With the rise of apps, simple to-do lists have evolved into something much more—rich productivity tools that let us dump in text, images, and audio notes from anywhere and organize them to our hearts’ content. Google’s new app, Keep, is its entry into the note-taking category, and while it lacks many of the features you’ll find in powerhouse apps like Evernote, it does get a few key things right.
Keep currently takes the form of an Android app with a complementary web interface. In a video announcing its arrival, Google bills it as a "central place" to "save what’s on your mind"—a sort of multimedia scrapbook for ideas, projects, thoughts, and tasks.
The Android app does a nice job of displaying all this disparate personal data, giving each note its own little tile, be it text or image. A short reminder, like "Email Tim," shows up in nice big text; a quick shopping list takes a smaller, bullet-point form. Each can be given its own color and dragged around into whatever arrangement the user desires.
It’s a smart interface. Instead of automatically formatting items into an inscrutable laundry list of to-dos, Keep gives users a bit more control and flexibility over the visual presentation of their notes—one of the things I still like so much about my pen-and-paper lists. In terms of mobile design, it’s further proof of the company’s recent, successful shift towards making apps that aren’t only functional, but beautiful, too.
Still, Google Keep has the tough job of making a splash in an incredibly mature category of apps, in terms of features, functionality, and overall polish. Its shortcomings compared to Evernote, the amazingly robust king of the note-taking hill, have already been enumerated. Those dings include the absence of simple features like the ability to share notes with others and add notes with rich, styled text, as well as bigger issues like Keep’s lack of more powerful organizational tools, like folders or categories, and its worrisome dependence on an Internet connection. That being said, there’s definitely a "less is more" argument to be made when you’re talking about apps for lists and notes, and Keep isn’t wrong in trying to find a sweet spot between supreme functionality and frictionless ease of use.
But another problem Keep faces is simply one of timing. It comes on the heels of Google’s announcement that it will be putting Reader, its RSS service, out to pasture later this year, a decision that probably makes sense in terms of pure bottom line but one that has drawn the ire of many longtime users nonetheless. Sure, Reader is nowhere nearly as widely used as Gmail or Google Maps, but it’s still an essential service for some, and in their eyes, killing it so suddenly has made Google look troublingly capricious. More than a few people have responded to Keep’s arrival with a sort of "fool me twice, shame on you" attitude—the thinking being, if the company can get rid of Reader at a moment’s notice, what will keep them from pulling the plug on Keep once we’ve let it become a central part of our digital lives?