A note-taking app that works like iMessage shouldn’t work, but it does

Every week I’m sent apps that are meant to help or solve a situation for users that haven’t been done before. But I was sent a particular app this week that made me rethink how a note-taking app should work.

Created by Rihab Mehboob, Note Yourself was released this week (January 20) for iOS and macOS devices that use the Apple Silicon chips, where you can note down your thoughts and your plans, but in a chat interface.

You may think, as I did at the start, that this sounds like a combination that simply can’t work. It sounds like having sugar on your Weetabix, or playing Banjo Kazooie on an iPad. But the more I’ve used Note Yourself, the more I’ve been impressed.

You’re brought to a layout that looks as though you’re going to start a conversation with yourself, and you can jot down something that you can set to remind you after a certain amount of time. You can also pin some of these entries to easily go back to, all in a very simple but elegant layout.

I’ve been using the app already for a shopping list at the weekend, and, unashamedly, the daily tasks I need to complete for Fortnite. It wasn’t long before I promoted the icon to my main home screen on my iPhone, and after speaking to some of the TechRadar team alongside some family, I was surprised to find that some do indeed jot down notes by sending messages to themselves over WhatsApp, WeChat, and iMessage. Is this the app they, and so many others, have been waiting for?

And when you consider a messaging layout with notes, could the same logic be applied to a music app? Or a storefront? It’s apps like Note Yourself that feel fresh, 14 years since the App Store first appeared, and it makes me wonder what other apps could be coming in 2022. I reached out to Mehboob to ask what made him design Note Yourself in the first place.

A chat with Note Yourself’s developer

I spoke with Mehboob after last night’s launch to ask why he thought this layout would work better for a notes app. “To keep track of various tasks, I used to message myself through iMessage, and after realizing I could make a dedicated app, with many features, I began making this app,” Mehboob explains. “I personally really like the idea of themed apps, where an app takes the style of another genre – and I think this was a great demonstration of that.”

Note Yourself

(Image credit: Rihab Mehboob)

After trying out many apps in this category over the years, I wanted to know why he thought this stood out, apart from the different layout. “It may not be as serious or feature-filled as some great note-taking apps, but it's a fun attempt at changing things up.” Mehboob continues. “I really like the UI/UX myself, and I love adding interesting features like the new iOS 15 Communication Notifications (to make it seem as if the notes you are receiving are being sent by others) and pinned messages, which to stand out I decided to make it seem as if the note is being sent by you as opposed to being sent to you.”

Note Yourself on iPhone

(Image credit: Rihab Mehboob)

Using the app for reminders – thanks to the message notification feature – I can receive a slight nudge between 1 minute and 24 hours, similar to someone messaging me back. I asked Mehoob what other situations this could be used for.

“In fairness, they could be used in any situation! If you want some motivation, they could be used to act as if others are giving commands or letting you know what tasks are left.”

Already I’m using Message Yourself as an alternative note-taking app for sudden to-do lists, but there’s plenty of opportunity for improvements. I wanted to know what was coming up next for features.

“I’m currently attempting to add Siri Shortcuts, where you could let Siri know of any tasks or notes you might want to jot down but do let me know what you’d like to see.”

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Apple iMessage vs Google RCS is complicated… but what about older phones?

Since iOS 5 back in 2011, Apple introduced a new message standard called iMessage. If you use an iOS or Mac device, you’ll most likely have used the feature through the Messages app.

These show as a blue bubble that allows you to send reactions, emojis, GIFs, and more.

However, a relatively new standard in messaging has started to appear in recent years called RCS (Rich Communication Services), which is trying to replace the SMS standard that iMessage uses.

RCS is designed to bring the same functionality that iMessage, WhatsApp and other messaging apps offer in a form that works across multiple types of device.

Google's Head of Android, Hiroshi Lockheimer, has accused Apple of bullying by forcing users to use iMessage instead of RCS. But Lockheimer, and others, are forgetting those who don’t use smartphones, and that’s a problem.

The pros and cons of RCS

If you use an Android phone through the messages app, and you live in the United States, you will be able to reply with reactions, emojis through an encrypted connection. That's something that SMS doesn’t provide.

Since RCS made its introduction in 2008, the Open Mobile Alliance has been leading the way in trying to replace the SMS standard with this. It makes it easier for users to share content without being charged for it, such as how MMS, or picture messaging still does to this day.

However, the standard is limited. Many carriers in the United States haven’t agreed to implement RCS, leaving it spotty across cellular networks at best. While some other countries, such as the United Kingdom, currently have no carriers supporting RCS.

Combine this with the fact that Universal Profile, which is the latest attempt for carriers to implement the same RCS standard across the phones that each provides, has been delayed. It’s essentially pot luck in whether your phone and carrier will feature RCS.

But there’s yet another handicap to this. Google is decided to activate RCS within its own Messages app, which means that regardless of the carrier you’re on, you’ll be able to use the service. 

This applies to UK users, but others would rather send messages through WhatsApp and other apps.

Google’s Head of Android, Hiroshi Lockheimer tried to rectify his comments over the weekend, alongside linking to a TikTok video of Maxwell Weinbach giving his reasons for why he thought it was bad that Apple hadn’t implemented RCS.

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But while they both provide compelling arguments on one side, there’s another aspect that Google and Weinbach have both left out. This could also be why Apple has yet to implement RCS.

Forgetting the casual user

The majority of us have family members who simply refuse to upgrade to a smartphone. Or at least, refuse to upgrade to a newer smartphone that was released after 2011.

It’s a comfort blanket to some where they’re familiar with the design and the features that the old phone brings. They’re comfortable in using SMS messaging, the camera app and Facebook, and nothing else.

RCS doesn’t factor into this. While Google’s Messages app requires Android 5.0 and above, it’s pot luck whether older phones will support RCS within the app. And that’s if your friend or family member is using Google’s Messages app on their phone.

While the feature is clearly beneficial to those who message frequently, influencers and heads of these departments seem to be missing the bigger picture on who RCS benefits and whether there should be more efforts to make RCS standardized, rather than from one app or waiting for some carriers to come on board.

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