Apple's Notes (available both for OS X and iOS) has long been one of my most frequently used apps. With its improved cross-platform syncing in recent OS iterations, the app is better than ever. If I create a note on my iPhone while away from home, it's waiting for me on my Mac when I return — and vice versa. The Notes user interface is almost identical across platforms, making it especially easy to navigate between the two. That's why, whenever I want to jot down and store snippets of information, Notes is my go-to app.
"But wait!" I can hear the naysayers out there. They are reminding me that there are other note-taking apps, ones that similarly offer cross-platform syncing, but have more extensive editing options. They also include useful features missing from Notes, such as an ability to store images or organize notes in category folders. Evernote is one such app. I do use Evernote. It's great. But I still keep coming back to Notes precisely because of its barebones simplicity. Too often, when I just want to record some brief text (especially if I don't intend to save it for an extended time) the multitude of features in apps such as Evernote seem to get in my way rather than offer benefits.
That said, there is one limitation of Notes that is quite serious. It's so serious that it is almost a deal-breaker for me: The way OS X stores notes is so obtuse that, if you unintentionally delete a note and the Undo command cannot bring it back, recovering the file will be a hassle at a minimum and, at worst, all-but-impossible. At the very least, this makes Notes a poor choice for long-term storage of important data. To be fair, apps such as Evernote share some of the same problems. But they typically have better recovery options than Notes.
Disable internet access
The near immediate syncing of Notes among your Apple devices, normally an asset, becomes a liability here. It means that if you delete a note on your iPhone and go to your Mac in the hope of retrieving it, you'll likely find that it's gone gone from your Mac as well. With a bit of luck, you might be able to prevent this mass destruction by disabling Internet access on your synced devices as soon as you discover your error. If this succeeds, you will be able to retrieve the deleted note. Just copy the text to another location and you can then turn Internet access back on.
Retrieve from storage
If it's too late for this trick, you may still find the deleted text within the files Notes uses to store its data on your Mac. Here's where the road can get really rocky. If Notes saved each item as a separate readable file (as most apps do), and moved deleted items to the Finder's Trash, it would be a breeze to recover deleted notes. Unfortunately, Notes does not do this. Rather, all notes are combined into a single database-like file. The one upside here is that this file may retain the text of recently deleted items.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.