Microsoft has released a major update for its iOS version of the Office note-taking application OneNote. Designed to sync with cloud-hosted OneNote notebooks on SkyDrive, the new version finally adds support for iPad as well as introducing a new charging model. Once users have reached 500 notes they'll need to upgrade to continue editing and creating notes. Upgrades cost £2.99 for unlimited use on an iPhone, with the iPad upgrade costing £10.49.
A recent upgrade to the desktop version of OneNote made it easier to synchronise notebooks with SkyDrive, so you can use OneNote Mobile on iOS as a collaboration tool as well as for personal devices. Need to add extra tasks for a to-do list for a colleague? Just make the changes to a shared notebook, and they'll synchronise onto the mobile device as soon as it's opened. iPhone users will see few changes to OneNote, with most of the changes improving performance, especially around sychronisation. There's a new Windows Live sign-in screen, using the libraries Microsoft recently released, which should make logging into SkyDrive more reliable.
It's iPad users who get the biggest benefit, as they're no longer limited to using a scaled version of the iPhone application. The new iPad version of OneNote has a tabbed user interface, with a full resolution view of the notes page. It's easy to quickly switch between notes, and between notebooks, with improved support for images from the desktop. Sadly there's still no support for inked documents, making it hard to work with the mobile version and with tablet PCs. Lack of drawing support means you won't be able to use a capacitive stylus to sketch on the iPad, leaving you using it as a touch keyboard rather than as a slate.
Although an iPad version of OneNote is welcome, Microsoft's team has made some questionable user interface decisions. With its Metro UI working well on Windows Phone and Windows 8, and on iOS in the new Xbox Live application, it's odd that OneNote takes a very different approach, attempting to mimic a physical notebook complete with ring binder. We're finding UIs like this increasingly annoying , as iPads and iPhones are digital devices, and there's no point in giving a clean digital image a faked set of rings; it's distracting and confusing, and doesn't add anything to the application. Apple's apps may have taken this approach, but Microsoft's Metro has shown that there's at least an alternate way, and it's a pity to see the iPad OneNote following fashion rather than setting a new bar for mobile application design.
The new pricing model makes sense, requiring users to switch to a paid version when working with more than 500 notes. That's a reasonable number — after using the iOS and Windows Phone OneNote applications together with the desktop version for over a year I've only created 201 notes in my synchronised notebooks (using the desktop version to manage notes and copy notes into other notebooks that don't synchronise with the cloud). Devices need to be running iOS 4.3 or greater, and users will need Windows Live accounts to store and synchronise notebooks with SkyDrive.
Offering iOS versions of applications like OneNote makes sense for Microsoft, which remains at heart true to its software-company roots. However, the limitations of these versions make them less useful than the PC and Tablet PC equivalents. Until a future version adds ink support, the iOS OneNote remains a way of reading only a subset of your notes, with only limited value as a note-taking tool. Even so, if you use OneNote and have an iPhone or an iPad, we'd still recommend installing the iOS version.
After all, some of OneNote is better than nothing.