Think Evernote’s Interface Could Be Better? So Does Evernote

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Many, many tech companies hold conferences here in San Francisco. But Evernote’s Trunk conference, which I’m attending today, is unique: The 700 people here include not only developers and journalists (the typical conference attendees) but also real people who just plain love the note-taking app/service enough to spend a day learning about it.

It’s fun to be in a room with so many people who are so passionate about something. Heck, the conference is fun, period: One of the sessions featured close-up magician Jamy Ian Swiss, who spoke about what software developers can learn from the art of illusion, and did several truly mysterious tricks. As far as I’m concerned, every tech event should have magic breaks.

The conference’s official big news involved Evernote for Business (an upcoming version with more administration and sharing features) and a Moleskine dead-tree notebook with pages that are designed to be sucked into Evernote via your iOS device’s camera (you can even auto-tag items with little stickers). But for me, the big news was some stuff that Phil Libin, the company’s CEO, told me when I chatted with him during the lunch break.

I’m a paying Evernote customer, and use it in a bunch of ways on iOS, Android, Mac and Windows, not to mention the plain old web. Among other things, I scan documents directly into Evernote from my Doxie scanner, no computer involved.

I’m in Evernote every day, pretty much. It makes me meaningfully more productive. I’m glad it’s part of my life, and hope it’s around forever. (Or at least for the next century — Libin often says that the company is trying to build something that’ll be around that long.)

But I don’t love Evernote in the way that many of the civilian participants here at Trunk clearly do.

That’s because I find that the interface gets in my way. It’s different on every device; it makes you click an icon before you can edit an existing note; it has a Save button when it would be so much simpler if everything was auto-saved all the time without your intervention. In multiple ways, it’s the weakest aspect of an otherwise excellent product.

When I talked with Libin, I congratulated him on the conference and asked him a few polite questions. Then I summoned up my courage and explained that I’d noted the interface oddities and inconsistencies and while I was an avid Evernote user, I wasn’t as happy as I might be because, because, because…

“Because the interface sucks?” he asked, presumably channeling me to cut to the chase rather than announcing that he thinks it sucks personally.

Libin told me that Evernote understands that its products could be a lot easier to use. He said that at the moment, the company is happiest with its Android version — which is, indeed, not bad overall — and that it intends to release a much-improved iOS version within the next couple of months.

The company’s goal, Libin told me, isn’t to reduce the experience down to one perfect interface that’s identical on a bevy of gadgets: “We want to make them all great, so that you won’t even notice they’re different.”

As someone who would like to love Evernote, that was a huge relief. I’d worried that it was so invested in its wildly ambitious plans to serve as an extension of its 38 million users’ brains that it didn’t realize its interfaces could be much better. Now I know that it doesn’t feel like that at all, and that help may be on the way.