Why Apple's Notes sharing still has some work to do

Since Apple updated the Notes app to include the ability to share a note with others using an iCloud account, I've been trying to use it more often with friends and co-workers. "Try" is the important part of that sentence: I've frequently come across annoying restrictions that make it difficult to share a note, or ones that make working in real-time with others less than productive. Notes is fine. But there are dozens of really good, cross-platform note-sharing apps out there that make working in real-time with others a downright pleasure. If Apple wants me to use Notes as my go-to note-sharing app, it's got some work to do.

Did you get my invite?

Sharing a note in Notes can be frustrating. First off, you have to know the user's iCloud address — and make sure that said address or phone number you've used actually then connects to iCloud Notes Sharing.

Many companies (like iMore) have internal email addresses, which are not necessarily the same email address employees use for iCloud (like me). So, when trying to share a note with a co-worker using the only email address you know for that person, you might be thwarted. Additional steps are necessary to make that connection, whether it's because you need the recipient's iCloud registered email, or the recipient needs to register an email address with iCloud. And, even that doesn't work seamlessly.

Even if you copy the link to a note and try to share it, the recipient can't access it without your express invitation. So, when you see "Copy Link," in the share section, it's not as simple as sharing the link with any old person that has an iCloud account. You still have to invite the person through his or her correct iCloud-connected contact first.

I've never tried sharing a note via Twitter or Facebook because the invitation will post as public, and that's just weird.

You can't lock a note when sharing it

Notes on iPhone

Apple also added a nice feature to the Notes app that allows you to lock a note with a password. That way, if someone has access to your device, they still don't have access to those private notes.

Unfortunately, you can't share a locked note ... at all. Apple's method for locking notes is to require the same password to lock and unlock all notes in your Notes app. This convenience makes it so you don't have to remember a bunch of different passwords for each and every note you lock. It also means there is no secure way of sharing a locked note with others.

I'd love to see the ability to create a shareable note with a password dedicated to that specific note. That way, when you're sharing a checklist of things to get for your best friend's surprise party, you're best friend won't be able to see that note when rummaging around in your Notes app (I know, why would your best friend be looking in your Notes app, but that's another story).

Working in real-time is clunky

Notes on iPad

Notes on iPad

When my co-worker Serenity Caldwell and I get together to brainstorm ideas, our thoughts are flying. In our shared note, one of us at any given time will be typing away, adding content or making changes to what is already there. Unfortunately, due to the sluggishness of the cloud, working in real-time is more like working in 10-seconds-later-time. So, when I'm adding an item to our brainstorming list, she's already added the same item, plus two more. Things start to get messy at this point. I oftentimes just stop writing and let her do all the work.

If you have a thought and tell your companion (in a video chat or on the phone, let's say) to add your thought, there is a pretty good chance that your companion already put that thought down and you just look like you're not paying attention (this has happened to me a number of times).

I'm not blaming Apple or the Notes app for the sluggishness of the cloud. That's just the way it is. What I'd like to see, instead, is some sort of visual queue that others are working in the note.

Google Docs does this fantastically. You can clearly see when others are active in a note (you can't tell when someone is active in a shared note in the Notes app; you can only tell if the note has been changed), and you can tell where their cursor is on the document. So, you don't find yourself accidentally working on top of each other.

I'd love for sharing in the Notes app to work more like sharing notes in Google Docs. It's easier to see what's happening in real-time and easier to avoid stepping on another person's productivity or creativity. Google just does it better.

Notes has potential, but only if Apple keeps working at it

Notes on Mac

All this aside, the Notes app is still very important in my daily life. It's is where I jot down a lot of my thoughts and ideas: I like how easy it works, and how it doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles to distract me. I also love being able to access my notes across all my devices thanks to iCloud.

What I don't like, pretty much at all, is sharing a note. The potential is there to make the experience work seamlessly — especially since sharing is exclusive to iCloud users and doesn't have a bunch of different platforms to consider — but Apple has a ways to go before I'm ready to ditch my other note-sharing apps. I just hope Apple continues to improve the Notes app's sharing features.

Lory Gil

Lory is a renaissance woman, writing news, reviews, and how-to guides for iMore. She also fancies herself a bit of a rock star in her town and spends too much time reading comic books.  If she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can probably find her at Disneyland or watching Star Wars (or both).