. Then my wife got an iPad and I dreamt up this great idea for sharing a shopping list with her. I envisioned having notes by store or category if the particular store wasn’t important. It seemed foolproof. I created a sample list through the web interface (I was at my Linux notebook at the time) and began fiddling with it on the iPad. That’s when I discovered that none of the rich text features of the Evernote web app were available in the iPad app. Again, I figured this was something I could work around so I created blank shopping lists with 25 check boxes. This would allow us to add whatever text was necessary on the iPad and just check the box upon purchasing the item. I soon discovered that because none of the rich text features are available in the iPad app I couldn’t edit the shopping lists I could only append to them. Ugh, I was starting to get a bit frustrated but decided we could do without the pretty little check boxes and just put a X in front of whatever item we purchased so the other knew the purchase had been made while ensuring that an additional purchase wasn’t made when the other person noticed the item wasn’t on the list and assumed we had forgotten to add it to the shopping list.
After working through all these little blemishes I decided I liked how I had worked it out and it was time to share the notebook with the wife. That’s when I discovered that in order to share an editable notebook in Evernote you have to upgrade from their free service to their premium service. No big deal I thought, I am more than happy to pay for applications and services I find useful and get value from. Much to my dismay, I experienced sticker shock. Evernote wants forty-five dollars per year for a premium account. I ran through my head how useful I find Evernote and acknowledged I do get value out of it; but not forty-five dollars per year worth. Especially since the only premium feature I anticipated using was the ability to share an editable notebook.
I was later sharing my tales of woe with a friend who suggested I try PlainText as it synchronizes with my Dropbox account and, even better, is a free app. I tried PlainText and have to say that it is amazingly simple and seamlessly integrates with Dropbox. My wife simply adds items to the shopping list or places a big ol’ X in front of items she has purchased. We sit down together regularly and delete items that no longer need to be on the list, or, as is the case with milk for example, delete that big ol’ X so we know to buy more.
I love the simplicity of PlainText and how useful and valuable it is to me now. What makes it even better for me is that should the Plaintext developer suddenly decide to stop supporting the app none of my documents are gone. They are all safely tucked away in my Dropbox account as well as on every device I have synchronizing with Dropbox. Something that Evernote cannot provide me whether I pay for it or not because there is no Linux app that would provide that offline functionality and storage.
Our use of PlainText has gone beyond the initial intent of sharing shopping lists. As a family we love road trips. We now have a folder for keeping and sharing ideas of places we would like to visit. Further organization breaks the files down by state and type of road trip. It works just as well for all those local places we would like to visit but often can’t think of when discussing someplace around town to take the kids. The combination of PlainText and Dropbox on our iPads has taken many of our ideas from a mere discussion to real planning for making the idea come to fruition. I imagine as we continue using it we will continue to find new or additional uses for it. Who would have that a simple text editor could be so useful and have so much potential? I certainly didn’t but am a happily converted user.