Experiences of a FileMaker Pro Database Developer

Usability: A Lesson From Evernote’s Penultimate 6 Blunder

Penultimate 5

Penultimate 5

As software/app developers it’s critical that we understand usability. We must learn who our users are and their behavior. Essentially, we build use cases and user personas. It’s our job to figure out what is working and what doesn’t work in their workflow. People are creatures of habit and they get used to work-arounds, double entry, etc., so our job also involves retraining once deployed. To me, the most enjoyable part of development is learning about the users and how they work and then understanding how you can create something to make their life better.

This week Evernote released version 6 of Penultimate, their handwriting-note-taking application for iPad. Some of us still like to take handwritten notes, but want the convenience of digital. I loved Penultimate. It was like a digital version of a Moleskine notebook. I could have a notebook for every client or every project. And, it was great for a personal journal too. The best thing, I could still doodle.

To me, what they have done with Penultimate 6 is to completely disregard who their user is. The biggest lesson I learned is to turn OFF auto-updates for apps. At the very least, if the upgrade is no longer intuitive (a mistake), make sure the help and user guides are updated. Here are a couple of snip-its from their forum posts:

Notebooks have pages – people look through pages to find what they want – bring that back.
The hand writing engine is a joke, its the nail in this “updates” coffin – makes it unusable.

In short, this version that is touted as having a “New UI for focused writing” makes it impossible to focus on writing because it gets in the way of that single activity — the core functionality of the app, mind you — at every turn…. Revert, re-think, re-do. Or just re-release the old version — under a “Penultimate Classic” name if need be — until you are ready to make this one work for its intended purpose.

The comments on the Penultimate forum and the Evernote blog post illustrate exactly what NOT to do when upgrading an existing app — ignore the user. This should be a lesson to all developers.


Thank goodness I had a backup of the previous version in iTunes! Two hours later, all was right again in the world of note taking.

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  1. Can you explain where to get the file for the previous version from and how to revert without losing your notes? There’s some sketchy information going around about this process. I suspect many users would be concerned about trying this and losing their data.

    • Hi Al,
      I am an Evernote Premium user. I would not revert back to Penultimate 5 unless I knew I had a backup of all my notebooks. With Evernote Premium, I can view my notebooks online as well as on Evernote on my Mac. Your notebooks and files are still the same as they were before updating to Penultimate 6 (from what I can tell). Make sure you have Penultimate 5 in your iTunes and make sure you do not update to Penultimate 6 in iTunes. If you do not have a backup of Penultimate 5 in iTunes, I do not know where you can get this. This is what I did:
      1. Make sure your iPad Penultimate 6 syncs to Evernote.
      2. Verify your latest notes are in Evernote, both online and your Evernote application (may not be necessary, but this is what I did).
      3. Delete Penultimate 6 from your iPad (WARNING: doing this also deletes all your notebook files from your iPad, make sure to follow steps 1 and 2 above).
      4. Add Penultimate 5 back to your iPad via iTunes.
      5. Sync with your Evernote Premium account.
      There is a way to backup your notebooks to iTunes too, but I have not done that in a long time and I
      am not sure how to restore then if you do.

      Hope this helps,

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