Opinion

How Bear Notes became Apple’s #1 App

Discussing Bear Notes and its rise to power

In 2016, a new note-taking application called Bear was introduced.

Developers based in Italy launched a new app with a mission to make notes beautiful and flexible. Skip forward to January 2017 and Bear has grown rapidly with Apple announcing Bear as the Top App of 2016. So, how did Bear rise to power? How did it grow and what should we expect in 2017?

Bear Notes: Mac

Where did Bear come from?

Bear Notes is a development project from Shiny Frog, a team that has developed many other apps such as 1Tap Alarm, a popular iOS app for alarms as well as tools like Pixa and Delibar used by developers.

Small team, big visions

Its rise to fame has been well documented. Bear started out with a long beta development stage allowing a lot of people to test the app before it’s launch. With four core updates in the beta over the space of 2.5 years, the feedback was heavily implemented during the app development stages allowing them to grow a positive, well-grounded community that felt part of the growth. They still operate this mentality as they launch and grow.

Bear’s Reddit Community

As one of the beta testers, I was impressed with the service. Bear Notes was a simple idea crafted and packaged up well. On November 3rd, the Shiny Frog team finally launched Bear Notes for iOS and the Mac App Store.

The rest is history.

Bear became Apple’s Top iOS App of 2016 with a recognition of its Mac App in features since its launch, which in sense is the ultimate design praise.

Bear wins 2016’s top iOS app

Read more in this round-up from Bear’s blog:

How does it affect the current market?

For those very new to Bear. Here’s a quick overview, this video will showcase some of the core features. Just want to get you up to speed at why Bear is making some waves in the current note-taking market.

Bear’s simple design makes it attractive to the masses

For the current market, I believe it is split into two elements.

These two core categories are:

  • Note-taking
  • Writer apps

Note-taking apps tend to be focused on note-taking with storage options included. Focusing on the organization experience, versus the long form writing set-up. Writer apps simplify, with less features focused on organising but more on the distraction-free, speed intensive experience.

Ulysses App

These are the basic styles that seperate these two areas. Many people wouldn’t recommend writing an essay on OneNote, and others wouldn’t recommend writing short notes on something like Ulysses.

As for the note-taking space. Evernote dominates.

The note-taking app leader, Evernote

With over 100 million users, the service swamps most suggestion sites and listicles. It’s known by pretty much everyone, people stop me in the street with my Evernote t-shirt on, they know of it — even without using it.

There are a handful of other popular note-taking apps to mention:

Just to name a few of those other options. So when Bear entered, the space has been rattled. A new entrance made a big entrance with its simple design and writer like features. So what makes Bear different?

What’s different about Bear?

Some of the core features of Bear

Bear Notes core feature is its design. The simple, distraction-free experience reminds us of the best Writer apps like iWriter, Ulysses, and Matcha.

This was irregular inside of a note-taking application. Many people have been used to seeing a folder design with a combination of powerful features. Nothing that focuses on the user’s core task, capturing ideas.

Even Evernote until recently with its Evernote 8.0 was guilty of this.

So design is one of the main elements.

Organisation is another. Routine note-taking applications revolve the experience around folders, notebooks and folders for folders. Burying yourself into wild habit.

Bear goes against all of this with a plain and simple hash tagging set-up.

With the rise of Slack and tools designing their communication around hashtags, Bear decided to take the leap of faith allowing users to match up notes using easy to use hashtags within the note. It’s worked, it’s a neat way to organise and a fundamental change to the way we connect notes.

Keyboard shortcuts are another thing that fuels Bear’s rise. Clear cut.

Bear charges a reasonable amount every year, starting from $1.49 per month and $14.99 per year. There move to syncing on both devices is something that has to be praised as a good decision to push people towards a premium subscription.

Reactions to Bear have been only positive with thousands of Evernote users moving over to change up their core experience.

Evernote reacts

Bear has treaded on the territory of Evernote.

Evernote is now feeling the pressure. In their most recent update, they’ve adapted most elements of the iOS application, with an intention for an all round update, once they know the user reactions.

Many criticisms of Evernote have been centered around it’s bloating feature set.

Too many features, too little time. Onboard was messy and its design hadn’t changed for years. Evernote was really only being adopted by pro users. In recent months, they’ve shifted their attention to create the “Evernote community” an army of pro users to help support and grow the advanced efforts of Evernote.

Whilst their upgrade tends to the issue the biggest issue of feature overdose with tweaks to the note design, general notes layout and navigation. All nice fixers to the issue. Evernote has also channelled its efforts into on-boarding, for the last 6 months, they’ve adapted this so “Evernote potential” isn’t over sold or over communicated, which is the best way forward.

What’s coming up in 2017 for Bear?

There’s a lot to come in 2017 from the note-taking application market. With an abundance of tools, a user is never lacking their choice.

Bear Notes doesn’t do anything marvellous, its just reinventing the note-taking application, as a simplified, well-explained experience.

So for Bear, 2017 is about — product, product, product.

Bear routes to success is going to need to be keeping things simple, whilst adding layers and layers of features.

Bear will also be adding a boat load of integrations in the coming 6–12 months to help provide accessible optionality to it’s more advanced users.

The future looks bright for Bear, and shakes up the note-taking market.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Bear. Get involved and tweet @francescod_ales and join in the conversation.


Francesco D’Alessio is a productivity app reviewer, fan and user! He creates videos on his YouTube channel, blogs, articles for Lifehack.org, Despreneur and much more to help educate the others about apps, tools and resources. He’s been featured on CNET, Microsoft, Todoist’s Blog and more for his work.

Twitter: @FrancescoD_Ales

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