Apple Notes vs Notion

Anton
Notion is an incredible tool for productivity, project and knowledge management. It has all the pieces in place:
  • great and unique design
  • solid philosophical foundation which connects the tool to the geniuses of Computer Age like Doug Engelbart, Alan Kay and Ted Nelson
  • incredibly passionate user base who is really obsessed with the product
I think Notion is one of the best products in the past decade that changed a lot how we work in our modern day tech and information heavy companies. However, no matter how great the tool is, it doesn’t mean it’s the best fit for any situation and any context. There is time and place for everything in life. Let me explain why Apple Notes might be a great alternative to Notion for some specific case.

Hype, market penetration, availability

As I said, Notion has an incredibly dedicated user base. If you work in the tech industry you have a feeling that everyone uses Notion. But when I take a step back and talk to my music teacher or younger sibling, or a young professional from some other industry I quickly discover that they’ve never even heard of Notion. I did a basic Google search, and it seems like Notion has 4 million active users as of July 2022. Which is an incredible achievement. Once again, company is amazing and they truly made behavior and market changing product. Then I googled how many iPhones there are in circulation. And the current estimate is 1.6 billion devices. Every iPhone has this app installed called Apple Notes. There are 400 times more people who have Apple Notes on their device than the ones who have Notion. I remember when I saw Notion I immediately wanted to try it. I signed up and played with it. It had some learning curve. My experience with Apple Notes is different. Recently I saw that I have over 5000 notes saved. And I checked that my oldest note is from 2016. However I don’t remember making any conscious decision to use Apple Notes. I did without even thinking about it. There was nothing to learn. I didn’t play with the application, I didn’t try to discover any features - I just used it without ever thinking about it. It is possible because of the availability (no effort to signup for something and go through onboarding flow and so on) and simplicity - which is my next point.

Simplicity

Since Notion is a generic tool for project and knowledge management it has tons of functionality to cover for various cases: from individuals keeping their food recipes to the Fortune 500 companies managing their internal projects. This is obviously incredible but it also makes Notion problematic for some use cases. Currently it’s bloated with functionality, so if you want to really learn Notion it will take you some time. My philosophy currently is following: start with the simplest tool possible, see what you need and only use more advanced tool when you have unsolvable cases that really bother you. Don’t go for perfect at the beginning because you don’t have all the information at beginning anyway. Because of this I would recommend to use Apple Notes at the beginning of any product. Create Notes, rearrange them later if needed. And maybe that is enough. Or maybe you discover that you need more powerful functionality. So that would be a moment to try another tool. Keep it simple. Here is another example. When I got my first computer in 2002 I installed Microsoft Office on it. I was fascinated with the software. So many buttons, tons of functionality. When new Office came out in 2003 I investigated all the new options and was impressed with the new UI paradigm. It was so interesting to me. But guess what, I rarely wrote anything in the MS Word. Maybe occasional report for school and university. I spent time playing with features instead of writing. Complex tools distract us. They create an create an illusion of work. Playing with UI of the tool is not work - thinking, writing, synthesizing, generating, calculating - that is the work. When Notion came out I did the same mistake again. I played with its database, explored features. But I never were able to create anything there. At this stage of my life I want simpler tools, with less distractions. So that I can do the work - capture my thoughts.

Offline

I you have opportunity to choose the tool - choose the one that works offline by default. With no Internet connection. Most of Apple products are like that. Photos, Calendar, Mail, Notes. Write your notes on any devices - Mac, iPad or iPhone. They will be synchronized automatically when you are back online. Notion also can work if you use Mac app, but it was designed as the afterthought, and it was never the foundational principle. Local-first software is a thing.

Native apps and mobile

I’m a big fan of web. It’s amazing. But it’s especially great for web sites - the thing to read and consume. It’s ok with web apps (it worked for Figma after all), but it wasn’t designed for that originally and it takes many years to make Web a great platform for apps. If you have ability to choose app that has native clients - do that. Those apps will have higher chance to work faster. And they will have extra bonuses (on top of being able to work offline) - like integration of natives features from each respective operating system (drag and drop, native share wishes, native copy and paste, integration with filesystem, integration with other installed apps).

Pricing and limits

Notion (on a free plan) currently limits you by the size of file uploads (and it used to limit users by the number of blocks). Currently that limit is 5MB. This is common for web based services. Apple Notes is free. And it has no such limits. You are only limited by the number of discs space you have - which is usually way more than 5MB:) And technically by the iCloud space available to you, which is also higher than 5MB.

Other risks

Many online services are getting bought by bigger companies. See the history of Figma, Slack, Heroku, Quip. The outcomes of such acquisitions are usually unpredictable, but I think they usually involve price increase and stale of the development plus reduced stability (because original team leaves the product within 4 years of acquisition). Apple Notes is one of the core apps in the Apple ecosystem. Of course Apple cannot match the speed of development from the startup that only has one product to work on. But it is still updated quite regularly and new features are added all the time. I think the risks of using Apple Notes are lower in this regard. It’s hard to imagine Apple starting to charge for Apple Notes or abandoning it all together.

Conclusion

Overall, pick any tool that you want. They would all work ok for you and it’s not that hard to migrate between them. For me it’s important right now to pick 1) simpler tool 2) that costs less money and to make sure that my decision is not driven by hype and marketing.