I have recently started using OneNote on my Windows laptop to take recurring notes from conversations, meetings, and lectures as well as for brain dump. I also use the product to note random reusable content which I might use later on in my conversations, research, or projects. Earlier, I tried my using Evernote, Notion and Notepad++, Google Docs, but OneNote’s experience trumps all of them.
Looking at the stats of some of the popular note-taking apps, Microsoft clearly has been under-marketing OneNote and underestimating the value this app currently brings or can bring to the users.
With being at par with the highest rated apps in its category, OneNote lags behind 1.5M and 1M downloads of Evernote and Google Keep respectively, both of which lag in terms of quantity and quality of features which OneNote has.
Now let me explain why I espouse the features of this app. But before going into that, it is important to understand the targeted user persona.
Thinking on a broad level, I believe the following product positioning suits OneNote best:
OneNote is a replacement for typical meetings and notes diary for a student, professional who wants to quickly jot down important and relevant thoughts so that they might not be forgotten later on when needed.
Since this is informal note-taking there needs to be a balance between total organization and scrappiness. I am mostly focussing here on the desktop user as I have only used the app on my laptop.
Overall, for a user in this domain, the following user needs come to mind:
- Seamlessly take notes during meetings, lectures, etc. in a way that they can be easily retrieved later on
- Ability to use stencils so as to draw diagrams or write in own handwriting
- Use other modalities — sound, video etc.
- Save with minimum effort
- Share notes with self or others
Here are some of the differentiating features which make the OneNote experience better than some other tools I mentioned earlier:
- Sections and pages to organize your notes pretty well.
- Scrappiness: Within pages of sections, you can organize your notes haphazardly which aligns with the idea of informal note-taking with some degree of organization.
- Save and share: OneNote makes it easy to store the notes on the cloud to be accessed anywhere and also allows one link sharing feature. This is at par with features provided by Google Docs, Evernote, Notion, etc.
- Equations magic: I discovered this feature recently, and it totally blew my mind. Just type an equation ending with ‘=’ symbol, press Enter or Space, and voila, you have an answer. Though I may not use this feature frequently, it’s a constant source of amusement when I show it to my friends. Such a great example of a delightful feature that makes your recommenders look like a superstar.
- Stencil support on windows surface: I have seen people do magic similar to what iPad users have done
- Basic formatting capabilities
However, there is always a scope for improvement in even the greatest products out there. Here are my two cents for OneNote:
- Make it easy to switch/insert modalities: A simple + button on the top/bottom right corner which on the user's click expands into commonly used or most demanded insert items. It is irritating and not a seamless experience to go to the old school way — go to the menu bar, click insert bar, and select the appropriate format.
The key impact of this feature: Existing user engagement — DAU/MAU (if Microsoft is able to capture this number on desktops as well), Retention
2. Give me templates: I know the free-form note-taking is devoid of usual structure. But all the productivity apps like Notion, Evernote, etc. provide templates on productivity boards, document type, organizational style, etc.
Key impact: Retention and engagement
3. Give me tags: Ability to add hashtags to all pages and notebooks so as to filter results — especially useful for someone who uses OneNote for copious note-taking.
Key impact: Retention and engagement
4. Collaboration: Microsoft should definitely add live collaboration capability — expanding the usage beyond current users. This is the biggest advantage of Google Docs — seamless sharing, collaborating and brainstorming. Another great, but much focussed and sophisticated example is Miro.
Key impact: Increase in new user adoption and retention and engagement among existing users
These are just a few of so many possibilities at OneNote, but depending upon the goal, there are certainly endless monetization and engagement opportunities with this already great product by Microsoft.