Why Notes Plus?

Did you ever wonder why we built Notes Plus? What’s its history? How was our team put together? What was the inspiration behind the app? We’ve got answers to these fantastic questions to CellPhoneCity Tech Blog.

2015 is quickly coming to a close and looking back on your New Year’s resolution to cut back on paper use well, not much has changed or has it? Well, it’s not entirely your fault because paper is projected to continue to circulate just as strong as it does now until 2050.

However, if you’re serious about going paperless, then you should consider digitizing your business from the bottom up. Be it a legal document or a doodle, you can definitely avoid paper consumption with the use of tactile apps that simulate the way we’re used to jotting down notes.

  1. Tell us a little about your team. How did you all come together?

Many companies are formed first and their products are created later. With Prime Circa, it’s the reverse. In April 2010, the first-generation iPad was released and it changed everything for us. Back then, the iPad was all about content consumption and nothing about content creation. Even Apple focused 100% on entertainment and 0% on productivity. However, looking at the big touch screen, Viet Tran (our founder) couldn’t help but think about handwriting on it. 15 months after the app launched, Notes Plus made its first million dollars.

Viet had experience building an overseas team in Vietnam back in 1999, where Viet single-handedly built a 30-engineer development house for a US company. So Viet turned to Vietnam for help. Our Developers, QA, and Support are based in Vietnam while Viet is managing the team from the US. We discuss problems and solutions via Skype. We review each other’s code by Github’s flow. We keep track of tasks using Trello. We think we are extremely efficient!

  1. What was the inspiration behind the Note Plus App? How different is it from similar-platform apps?

It’s a shame that Microsoft cancelled their Courier concept (Microsoft’s astonishing take on the tablet) in April 2010. Still, it is our biggest source of inspiration when we continue to evolve Notes Plus. Someday, Notes Plus will be a Courier on iPad. It takes courage to dream, right? Our ultimate goal is to reduce the amount of paper people are storing and producing every day.

Our flagship product, Notes Plus for iPad, is a handwriting note-taking iPad app that will revolutionize the way you take notes. We took a wholly different approach to handwriting on tablets.

First, it renders ink using a patent-pending vector-graphic (vs. bitmap) texture technology. Other handwriting apps that we know (e.g. Noteshelf, Penultimate, etc.) use the conventional method of applying a bitmap texture on strokes to simulate ink. While it would have been easier for us to do this same by-the-book method, we hate the fact that when zoomed in, the ink gets pixelated and looks ugly. Instead, we spent 2 years working on an algorithm that manipulates Bezier curves directly to approximate handwriting strokes, taking account of writing speed and direction. The result was incredible. Not only does the ink look realistic and beautiful in many different pen types, it retains its look at any resolution. You will see the difference when zooming in or on printouts produced by a high-resolution printer.

This vector-graphic inking also makes rotating, scaling, and moving handwriting much faster and less CPU-intensive. Saving graphic data is also simpler and more efficient by means of the XML-based SVG format.

Second, we offer an amazing feature that can convert handwriting into digital text and make your handwriting searchable. Our handwriting recognition engine supports more than 50 languages.

Third, the app offers automatic palm rejection without the need of any special styluses or settings.

Fourth, our close-up writing mode lets you write comfortably with your big finger or stylus just like pen on paper. Lay your palm down comfortably on the palm pad or below the close-up box.

2. Can you tell us about its history and development?

Viet spent 3 months writing an app that captures touches on the iPad screen and turns them into handwriting. He wanted it to be a supplement to Apple’s built-in Notes app — hence the name: Notes Plus. After some rudimentary UI touch-ups, Viet released the first version of Notes Plus on June 1st, 2010.

Although Notes Plus version 1.0 packed in some decent features such as mixing both handwritten and typed text (as text boxes back then), automatic palm rejection, close-up writing mode (then called Zoom-Write), organization of multiple notebooks and pages, and exporting to Google Docs, but the user experience wasn’t good. Users would spend most of their time switching between handwriting / typing / erasing. When users lay down their palms, they would accidentally touch the navigation buttons at the bottom.

On October 2, 2010, Notes Plus version 2.0 was released getting rid of the edit-mode switcher. With the selection and deletion gestures, all modes were blended together naturally. We also added some nice features such as audio recordings, shape detection, auto-advance in close-up writing mode, and the ability to restore deleted notebooks and pages. With minimal marketing effort, Notes Plus climbed to the top 4 of Paid iPad Apps on October 25, 2013, even passing Apple’s own productivity app: Pages.

On September 1, 2011, 15 months after its first launch, Notes Plus made its first million dollars, after Apple’s 30% commission.

Today, Notes Plus has more than a million users using our product on a daily basis.

3. In what way can the Notes Plus App help its users? What do you think is the edge of your app design?

We set out to redefine the meaning of productivity for modern busy people. Notes Plus helps users to record audio while taking handwritten notes. They can import documents and notate on them. Users can browse the web while taking notes and cut and paste web information. We wanted them to make a simple number calculation right inside their notes. Looking back on how Microsoft Word killed its competitors by being feature-rich during its early days, we wanted to be like that as a productivity tool for iPad.

Notes Plus distinguishes itself with a clean, content-centric design and friendly user experience. We spent a lot of effort making Notes Plus a beautiful app. All of this has made the app usable and quickly accessible to those who rely on heavy note taking.

4. What kind of feedback have you received from your customers so far? What insights have you gained from them?

We pride ourselves on having a beautiful iPad app and we have one of the most responsive and attentive support teams on the App Store. Users get support solutions within 24 hours (usually within 4 hours). Users love the way we frequently release new updates and we’re open to communication. Our loyal fans have even helped us create beautiful documents, and contributed countless hours to beta-testing pre-release versions. The feedback from our users has been phenomenal!

The feedback is important to guiding our future work from improving our app to adding new features with new value. Many current features of Notes Plus came from user suggestions.

5. If it isn’t too early to ask, what added features you have in mind for the future? Are there any in development?

We’re actively working on an iPhone version and support for iPad Pro, which will be available next month.

Besides Notes Plus, we’re spending effort on a note-taking solution for the Android platform. The product is named INKredible (www.inkredibleapp.com). Similar to Notes Plus, our new app INKredible lets you write with either your fingertip or a stylus (S-Pen).

We’re also working on our WriteOn SDK that leverages our vector-based inking engine, enabling developers to provide the highest-resolution inking display on screens and in print. The user experience is the most fluid and closest to pen and paper that digital can offer. Popular uses will include adding notations to picture apps, messaging apps, media-news-magazine apps, textbooks, maps, websites and more. Freehand writing will feature note-taking and list building. Drawing and illustrating will include mind-mapping, doodling, and sketching-based games. This will be available for both iOS and Android platforms.

6. What are the features that you think most Note Plus App users do not know?

Most users don’t know that they can view their beautiful notebook content created in Notes Plus from a web browser on their PC/Mac. We do have many well-hidden features for users to explore the more powerful side of Notes Plus.

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