I’m Trying Bear

I have a thing about text applications. I love the idea of an app that can hold little buckets of text. I look at these as reference libraries, and I’ve gone through a string of apps for this purpose over the years. For the last couple of years, I’ve mainly been using Apple Notes as a result of its stability and deep integration throughout the operating system.

But there are things about Apple Notes I don’t like. My biggest complaint is the slow rate of innovation. I know that comes with the territory of a stock application, but I was hoping by now that it would have a few more bells and whistles.

Also—I acknowledge this is petty—I have never been comfortable with the textured paper design background of Apple Notes. Every year I think they will remove it, and every year it stays in. They have even made textured paper for dark mode. This seems silly, but it grinds on me.

The natural replacement was Bear, a similar notes app that has been out a few years and has been gaining traction. I have played with Bear on and off since it first launched. I have even subscribed. However, its innovative functions never got quite far enough for me to want to invest in it fully until last week.

With the release of Mac OS Mojave and iOS 12, Bear pulls ahead with innovation. I’ve been toying with the app for the last week, and a few days ago, I moved my 1,000+ Apple Notes into Bear. This is still just an experiment.

Bear’s tagging system works better for me than the Apple Notes’ folder system. Tags work with a large collection of notes, and Bear even lets me nest them. Bear also has deep integration with Siri Shortcuts, the ability to link notes between each other (even at the header level), excellent markdown integration, and a host of other delightful little touches. For instance, if you two-finger tap inside the body of the message, Bear gives you navigation tools. Also, Bear looks gorgeous. There are multiple themes, and the typography is spot on.

Some immediate downsides to leaving Apple Notes are:

1. The loss of shared notes

Because of the ubiquity of Apple Notes and Apple’s increasing abilities with synchronization, shared Apple Notes are pretty useful. Mike Schmitz and I have been using them to run the Free Agents podcast with little trouble. Bear does not have a similar feature and, even if it did, it’s not necessarily installed on the computer of every person I work with. If this move to Bear is successful, I will still need to use Apple Notes for some collaboration. So I’m talking about taking what was once done in one application and now doing it in two. Usually, that’s a bad idea.

2. Missing attachments

I don’t attach a lot of photos and other files to Apple Notes, but the ones I have attached did not come out with the export. If I want to move them over to Bear, I’m going to have to do so manually. (Related: Bear does allow you to attach files and links to notes.)

If you are thinking about similarly jumping ship, there are a few tools and tricks I suggest. The best way I found to get my notes out of Apple Notes with some formatting was with Exporter. It successfully extracted all of my Apple Notes in markdown format. Also, when inserting the notes into Bear, make sure to check the box to add the text file title as the note title.

I’m not at a point yet where I can recommend Bear; I’m still kicking the tires. I am, however, seriously looking at this app and will report back. For me, the tipping point will be in seeking how much more I can automate Bear over Notes.