Six Things Apple Can Learn From Evernote


Evernote CEO Phil Libin says Apple Design Award
Winning the Apple Design Award was the "coolest thing in the universe," says Evernote CEO Phil Libin.

This story first appeared in Cult of Mac Magazine.

SAN FRANCISCO — Those purveyors of productivity Evernote recently held their third annual conference here.

There was something in the keynote for everyone: swag, an avalanche of announcements — a partnership with Post-it! A new stylus! Backpacks! Scanners! — and a few groan-inducing jokes. (“Do you know what’s the biggest room in the world?” “Room for improvement!”)

Coming on the heels of the Apple event which introduced the world to the new iPhones, it felt like someone had given the time-weathered keynote a much-needed facelift. Or just peeled back a few crusty layers from what we’re all so used to sitting through to hear about the cool new stuff we’ll want.

Here are a few things the Cupertino company could learn from the upstarts.

People love you, so relax.

CEO Phil Libin announced a new iOS 7 version. But he didn’t say, “This is awesome! You’ll love it!” Instead he talked about the design process, how they looked at the beta and thought, “We’ll re-skin it and make it flat,” then realized they needed to rethink it completely. So he chucked everything and gave a mandate to the team: “Pretend it’s very first version.” The result is simpler, faster and more powerful. And the “quick note” feature is a keeper, taking just seven seconds to open, type and close to save.

Listen to your users.

Steve Jobs famously refused to waste time on focus groups (“A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”) but it wouldn’t hurt Apple to listen to what the people who already own and love their products have to say about them. Libin showed the packed crowd a tweet that provoked a redesign for the search tool (available in the latest version of Evernote). Now the search term is highlighted but you can still read the rest of the note. Previously the rest of the note went dark, so you had to cross out the search term to see the whole note. It was really annoying.

Be global, act neighborly.

Evernote has 75 million users, keeps offices around the world and boasts some 30,000 developers making 12 billion API calls a month. Yet Libin still comes across as someone you might strike up a conversation with at a bar or a game. And how do we know he has a bit of a temper? Because he says stuff like the “hidden reason” Evernote hosts the conference is so the employees attending can “get feedback from real people, otherwise it’s just me yelling about something late or imperfect. Well, they’re not often late, but you know how it is.”  Yeah, actually, I do.

Try some new stuff, even if it seems a little crazy.

Comparing Evernote to Apple is a bit like apples to oranges, but the five-year-old company aims to be a “100-year-start-up” and it’s easy to root for them. Even if some of the ways they are branching out (socks, anyone?) seem like flights of fancy. Apple’s disciplined product focus has been a strength, but there’s a huge demand for well-designed gear. Without going so far as Jony Ive-designed jeans (“Nothing comes between me and my Jonys?”) the scanner Evernote introduced is a great example. Libin says it’s the one he’d buy for his parents and that’s the kind of thing many of us are in the market for.



Transparency is the new black. Or gold. Or whatever.

It took nine months to get the Evernote corporate sign up outside the new San Francisco headquarters. That’s a gestation period, folks! Libin is frank about the nightmare and admits he was stung by a user tweet noting that the company’s time could’ve been better spent fixing bugs. “It was a valid criticism, but the sign was still worth it.”

Talk about the bigger picture.

Pretty soon, we’ll all be wearing Inspector Gadget meets James Bond devices that can track our heart rate, what’s in the fridge, the fastest way home and remind us to get a haircut. Evernote has been working on this “new world of connected devices” with Google Glass, Samsung refrigerators and smart watches. “This is probably biggest revolution for devices; the change in app development for wearables is making an app for you, not for the device. It’s not mainstream yet but it will be.”

And one more thing.

Here’s what every company must learn about keynotes: Even if you’re introducing $300 flying cars that help you shed pounds every time you fuel up with exhaled breath, keep it under two hours. Give the poor souls typing by the deadly glow of our laptops in chairs designed to induce back spasms a break. After the first 45 minutes, everyone sitting around me was playing email catch-up and tuning in sporadically anyway.

This story first appeared in Cult of Mac Magazine, our new weekly publication in iTunes.

  • dandymac

    Right, gotcha. Because Apple is failing miserably, right?

    1. Yes, Apple speak is annoying, granted. (1 and only valid point in the article.)

    2. Read up on your thoughts before typing away. Listening to users is a job for the llikes of Samesung. Jobs ran the company like this based on a Henry Ford quote: “If I asked the people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” The people didn’t even know they wanted an iPhone.

    3. Act neighborly? Care to expand on that thought?

    4. Apple has already tried many new things. Remeber them in the early 90’s?? Printers, camera’s, scanners,
    newtons, all of them total flops. Then the late 90’s iMac, then the 2000s: iPod, iphone, ipad, intel processors. So what is it the have been doing for the past 30 years? trying new things. Reading is fundemaental.

    5. Transperency?? hahahahaha. They thrive on their secretive nature. People love the surprises they bring to the table.

    6. see number 5. ( ps.Samsungs ‘smart’ watch has been killled in all reviews. Apple’s iPod nano from 2010 has about 150xs the functionality.)

    and one more thing… Apple should reduce their Keynotes time so that writers don’t have to write as much?? how did this get published?

  • Stevenj

    I agree with dandymac. Apple is one of the best run companies in the world. They have a clue. Read some John Gruber if you need to get a better handle on the way apple thinks and why they do what they do. Oh, and Kudos for Evernote for making a great product.