Bubble Browser: Intuitive Evernote Browsing

The other day, I tried to work out which single service or platform my digital life couldn’t do without. Initially, I thought Dropbox might be that product, but then I realized I could probably use Box or some other, similar alternative. Google’s collection of apps also entered my consideration, due to my commitment to Gmail, and my reliance on Google’s Calendar and Contacts apps for day-to-day operation. In reality, though, iCloud does a similar job.

Strangely, the one service which stood out was Evernote. I realize that this revelation may cause a few sneers, not least because Evernote is nothing more than a digital scrapbook. I can’t honestly think of how I would replace the ease of web-clipping, note-taking and document filing it provides, though.

Much as I love Evernote, I know it isn’t perfect. For instance, it still works in the same way filing systems have done for years — search, in combination with lists — and it is starting to feel a little bit old. A new, innovative approach to browsing your notes can now be found on your iPad, via a third-party Evernote add-on app named Bubble Browser, currently on sale at $4.99. Its older, OS X sibling has already made waves with us at AppStorm, due to its ease of use and its visually striking design. Can the same magic be recreated on a touchscreen?

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Visuals

You’d be forgiven, on first inspection, for thinking that Bubble Browser is not much more than a toy. Having authorized the app to access and scan your Evernote files, the first screen you’re met with is indicative of the app’s name, being filled with floating bubbles.

Look at all of those pretty bubbles...mesmerising, right?

Look at all of those pretty bubbles…mesmerising, right?

Each bubble represents a tag, a notebook, or a year in which notes have been created. The different types of bubble are assigned with their own colours for clarity, so tags appear pink, notebooks blue, and years yellow. Equally, the size of each bubble is representative of the size of the folder or prevalence of the tag it corresponds to.

Alphabetical

Once you tear yourself away from gawping at the pretty bubbles, you’ll notice some controls on the left of screen.

First comes Search, then a list of your notebooks...

First comes Search, then a list of your notebooks…

Forming a thin vertical line is a list of tiny icons – three of a pictorial variety at the top, with the alphabet below. Running your finger over these icons magnifies them, an effect which will be familiar to Mac users who utilize Dock magnification.

...followed by years of note creation, and an alphabet of tags

…followed by years of note creation, and an alphabet of tags.

First in this menu is the search function, followed by a pop-out list of notebooks, and then a list of years in which notes were created. The alphabet which follows is entirely about tag browsing. Hovering a finger over one of the letters produces a beautiful, curved list of tags, each of which can be tapped to zoom in on its bubble.

Homing In

The real point of Bubble Browser only reveals itself once you start tapping the bubbles themselves.

Tapping a bubble simply produces a list of relevant notes, but double-tapping opens up what is, in essence, a whole new kind of file browsing experience.

A double-tapped bubble becomes the centre-piece of a cluster of related bubbles. These could be tags which have been used alongside your focus, the years in which the primary tag has been used, or the notebook in which the tags reside. The result is what the app’s creators, Macoscope, were hoping to achieve — a tremendous sense of context.

A double-tap triggers related bubble clustering for some really great context.

A double-tap triggers related bubble clustering for some really great context.

To give a personal example from my own Evernote library, double-tapping the iPad tag produces (among other things) my “Apps” notebook and the year 2013. If I double-tap all three of these, a process which takes no more than five seconds, I’m presented with a very specific list of notes which might otherwise take some time to sort, using the official app’s tools.

It’s hard to explain in writing how intuitive this system really is. All I can say is that it is a method of file browsing that feels like it was designed with the human user, rather than the computing bookkeeper, in mind.

Content

Of course, any browser only becomes useful when you actually get to your content.

The list of notes which gathers on the right of screen once you’ve completed your bubble-based sorting is, perhaps, Bubble Browser‘s poorest piece of presentation. Each note is previewed as a small square, which holds no more than a title and a ten-word excerpt, or a featured image. In many instances, this is enough to tell whether it is the note you’re looking for, although this doesn’t hold true all the time, by any means. Under all circumstances, it was hardly the best visual option available to the developers, particularly considering that they decided to squash this list into a tiny fraction of the screen.

Thankfully, things do get better when you enter the reading view. Articles are displayed, by default, in a tidied fashion, with Bubble Browser essentially removing all of your weird font choices and misplaced lists. If you’d like to view your wacky original, you can do that too.

The note view offers a cleaned up version, or your original., and tapping the i provides more info

The note view offers a cleaned up version, or your original., and tapping the i provides more info.

As with the official app offering, there is an i icon which, when tapped, produces basic information about the note being viewed, and there is also a link to viewing the note in its original Evernote setting.

Overall

On the face of it, paying $4.99 for a note browser seems ludicrous. I mean, I am an avid Evernote user, and up until trying Bubble Browser, I thought Evernote’s search and tagging options were perfectly adequate. What’s more, this is a browser, not a fully-fledged client, so I still have to go into Evernote to create and edit my notes.

The thing is, though, having tried Bubble Browser, I’m going to keep on using it. I can honestly say it makes the search for notes easier, especially when you can’t be specific enough for a search to work properly. On the down side, I have to say that the app does feel a touch overpriced. What it does, it does beautifully, but the task it performs is terribly narrow. It is also competing with a free, official app. Putting these minor gripes aside, though, Bubble Browser is a very well made app, which any Evernote user would benefit from installing, and for the power user, it will bring untold note-browsing joy.


Summary

An unrivalled method of browsing your Evernote account, although only power users will truly appreciate such a niche product.

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