There was a saying back in the editorial trenches of productivity/tech blog Lifehacker, that I will paraphrase: "Sometimes the internet can make you feel like a villain for trying to offer something free." Such is the thought I have in looking at Google Keep, a small-scale website and Android app that seemed to arrive at the wrong time, with the wrong name, to a certain crowd that wasn't expecting it.
Here's what Google had to say on its blog post about Keep from March 20. The new app, Google said, was something like a pad of yellow sticky notes. Keep let you:
(Q)uickly jot ideas down when you think of them and even include checklists and photos to keep track of what’s important to you. Your notes are safely stored in Google Drive and synced to all your devices so you can always have them at hand.
There were a few extra bits (voice transcription, widgets, color-coding, reordering), but that was it: a place to keep (eh? eh?) little ideas. That is not what the tech press saw, especially after Google had so recently announced its intent to shut down Google Reader. Especially not when the product comes from Google, a firm which many believe already has too much information about us.
So here's what they saw about Keep:
Gizmodo, taking a shot at reading the needs of "most people":
Most people will find this notepad limiting. In an effort to make Keep lightweight and simple, Google left out a lot of glaringly obvious features that make Keep just feel unfinished.
(This isn’t a fresh idea. In many ways, Google Keep is a fairly shameless imitation of Evernote, the beloved free app for Mac, Windows, Android, iPhone/iPad, BlackBerry and Windows Phone. It, too, keeps your notes automatically duplicated across all your gadgets and computers.)
Without any tags, folders, or notebooks to organize your notes, it's difficult to imagine how you'll find anything in Keep after a few weeks of heavy use. Evernote is the king of organization among note-taking apps, with enough options included to accommodate different kinds of users and how they look for information.
We immediately had visions of being able to jot down notes with Keep and seamlessly email them out through Gmail, or convert the hastily-scribbled "get lunch with Jane on Wednesday" into a Calendar event. What if you could send photos from your Google Glass to your Keep stream, or jot down an address and then have Google Maps navigate you there later? With Keep as a hub and Google's many other services as spokes, this simple note-taking app could become a productivity beast.
You get the idea: Google's too late to this whole sync-your-thoughts party, and their product isn't robust enough for anyone who is serious about note-taking. But Pogue and The Verge inadvertently take their reviews off in another direction with asides about how quickly Keep allows Android users to get their thoughts down, and how--"amazingly," in Pogue's words--a simple note app is something Android hasn't offered so far.
Google Keep is not Evernote. It is not, at least at this point, a robust tool meant to fit into a total Google workflow. It is the equivalent of Notes on the iPhone: a space in which to write quickly, with online backup and access as the only real feature. If you put the Keep widget on your home screen--or, on phones running the relatively new Android 4.2 or later versions, on your lock screen--then you can very, very quickly record a voice transcription, snap a photo, or jot out a quick list. It's accessible through Google Drive, and you can read and edit through a full browser, but Keep is mostly a phone tool. It will likely be standard on future Android phones, and it will only grow features at a slow pace.
Almost anyone who uses and appreciates Evernote will tell you that it is most useful when you buy in and shove everything into it, and install it on every device, and email it things, and let it scan your PDFs and images, and remember to check it and cross-link your notes. Google Keep has colored sticky notes, with no formatting, backed up to Drive. It's there when you need it, but if you are drafting the script for a one-hour presentation to a web standards group in Europe, you should be using something else.
Keep is a notepad. It's a Google-y notepad and, yes, maybe Google will see low usage numbers and think about axing it in the future. But you will likely have an export option, and, again, you will have hopefully kept the really crucial stuff in a smarter box.
Read more of Kevin Purdy's Mobilize! blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevinpurdy. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.