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Seeking iPhone apps for lists & notes, plus the inevitable Pain of Palm

The Search for iPhone applications Has Begun! First up is replacing the Palm Memos (notes) and checklist tools. While these are usually labeled as productivity apps, I really don’t need full-blown project management, like with a Getting Things Done (GTD) app. Nor do I need to-do lists that’ll sync up with Mail.app, because I’d rather keep them separate from mail (for the same reasons I view RSS feeds in a separate app: easier task management).

For notes, I want something like Stickies, but with a bit more oomph, i.e., the ability to categorize notes, at the least. For checklists, I’ve been a longtime user of HandyShopper (HS wiki). HS categorizes lists and allows marks like a to-do list. But due to lack of cycles and interest, the HandyShopper developer won’t make an iPhone version.

Both tasks could be separate apps, or a single one; doesn’t matter too much to me. But what’s critical is that they must allow editing on the Macintosh as well as the iPhone. As with the calendar, I need to transfer the current data to the iPhone! After a lot of skimming, I found that the vast majority simply don’t do that. “How absurd! No way I’m gonna retype all that stuff on the iPhone.” Data transfer aside, the actual issue isn’t so unreasonable: The developers would have to create yet another application for the desktop (or laptop) computer, in addition to the iPhone app, in order to view and modify data. Indeed, they’d have to do it twice, if they want to support both Macintoshes and Windows PCs. Keep in mind that mail, music, schedules and web browsing are already taken care of for Mac users, since Mail.app, iTunes, iCal and Safari exist on the desktop. And those were not developed overnight.

I often see the phrase “no syncing” to describe the lack of desktop editing, but that’s misleading. The data are backed up whenever you sync, in ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/. But, as with Palm, these aren’t mere text files; even though there are a few .plist files, most are in some not-quite-readble format (.mdbackup). So a desktop app must be able to cope with manipulating them. (On a sidenote, there are two open source command-line tools which will inspect and backup these files, MobileSync Inspect and iPhone Backup Decoder, respectively. I have not yet tried them.)

Anyhow, here’s an initial round of list and note applications to investigate further. If you have experience with these, or recommendations for others, I certainly welcome your thoughts!

  • Evernote (iPhone and Mac desktop apps are free): The paid Premium Evernote web service provides secure connections, more storage and ad-free public notebooks.
  • Jott (free). Web-based transcription of audio notes and to-do lists.
  • SplashShopper ($9.99 for the iPhone app, and $19.99 for the desktop app; 30-day free demo for the latter). Is it useful, or a just thrown-together port?
  • Things ($9.99). Looks complex, GTD, but has desktop editing.
  • YouNote (free). Looks potentially useful for both notes and lists, but perhaps no desktop editing?
  • Zenbe Lists (free). Just does lists, not notes. Web service for syncing.
  • (later) Chores ($4.99). Will offer a separate Chores for the Mac OS X desktop, supposedly this month.
  • (later) My Lists ($1.99). Might implement a desktop app in a future version.

Rant: More Palm suckage

My indignation at so many iPhone apps lacking desktop support quickly simmered down after realizing the development requirements. But it boiled over (and over!) at the cruddy tools to convert Palm files to text. (No, sadly, tools to specifically convert Palm files for the iPhone are, at present, utterly nonexistent.)

PorDiBle v3.4 claims to convert Palm .pdb files to text. Nope. Opening or dropping a .pdb onto PorDiBle always crashes it. Its development ceased over two years ago, and its website is a dead link.

Then I reinstalled the Palm Desktop v4.2.1revD (unmodified for nearly three years) in hopes that it could import .pdb files then export them as text. Ha ha ha. Not even. The importer didn’t recognize .pdb as a readable Palm format. Also, opening it under the All File Type filter resulted in the “unrecognized file format” error. This reminds me why I had removed this suite from my computer in the first place.

Then I tried Missing Sync’s MemoPad application. More disappointment erupts as I discover there’s no importing or exporting function whatsoever. Useless.

Finally, I viewed MemosDB-PMem.pdb in a text editor, and it turned out to be somewhat readable. I guess I’m stuck with doing the copy-paste thang. But, still.

In addition to the Memos from my old Treo, I have a bunch of lists from HandyShopper. Unlike the MemosDB-PMem.pdb, though, the HS files are barely legible in an text editor. On the other hand, HandyShopper does provide a couple of Excel macros for editing and converting HandyShopper databases, HS2Edit and HS2Convert, respectively. They are part of the HandyShopper package, including instructions which you should read carefully beforehand. Although they are .xls files, they don’t work in NeoOffice because they run macros which add a new HS2Edit item to the menubar. So I fired up Excel 2004, opened HS2Edit.xls, and figured out how to import my HS2_blah_Lists.pdb file. Success! A more readable spreadsheet in copyable text.

Nevertheless, as with Memos, I don’t have a way of automatically transferring the checklists. Two sets of manual dogwork to get through. Rapture! I think I’ll take a break and go investigate those iPhone apps; after all, I’ll need something to paste into…

Update (15 June 2009): I ended up using Evernote, which I still use today, and recommend. Because the Palm data transfer (calendar, contacts, notes, etc.) was a one-time project for me, I should point out that I haven’t done further research as to more recent ways to accomplish all this. If you’ve found a way which you’d recommend, by all means, do share here! But in the meantime you might have to search the Apple Support Discussions, or see if there are (note?) apps in the iTunes Store which might help, or (I know this sounds clich├ęd) search via Google.

Update (10 January 2010): I have recently heard of a few iPhone apps which would import Palm Memos: One is Momo. Another is Notebooks by Alfons Schmid. Yet another is Notebook by Appigo, via Palm Desktop for Mac. I have not tried any of these for importing since I’ve already gone through the process — however, if you have, feel free to comment on your success (or lack thereof) on using them. :)

2 comments

  1. richard vallon wrote:

    markspace sez they are developing a group
    exporter for palm notes to iphone.
    They have an app- fliq notes for iphone and markspace notes- these are suppsoed to be able to transfer one note at a time- but I could not get it to work- returned a message – unknown error… so perhaps finally- help is on the way- if the app works….

    Tuesday, 6 January 2009 at 12:14 pm | Permalink
  2. Michael LOndon wrote:

    WOW..I could have written your blog word for word…same issues, same problems. I am just in the process of trying to migrate from a palm treo 755P to a new iphone 3GS. I am also going to migrate from an Apple G5 and HP laptop to a new MacBook so the iphone and macbook can work “seamlessly”. Now the hard part..how can I get 15 years of calendaring, 2700 contacts in address book, 1,000 memo’s and tasks out of the treo and Palmdesktop into the macbook and iPhone? Sounds like you have successfully now done all that. Anything new since you wrote everything in Aug of 08? Any advice would be GREATLY appreciated.

    Wednesday, 4 November 2009 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

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